I Never Thought I’d Be Raising An Only Child

only childI’m the youngest of three children. No matter how many highs and lows my siblings and I have gone through, I’ve always felt grateful that I have an amazing brother and sister to help and support me. I love having siblings. So from the minute I had my daughter, I always imagined her having a little brother or sister to bond with.

From early on, I’ve always parented Brenna like she was going to be an older sister. We discussed learning to share your toys and help those littler than you with the expectation that someday she would have a baby brother or sister toddling around the house. Now that we’re facing the reality of never having another child, I feel completely unprepared. I might have been raising just one daughter, but I never considered that she would be an only child.

Like all toddlers, my daughter has gone through particularly demanding stages when she wants every second of her parents’ time to be focused on her. She wants us to play and to  entertain almost constantly. A couple months ago, I would’ve said, “Well, she’ll learn how to share attention once she has a sibling.” I assumed I had the learning tool of another baby in the house somewhere down the road. Then, my daughter would learn that Mom and Dad have other things to take care of.

It’s not that we gave in to every demand before. It’s just that I wasn’t too concerned with making my daughter understand that her parents still loved her, and that she was still a priority, even when we had other things going on. I felt like we had time to learn that lesson.

Now that I’m considering my daughter’s only child future, that concept seems incredibly important to teach Brenna. That age-old stereotype of an only child who feels like the center of the universe is now in the back of my head, haunting me. I don’t feel like I can put off the, “Mom and Dad have other things to take care of” talk any longer.

It’s not only the spoiled single child concept that’s giving me stress. I’m suddenly very concerned with giving my daughter lots of playdates. The reality is that if we got pregnant tomorrow, my daughter would still be more than five years older than her sibling. They probably wouldn’t spend a ton of time playing with the same things. But that specter of a siblings always made me feel like my daughter would have a partner in crime growing up. Now, I feel like I need to provide her with that type of relationship.

I’ve noticed that I’m more likely to invite cousins or friends over to our house, wanting my little girl to feel like she has plenty of close family. She’s always spent a lot of time with her cousins, but those relationships feel even more crucial now that I have to imagine Brenna without a sibling.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/paul.white.3532507 Paul White

    I wonder if there’s any actual rigorous studies that show that single vs only really matters as far as success and happiness in life goes? My anecdotal observations are that i know single kids that turned out fine, plenty of sibling sets where they all turned out fine, etc.

    • Andrea

      I don’t know…but I recently read a very interesting factoid: no president of the United States was an only child.

      But I don’t think that means anything..despite lots of presidential statistics, there have been only 44. That’s an incredibly small sample. I’m sure only children are like everyone else: some are great, some are rotten, most are average.

      My only fear for an only child is when the parents grow old. I watched my father as an only child having to deal with the death of his parents and it was hard on him not having anyone else to rely on. I don’t mean financially, luckily that wasn’t an issue, but I mean emotionally. Even though he had his wife and children around him to support and help him, he was very alone through the whole process

    • Cali

      This! One of my long-time best friends is an only child, and she told me that while she loved being an only child and having that extra bond with her parents, the idea of someday losing them and not having any siblings to mourn with or share childhood memories with makes her sad. She said that she wants more than one child mainly for that reason.

    • Andrea

      It’s one of the main reasons I had two.

    • Jen

      Just to add to your well phrased opening paragraph (re: presidents) until recently we had never had a president who identified as mixed race either. So that could easily be upended later. I agree with everything else you said. Always pros and cons to onlies and siblings.

    • Andrea

      That’s why I said that it doesn’t really mean anything..just a factoid. With only 44 people in 200+ years, that’s not much of a sample.

    • LiteBrite

      My dad is an only child, and he recently had to deal with getting my very elderly and frail grandparents out of their home (which they were refusing to leave). It was a long and painful process, and I couldn’t help but feel bad for him having to deal with this on his own. I wondered if he had siblings if it would’ve been easier because he had more support.

    • C.J.

      My mother just had to move her mother in to a retirement home. She has a brother and a sister but had no help from them. As soon as gramma needed to go to a home they both took off so they wouldn’t have to help pay for it. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how many siblings you have, you can still end up with no support.

    • LiteBrite

      That’s true too. I’ve heard both sides of the fence: the ones with close siblings who support each other, and the ones who think their siblings can rot in hell (often with good reason). In my case, my siblings and I would stick together. In fact, we’ve even talked about the division of responsibility and finances should it ever come down to it.

    • C.J.

      You are very lucky. I wish I had siblings like that. I’m pretty sure I will be taking care of my parents with very little help from my siblings when the time comes just like my mother has had to do. My sister won’t bother to help and my brother just isn’t very good at that sort of thing.

    • KatDuck

      My dad’s one of four and even though the sibs get along fabulously and there’s no drama it’s still been detrimental to their parents’ care because nothing happens until the four get together and agree on something. So while dad, who lives closest, can see that they need in-home help, it takes the other three flying out independently to verify that and agree. While, if he were an only, that would have been taken care of immediately. OTOH, my mom’s parents benefited because their younger, child-free daughter was able to move in with them and care for them until the end, something my mother couldn’t have done with three small children at home. So, you know, it’s a crap-shot even without the addition of any drama.

    • Olycat

      The Case for the Only Child: Your Essential Guide actually lays out studies showing that only children do better in school and have more successful careers than other kids and have no issues with socialization. A lot of the only child stereotypes are just myths.

  • Olycat

    This makes me sad. You’re not harming your child in any way by her not having a sibling. Only children do incredibly well, are not any more spoiled than other children and grow up well adjusted. Please read “The case for the only child”. I understand being sad because you wanted another child, I am in that boat too. But please don’t think you’re doing any disservice to your daughter.

  • Sara

    I am in a somewhat similar position, instead that I am a divorced mom of a daughter that just turned 5 and always wanted more kids. However, I have no desire to get married or just pop out extra kids and deal with the drama of another “baby daddy.” Therefor, I am in the process of receiving my foster care certification so that my daughter can have the experience of having siblings, in addition give me the opportunity to adopt if the need arises and the stars align. :) There is always a plan B, don’t feel like you are just “stuck” with one child if that is truly not where you want to be.

    • Katia

      Sounds like a good way to keep your child busy, having foster kids here and there :)

    • StephKay

      That is so wonderful, what a fantastic way to grow your family. I wanted to add, for both you and the author, Im the younger half of a non-traditional large age gap sibling pair. My mother had a daughter in her early twenties, planned on having a large family but after leaving her abusive husband didn’t have anyone to have children with and figured it would never happen. 13 years later, at 35, I came on the scene. She did meet someone (although he wasn’t a great partner either, so she did raise us both as a single mom, which didn’t set us back one bit. We’re both hugely proud of her as adults for how hard she worked for us.) and have a second baby after all, but had a tremendous amount of anxiety over how my sister would handle it all after 13 years of them being a pair. Well, lo and behold, I’m incredibly close with my big sister. She surprised everyone and asked to give up her own room to share a bedroom with me as a baby. I spent my first five years sharing a room with her, and when she left home we were so close that I spent all my weekends sleeping over at her new home. I worshipped the ground she walked on, she was the cool teenager after all, and she always saw me as sort of “her baby”. As adults we’re even closer, now in our 20s and 30s the age gap feels negligible. We hang out all the time and she’s super involved with my own kids. We still share childhood memories and consider ourselves just as much siblings as any 100% bio, closer in age siblings would. So if either of you do decide to adopt further down the line, I can say with absolutely certainty that your kids can still have that bond even if it isn’t the conventional way of raising siblings. I know we both benefitted tremendously from the years we had alone with our mom too, and are infinitely closer to her than most mother-daughter pairs. My poor mother never gets a break between the two of us, we call every day and her house is frequently packed with both kids, plus my very pregnant self bringing my three year old daughter around. Not to mention my sisters name is brenna, just like the author’s daughter, which I’m going to go ahead and call a good omen :)

  • whiteroses

    An only child is only spoiled if you let them be. Birth order, or sibling number, doesn’t guarantee that a child won’t be spoiled. A friend has a niece who, every time a new baby is born in the family (whether its a sibling or not) pitches a conniption fit that lasts for about two months, because that’s less attention that’s focused on her. At this point, she’s eleven and she’s been a holy terror for about two years. A lot of that has to do with personality, but parenting is 99 percent of it.

  • lioness

    I don’t think you need to worry about it or do anything special to prepare her. My husband and I are both onlies, we loved being onlies, and we have an only. We’re both generous people who have no problem sharing. I guess we’re sort of introverted and bookish, but we get along with other people fine. Our daughter is easy going and has no trouble interacting with other kids and adults and we haven’t gone out of our way to socialize her. She’s great at playing independently! We can afford to send her to private school and give her all sorts of opportunities that we couldn’t provide for two, and I’m grateful every day that I don’t have to listen to siblings fighting. I’m sure it’s tough not to be able to achieve the vision you had for your family, but I think you should let go of any worries about your daughter’s future or development.

  • rebecca eckler

    There are MANY positives about having an only child. I’m sure I don’t have to share them with you – you are a smart cookie. But less scheduling, more freedom, less costly, easier to travel, stronger bond (maybe, but I think so.) I loved the years when my daughter was an only child. And she was not spoiled at all. Or at least she never acted that way.

  • Lori B.

    My brother and I are 9 years apart in age. We are not very close now, but I think that has more to do with our personalities than the age difference because we are at very similar points in our careers and family lives. We were married a year apart from each other and started having children a year apart from each other. We keep in touch and see each other as much as possible considering we live 2000 miles apart. IF you decide to adopt, a large age gap may not mean a whole lot.
    Also, if Brenna is ever elected President of the United States, wouldn’t it be cool to be the first female President AND the first only-child President?:) (As per Andrea’s interesting factoid)

    • Andrea

      I’m hopeful it will take less than 30 years to elect a woman president ;)

  • LiteBrite

    A few months ago, my son (an only child) had a sleepover at my sister’s. The next day she said, “You can definitely tell your son is an only child. He’s used to people giving him attention when he asks for it.”

    Her comment bugged me but it also gave me some food for thought. To be honest, I’ve thought about whether our decision to only have one child is having negative effects on him. He’ll happily share his toys and is very cooperative with other kids, to a point of being passive at times, but he is very demanding of our attention. However, as others said, I think that has less to do with him and more to do with us as parents. I’ve also wondered about the future of DH and I. Is it fair to leave our son the sole one in charge should something happen to us? What happens when we pass? Will he have to grieve on his own?

    Then again, having another child is no guarantee that he would be less “alone” so there is no definitive answer. Many of the pros of an only child that Rebecca mentioned below are ones I agree with too. So, I have no interesting or witty closing to my comment. These are just some of the things I’ve thought of as the parent of an only child.

  • C.J.

    I’m sure you are doing a wonderful job with your daughter. I know lots of kids that have siblings that are spoiled little brats. I don’t think that is exclusive to only children. Actually, one of my best friends has an only child, he is one of the most well behaved, well mannered kids I know. He and my oldest daughter are three months apart in age. We never had any sharing problems with them when they were small. He was even so thoughtful that when he knew my daughter was coming over he would collect all his stuffed animals that talked and make him mother put them up because he knew my daughter was afraid of them, they were only two at the time. I’m sure you are still feeling very distressed about the news about not being able to have another baby and it is causing you to have anxiety about how it will affect your daughter. You sound like a very good mother. I have no dout that your daughter will be fine regardless of whether you decide to adopt a baby or keep your family the same.

  • quinn

    It’s like you crawled in my head, rooted around, and wrote an article. I am in the EXACT same position. My daughter is about to be 4, she’s the only, and I feel like I’m closing in on the time I have to have another. I am also struggling with issues that are preventing me from getting pregnant, and I am nervous about a 5 year age difference, if it happens at all. I would like to look into adoption also, but I share your same fears. I was an only, and I didn’t like it, but mostly because my parents were not ‘kid people’, so I think her outcome will be halfway determined by your parenting, which sounds like you are doing an awesome job at. Even without much interaction, besides school, I was a social butterfly. It was just my personality, which no amount of awkward parenting seemed to touch. I think she’ll be fine, and if you do have another baby, naturally or through adoption, it will just be icing on the cake. Good luck to us!!

  • Lindsay

    We have a four year old only child. We had intended to have two – but for medical reasons, we knew by the time she was one that she’d be our one and only. For us, the hardest part of having an only child has been hearing others’ opinions about it. Even strangers in the grocery store love telling us that we’re making a mistake.

    Of course, we thought / worried a LOT about what it would look like when we got older (who would take care of us, not having anyone home for the holidays sometimes, etc). And then we realized that they were all kind of selfish reasons to have another child.

    I also read ‘The Case for an Only Child’ and it helped me so much to hear those kinds of success stories about only children – and to know where the danger spots are and how to avoid them. Most of what I thought about only children? Myths. And the rest, we can work on because we aren’t dividing our attention between a million kids. The truth is that most only children suffer no social consequences and end up doing BETTER in almost every area. We’re starting to really embrace the whole only child thing – and all the benefits (and there are MANY).

    More than anything, we believe that family is what you make it. Yes, I’ve mourned our quiet house – especially around holidays. So we invite all our closest friends over and I have a full house for holidays. I hope that we’re modelling this for our child so she’ll create and choose her own ‘family’ too instead of feeling lonely or unsupported.

    Oh! And our only child started school this past fall. Within a week, she had a BFF who she loves to death (and loves her right back). In fact, she has a collection of friends who she now sees both inside and outside of school. And it was EASY for her. I wish I hadn’t spent all that time worrying about it…

    • Katia

      People in grocery stores really need to start focusing on their groceries! Ok nice compliments are welcome otherwise, no thanks to the questions and suggestions

  • CrazyFor Kate

    I have two older half-sisters, but they were out of the house and had kids of their own by the time I was born, so for all intents and purposes I was raised as an only child. I never regretted it. It was wonderful. All things being equal, your kid is not going to suffer for not having a sibling (or not having a bio sibling, or a close-in-age sibling, etc). A happy family is a happy family, no matter what its shape.

  • Katia

    I like your article and I wish you well with your daughter and any possible adoption. It makes me excited to see your articles about adoption as you’ve been impressively honest with your feelings about infertility. I would also like to adopt and also have fears about it. I’d adopt internationally so if the birth mother changes her mind that would be fine (I’d be happy for both of them) it’s more about the child not loving you, you preferring the child that was naturally born to you, child wanting to find “real parents” etc.
    So yeah, looking forward to your take on the process or more about deciding not to adopt; it’s a very interesting topic:)

    Regarding an only child, they do seem more academic and “talented” (both in a good way) than average (from my limited observation of peers and kids of peers) I am not the right kind of parent for an only child though (it seems like a lot of work to keep them entertained and some people are better at this than others)

  • Leigha7

    I was an only child, and I didn’t have any cousins (I have two now, but the oldest is 20 years younger than I am). The only real complaint I have about it is that I haven’t met many other only children, and every once in awhile–not very often, but sometimes–people will act like it’s strange. As for the stereotypes…I’m kind of a weird mixture. On the one hand, I’m used to getting all the attention in my family, but on the other, I’m also very used to entertaining myself. I’m not particularly spoiled, I don’t think. I’d fall into the category of people whose parents wanted to give them more than they ever had, and thus a lot of what they ask for, but who also made sure they learned to be respectful and responsible. Most of my (non-only-children) peers in high school were far more spoiled than I was. I was just about the only kid I knew who had to do chores! I think most of that has more to do with parenting than anything, and some is due to personality. I will say I am probably more possessive of my stuff than a lot of people with siblings are, because all of my stuff as a kid was MINE, no one else’s. It’s weird for me to be at someone else’s house where anything they have is fair game to the whole family. But that is something that isn’t really a good or bad thing, in my opinion (it’s not that I don’t share, it’s just that I bristle a little when people pick up my stuff without asking–it seems strange and rude to me), and if you want to prevent it, that should be doable through teaching.

    I will say one thing. Your daughter is still pretty young, but she’s getting older. She wants a sibling now, but that may not always be the case. When I was little, I desperately wanted a sibling, until I hit about 9 or 10 and I realized that if I got one then, my life would be completely upended. I strongly suggest you and your husband sit down and make some decisions as to whether you want to try to have another child, be it via adoption or any other method, or resign yourself to having just the one, and to consider setting an end date to trying if you decide that’s what you want to do. It seems a lot of your reasons for wanting more than one child are because of perceived benefits for your daughter, but there is a certain point where it could be more of a negative than a positive. By the time she’s a teenager, at the latest, it is probably a bit late to consider bringing in a new baby. She’ll have very much gotten used to being an only child by then, and the dramatic change in dynamics could be unpleasant for her. That’s not to say you absolutely SHOULDN’T have a second child when your first is older, but I encourage you to consider the potential ramifications of doing so before it comes up.

  • Imalia

    You know if you have a “contact this author through” links, said author probably should check their apparent contact details once in a while.

  • Erin

    People pop out too many kids that they cannot care for or afford. Our daughter who is an only child, will be able to travel the world with us, obtain any level of education that she desires (paid for by us), and get a nice down payment for a home. In this day and age, people need financial backing and support. We will also be able to focus 100 percent on her needs and give her our time. I can do this for one child not several. I would far rather give my one child the best start, education, and experiences. I have plenty of play dates and playgroups lined up and my daughter is thriving!

  • digits

    Like other people have said in the comments, you don’t need to worry so much! Children are spoiled because their parents spoil them, regardless of whether they are an only child or not. My mother chose to wait to have a second child so my sister is 9 years younger. My parents were pretty strict with me and I was definitely not spoiled. I never felt lonely because I had friends at school and in the neighborhood. I was happy as an only child and learned to be very independent at a young age. And when my sister was born, I was old enough to understand her needs. I understood a baby needs more time and attention so I was never jealous. In fact, I think because she had both parents and an older sister catering to her, she was the spoiled one. Once she got in pre-school, she figured out that the world did not revolve around her and stopped being a spoiled brat, but I definitely learned a good lesson for when I have my own children. No, my sister and I did not “play” together, and we are not each other’s best friends, but we are incredibly close. I think it’s awesome that I can remember the day she was born and witnessed all of her milestones. The day she got into college, I cried more tears of pride than either of my parents. So it’s okay if your daughter is older and you have another child (through adoption or otherwise), and it’s also totally okay if your daughter is an only child.

  • Manderlay

    I am the mother of a happy only child. She has plenty of friends, does well in school and is often commended for her behavior. There are plenty of other kids we know who have plenty of siblings and are much more materialistic and less empathetic than she is. Please do not feel your child is doomed to a selfish or defective personality because she does not have a sibling. There is enough stereotyping and negativity about only children going around without the parents, themselves, playing into it as well. I did feel quite a bit of pressure to have another child when my daughter was a toddler. However, I also realized that we do not have the resources to raise and educate more than one. I was also in my late thirties when my daughter was born. I decided that I needed to shake off that pressure and to go about raising my only in a positive, proud and matter of fact manner. I never want her to feel that I am ‘disappointed’ that there is ‘only her’. That effectively cured me of any mixed feelings about not having a second child. We have not looked back. I am lucky that I have a healthy and happy family…albeit a small one. I am teaching my child that family is important…but that you can add to your ‘family’ through enduring friendships and through connections in your community.

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  • Charlotte

    Thanks so much for posting this. I am facing the same thing and I feel the frustration of having people comment that I have a child and I should be focusing my attention on him. It feels like people are saying I’m not being a good parent or not being present for him simply because I want him to have a sibling.

    I can relate to what you said about your vision for the future not being so clear. It’s hard to shift your thinking to a new perspective. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that you’re not the only one and I feel better knowing that there is someone else out there who is experiencing this.