Why only children are awesome

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Only Child Club Enamel Pin by Etsy seller PapaLlama
I am a third generation only child, and my son will be a fourth generation only child. I am not just pro-only children — I’ve even jokingly referred to myself as an “only child bigot,” prone to espousing how only children are a master race of superior humans. Really, I’m only half kidding, because I think singletons are AWESOME. (In part because we’re so confident!)

Of course there are logistical reasons for only having one child (concern about world over-population, financial constraints, fertility issues, etc) but these assume you’re making some sort of a sacrifice. For me, I see only having one child not as a limitation — but as a solid dose of pure WIN.

Obviously every family is different and every only child’s experience is unique (SO unique. La la la! I’m a special snowflake!). But here’s my anecdotal take on why I loved being an only child and why I’m excited to raise an only child:

Only children are precocious

Since only children don’t have other kids around as frequently, speaking to adults like an adult is just how things get communicated around the house. I called my parents by their first names until I was in pre-school, when my grandmother told my father that it was simply too weird to hear a three-year-old ask her father, “David, can I have more yogurt?”

I certainly don’t think parents of siblings baby-talk more than parents of onlies — it’s just a matter of numbers: when the majority of conversations in the house are conversations between adults and one child, onlies have no choice but to keep up with adult conversation. As a result, most onlies I’ve known have always had keen communication skills and been highly verbal.

As one adult only child explained, “being an only child prepares you for adulthood because when you’re the only child, your parents treat you like a little adult pretty much as soon as they can. My parents would take me to adult events, where I would be the only child, and expect me to behave and mingle with adults.” Of course, this experience can be frustrating for a child — but if your parents are cool people who mingle with other interesting adults, it’s awesome. (Because did I mention being an only child is awesome?!)

Existential comfort with being alone + imagination bonus!

The reality is that only children DO spend a fair amount of time alone. For me at least, this forced me to develop a rich imagination and overall comfort with alone time. This familiarity with alone-ness has been a major life skill in my adulthood. Because let’s face it: as adults, we ALL spend a fair amount of time alone. Knowing how to be comfortable with that is critical life skill that only children get a head start on.

I spent much of my alone time as a child working on a richly imaginative internal narrative. Was I lonely? Sure, but the result was that vast expanses of my childhood were spent up in my head, composing stories and entertaining myself. Coincidence that I became a writer? Who knows!

“I think most only children learn how to be creative or imaginative at an early age,” an adult only child told me. “Unless there are friends close by, most of the time it takes a parent arranging a play date to get what some siblings have built right in. I can remember going into my room for hours on end and just inventing games and entertaining myself as opposed to relying on playing with friends all the time.”

From your only child card by Etsy seller AlexNicolePaperCo

Being the center of the universe feels awesome

While I wasn’t spoiled with material stuff as an only child, I would never deny that I was spoiled with attention. And you know what? IT FELT FUCKING AWESOME. As one adult only child told me, “I didn’t really notice it until later in childhood, but let’s face it: I got all the attention and I loved it. Good or bad, there was no one to have to live up to or follow behind, and all lessons and experiences were catered to me. I always knew where I stood and that I had the sole attention of my parents.”


Now, I’m not stupid. While being an only child is AWESOME, of course there are significant challenges on the parenting side. Here are few that I’m mostly keenly aware of, based on my experience as an only:

Socialization is very serious business

When there aren’t siblings, it’s up to you as parents to prioritize your kid getting as much social stimulation as they need. I grew up an only child on 10 acres of forest on a dirt road with no neighbor kids, but have always been a pretty social creature. My parents tried to keep me engaged with our community (they co-founded a Universalist Sunday school, sent me to art classes, etc) but truth be told, they were more interested in getting OFF the grid than keeping me plugged into it.

I spent 4th and 5th grade at a tiny private school with only 10 other students — getting even more isolated. My report card for 5th grade says, “Socially, this was a difficult year for Ariel. Although she could recognize the social needs of her peers, it was difficult for her to respond to them.” This is like taking your dog to the dog park, and your dog hiding under a bush and peeing itself.

I feel like I dodged a bullet when, a week before my mom and I were going to start homeschooling me for 6th grade (Homeschooling an only child in the woods = the opposite of socialization!), I decided that I wanted to mainstream with the other kids. The transition to a 650-student middle school was brutal trial-by-fire socialization, but it was desperately needed.

One adult only child friend of mine was sent to “Miss Covington’s Dance School” for dance and etiquette lessons in fourth grade. While the idea sounds ridiculously old fashioned, I absolutely see the value for an only child.

Parents of onlies have to get their kid to the dog park. Er. You know what I mean.

You will pay for other people’s kids to come on your family vacations

Growing up, I thought that EVERYONE got to bring a friend with them on family camp-outs and vacations. It wasn’t until just recently that I realized that most family vacations are with, well, FAMILIES.

But as the parent of an only child, I can already see the advantages of having another kid with us on vacations. It’s more fun for them to have someone to play with and would be less work for us to entertain him. As an added bonus, the parents of the friend get a little break, ta boot! Sure, it costs money to pay for another person’s child to come along, but I think it’s worth it. The worst family vacation I had with my parents was the one where we didn’t bring a friend for me. We went to Puerto Vallarta when I was 12 and I spent the whole trip bored and whining at my parents, who spent the whole trip irritated and trying to entertain me. The vacation culminated in my fingernail getting bitten off by a parrot.

Moral of the story: bring a friend on family vacations.

You will have to teach your kid about sharing objects and space

Every child needs to learn about boundaries and generosity, but the issues become even more urgent with only children. Andreas, who has step-brother and a half-sister, is always laughing at my ongoing issues with sharing.

“What!” I sputter. “I’m very generous! I give things away constantly!”

“Giving is different from sharing,” he says, shaking his head. “You can’t handle sharing.”

And it’s true. I’ll take you out for a nice dinner (my treat! have a third glass of wine!), but stab your hand with a fork if you try to sneak a taste of something on my plate.

Sharing space is another biggie. Only children get accustomed to having things just so, and this particularity with their personal space can develop into an acute sensitivity. I haven’t always been the easiest roommate. And honestly? Sharing is a lesson I continue to learn into adulthood.


So, are you convinced yet? Do you believe me that only children are awesome? I pride myself on being convincing on this issue. After all, I managed to convince my parents of this when at 7 years old, when I heard them contemplating having a second child. I took myself to the library, did a little research, found a book, checked it out, and brought it home.

What was it you might ask? Raising the Only Child by Murray Kappelman.

Comments on Why only children are awesome

  1. I was an only child for 12 years. My parents had my brother when I was 12, and another brother when I was 16. I moved out of their house when I was 20, and as a teenager, well, I wasn’t exactly at home with the kids all that often, and when I was, well, they don’t really remember too much of that since they were so young. I had the pleasure of being an onlie and loved it! As a family, we got to do the things other families can’t always do due to the financial burden of taking multiple kids on outings, vacations, signing them up for little league sports, etc. My life was filled with goodness. Not to say it wasn’t so when my brothers came along, just, well, I got awesome attention. As you mentioned, Onlies are expected to act, speak, think, engage like little adults. This was a huge benefit as I grew up and still works to my advantage. So, while I too could go on and on about how awesome it was to be an onlie, I’ll just say “I second that!” and move on. Thanks for the good read!

  2. I am the youngest of 3 girls but my little girl will be an only child. This really made me feel alot better about my decision. So thank you.

  3. Thank you!

    Seriously, again, thank you.

    Since we had only child-ness kind of foisted on us (a genetic platelet condition will do that to you!) I have been SUPER concerned about Jasper. I’ve known many a kick-ass only child, but I’m still paranoid about MY baby being an only child. I’ve always heard that most onlies really adore it, so I’m pumped.

    Thank you thank you thank you. I’m making Sean read this ASAP. And maybe buying Jasper that book. 😉

  4. As an only child I want to say, amen sister! I’m still working on socialization (I feel like an anthropologist sometimes) and sharing (ask my husband about leftovers) but I’m definitely a lot more independent and self-contained than other people because I learned to entertain myself.

    • “I feel like an anthropologist sometimes” What a great way to put this.

      I was an only child until I was 11, and I’m very much this way. Generous? AbsoFREAKINloutely. Okay with you being in my space or touching my stuff? NO SIR/MAM.

      I will say this – I still have issues playing with others. I was an only child who was NOT socialized at all. I was homeschooled by very religious parents who didn’t want anything to influence me. I had no art classes or dance classes. I had me, and my books, and my overbearing mom. So even now, social situations with my peers have sometimes brought on panic attacks, because I don’t know how to fit in.

      My mom also wanted lots of kids, but ended up for a long time only having me. I was her end all be all, and best friend – which in this case wasn’t healthy.

      SO – make sure your only has lots of playdates! Make sure they step out of their comfort zone from time to time! And make sure you still have an adult life, even if your only is like a tiny adult.

      • Nice! Elisabeth, I would second what you say about making sure they step out of their comfort zones, and add “make sure you step out of *your* comfort zone.” My mom played Nerf basketball with me and signed me up for karate. Now, we’re both big nerds, so that meant that my mom broke her glasses in basketball (I know it was a Nerf ball, but the pole was made of metal) and I fell asleep in kindergarten because karate tuckered me out. So these attempts were short-lived, but my mom streeeeetched that comfort zone of hers to make sure she was stretching mine–or exploring its edges before it was fully formed.

  5. I’ll be honest – I loved being an only child. I kinda had the best of both worlds as a kid from a divorced family – I described myself as an only child with five brothers and sisters. I got to be an only child 99% of the time and only had minimal interaction some half-and-step siblings (all more than a decade older or younger, and I’m not in contact with any of them now). I had tons of friends growing up, and I’ve been more than happy picking my own “sisters” rather than having bio siblings forced on me.

    I was also my mother’s only child, and I relished having her to myself, although that also goes hand-in-hand with being the only child for her to disciple/check up on. There is a fine line between us being close and too emeshed.

  6. Okay- reading this was interesting, I was an only child (my partner is essentially an only child) and I have zero desire to only have one child. Your perspective helped me to understand and accept those who only have one child…. but it didn’t convince me one bit lol We’re going to “wait and see” when we want to stop, but were both content with the idea of 4+ kids. As only children of divorced parents there are so many more issues and complicated situations that would easily be diffused by having siblings to bear those burdens(holidays)(funerals)(illness)(the amount of family china we’ve inherited- 8+ sets and counting). I want our children to have family left after we are gone- our kids will never have cousins as we’re both only children ourselves. I just cant imagine how hard and lonely it would be for our single child without a family support system after/if both of us are dead.

    • I don’t mean to downplay the serious issue you raise in your post. Indeed, I think it’s a good point. I would have been lost without my siblings during this past year. Together we dealt with multiple deployments (mine and my brother’s), our parents’ divorce, moving houses and several other life changing events. I’m so fortunate to have the support structure inherent in our sibling relationship.

      That said, I had to laugh out loud at your china set quandary. 🙂 Thanks.

      • I think that it’s really hard dealing with burdens when you’re one of many. Dealing with seven siblings all argueing and fighting when you lose a parent is horrendous. Hence the reason why I will only have one child. I’m one of too many. And life is too complicated with so many children. You can be lonely even with seven brothers and sisters I can tell you that.

      • Thanks sevillalost!
        I just didn’t want it to get too heavy, and it is a legit problem/situation that we have, I can’t stand the thought of getting rid of any of it- and lately I’ve been joking that we need to have one child for each set of china so we can split it all back up!

        Kiwi- I know where you’re coming from as well, my mother is one of five with an alcoholic mother who died of breast cancer very young. … actually that is one of the big reasons why I have so much of the china. My mother’s husband was the only person capable of dealing with his mother in law’s death at the time, he tried to keep the situation as diffused as possible at that time, and wrapped up the frayed ends after the fact. Therefore nobody else was around to deal with/claim things like the family china, silver, or dining set that has been in the family for 5+ generations. You’re correct that it is complicated sometimes, but the chances of having someone to lean on during those times far outweighs the being alone to deal with things risk to me. Even when they fight (anytime they’re all together for any amount of time, they all still love each other and know they can rely on one another in times of crisis) I’m also hoping to raise children who can communicate with each other without the bickering and such. *Hoping* 🙂 We’re quite a ways away from 5 or 7 though, that’s for sure!

    • i totally agree. i’m a middle child married to an only, and i really want another child, in part to give our son a full sense of family… so maybe right now, i just want him to HAVE to learn to share his toys, but much later in life i’d really like for him to have a sibling to share parental end-of-life issues with.
      that sounds kinda morbid. but the truth is, we all have to deal with our parents dying someday, and i am so sorry that my husband has to do it alone.

      • Well, this comment entirely sums up my debate of having another child or not. My question in your husband facing the death of he parents. IS he REALLY alone? He is married, you have a child. That is a fear of a parent to leave my child lacking in any part of life. Death of us is my only concern for her. Yea, hopefully my daughter will be old with a family of her own. But will she feel alone in our deaths?

      • I am there. I am an only, point of fact I was the only grandchild on one side. My father is dying. There are two things I know.
        1. I will have my support structure, the structure I have made over many years. I won’t be even close to alone.
        2. This will be easier and go better than when my grandfather died. My mom has two siblings both older. All of my grandfather’s care, funeral expenses and estate were handled by my mother and I.
        If you have a well built support structure/community, which only children tend to cultivate, you will be fine. Having siblings is no guarantee anyone won’t be alone in facing loss.

  7. This post was interesting to me for two reasons. #1, because my husband and I (at this point) are only planning to have one child and #2, because it reminds me a LOT of my own childhood, except that I had a younger brother.

    The difference for my brother and me was that my parents were one of the very few couples in their family and circle of friends who had children. Plus, we lived in a very rural area where there weren’t many other children, so much of our social interaction growing up was with adults. Our parents took us along to their grown-up gatherings and out to non-kid-focused restaurants with the understanding that we had better talk and act like adults if we wanted this to be a regular thing. And I loved being in the company of adults. The times where there were other kids around at gatherings, I remember creeping away from the “play room” or other designated kid area to go hang with the adults.

    I guess you could say my brother and I are siblings who were raised like onlies. We had to figure out how to entertain ourselves, and as a result, we’re both very good at that. We’re both independent and good at being alone and, in fact, we want, need, crave it sometimes. And because we had a sibling, we both had to learn how to share. (Though I admit that like you, Ariel, I’m still not so awesome at that!) My brother is now married to an only child, and I think that’s part of the reason they complement each other so well. I guess my point is, I don’t think a child needs to be an only to be develop the positive qualities of an only.

    • This is me as well. My parents have a good ten years on most of their close friends, so as children my sister and I spent a lot of time at cocktail parties speaking about adult things in adult ways with adults. In fact, when I came across an adult stranger who insisted on talking to me like a child I would get angry and frustrated.

      Similarly, my parents never over-scheduled my siste and I with lessons and sports and camps (although we did a few), so we still spent a lot of time being bored, and honing our imaginations, sometimes together, but also often alone.

      That said, I wouldn’t give up having a sister for anything. My friendship with my sister is truly the most rewarding relationship I have. She understands me and the way I think and feel moreso than even my husband. While I realize that I can’t expect my (future) children to end up best friends, I can’t imagine depriving them of the chance to have siblings. Still, I will try my hardest to provide for them that only child experience.

      Good post, Ariel.

    • Agreed! I am an only child with a younger brother (and my brother is an only child with an older sister ;)), it is kind of nice to hear I am not the only one!

    • Chiming in to say “me too!” My brother and I were born to young parents and lived most of our formative years out in the woods. Wouldn’t trade it for the world. 🙂

  8. I confess, I am from a 3 sister family and I spend a lot of my time swearing that the worst thing you can do is have an only child. It was really helpful for me to read this and see the positive side. It’s still hard for me to not dwell on what I think some of the hardships to be since I am in a relationship with an only child.

    I’m curious what all you onlies think about this theory I’ve had about my partner (that I’m guessing will turn out to be more about the parenting and his specific tendencies and less about all onlies).

    2 big characteristics of my partner that I think are a result of being an only:
    – he doesn’t share information or coordinate/compromise well.
    – he cannot commit to anything

    My thoughts are that because he didn’t have to compromise with sibilngs about which movie to pick, where to eat, who gets the car, or any other sharing and coordinating pieces, he does not like to discuss any of his thoughts or plans with anyone and always has control over every decision that’s made.

    Because of his loneliness as a kid and wanti for siblings or friends, he was desperate to be a part of whatever fun activity was happening. To this day he wants to keep his options open until the last possible minute so he can pick the best social event to attend and again, the one he wants to go to.

    I also think because his parents were so happy to have him (wanted tons of kids but only could have the one) they didn’t put any obligations on him. No family commitments that he HAD to go to, so he doesn’t relate to me when I say, “It’s my sister’s birthday, I have to go” or “they’re my parents and they want us at this event” or “it’s a family reunion, I don’t have a choice.” To him, he always has a choice and the closeness I have to my family is weird to him and he would maybe even call it unhealthy.

    Thoughts? Is this just him?

    I wish he just wanted attention because I would cling to all his thoughts if he shared them. The heavenly moment he says what he’s maybe thinking about doing for the weekend, or how he might approach cleaning out the garage, send me into orgasmic bliss. I’m so happy he would include me in his plan or thought process since I will be part of the weekend or the clean up. You know?

    • Every only child is different, but lack of information sharing and overcommitment issues aren’t only child issues I’ve encountered in myself or the onlies that I know.

      • It’s a relief to think there are great benefits to being an only child and that maybe some of the characteristics I worry about aren’t due to that. A relief because I want to have kids and would hate to spend time worrying about whether I can have two just to avoid my fears. It would be nice to think that 1 is plenty and has its benefits for all involved.

      • i second ariel’s response to this, and add that i do have the lack of info sharing issue with my husband, who is a younger brother of 2.

      • My husband is an only child who does not share information well. When I ask why he didn’t tell me something, he often says “I thought it, I just didn’t say it out loud.” My response is usually “Please try not to be in “only child mode!” So, yeah, I guess I always assumed that’s what it was as well. Or maybe its just a guy thing. Who knows!

        • Or maybe it’s not so much a guy thing as a thing that happens when you have certain kinds (or lack of) parents? My partner fits the description pretty closely at times, and he had a sister. His explanation is that when he was growing up his parents never really kept track of what he was up to, or what he thought about anything. He mostly took care of himself, so he never got used to updating anyone (but he’s gotten a lot better about it).

        • “Please try not to be in only child mode!” or variations thereof have the potential to be interpreted as an insult. Any blaming of behaviour exhibited in adulthood on the only child status, particularly from someone who has siblings, may be perceived as a slight against the whole family (all two or three members) of the only child. Have a think about how you would feel if his ‘usual response’ to a behaviour you have is that it is because you are the eldest/middle child/baby of the family?

          • I don’t actually disagree with your point, but “Have a think about how you would feel if his ‘usual response’ to a behaviour you have is that it is because you are the eldest/middle child/baby of the family?” is a laughable suggestion! Most people who have siblings regularly get told their actions and traits are due to their birth order (and it’s very rarely said about positive things!) This is especially true for middle children (which is a very middle child perspective, I’m aware). I even once had a therapist print out some info about “middle child syndrome” to help me understand my mindset, but it mostly just helped me understand I should look for a new therapist!

    • OMG, you could almost be talking about my husband. He is so similar. He is an only and his parents were unable to have more. He did grow up to be close to his cousins (each of his parents are 1 of 4, so there are plenty of cousins to go around), but was very lonely most of the time. His parents divorced when he was young, so he spent much of his time alone while his mom worked full time and put herself through school. He also has communication issues, and finds it difficult to commit to things.

      My brother is only 16 months younger than I and so I have no concept of what it’s like to be an only. I can’t remember ever having time to myself when I was a child. I also always figured that I would have more than one because that’s what I knew. By contrast, my husband swore that he would not have an only and put a child through what he went through.

      For a long time, we thought we would have an only. After a trying to have a second child off and on for years with no success, we had resolved ourselves to only having our daughter. And were fine with that. She’s wonderful and we enjoy (nearly, tantrums aside) every moment we have with her. Then, found out we were pregnant with #2. Our 9 year-old, who we were certain would be an only, is an only no longer. Of course, now we’re having #3 and our second daughter will only be 18 months old when this one is born.

      My oldest still has the experience of being an only in the sense that she’s so much older than her siblings, but is still young enough that she’s learning what it’s like to have to share her personal space and time with mom and dad. Her experience is shaping up to be completely different from either my husband’s or mine.

    • I second what Ariel says about the communication stuff. The two most commitment-phobic, “let me find out what else is going on and I’ll let you know” people I know have two and three siblings, respectively. One is a dude and one is a chick, so I can’t blame it on gender either. They’re just like that!

    • Wow what you were saying about the commitment thing is SO true. Even as an adult I get kind of panicky and excited like a dog whose people have FINALLY come home when I hear about social events. I get so excited about them, and terribly let down if they don’t fulfill my hopes and expectations. I think I kind of treat socializing like someone accostomed to famine treats a trip to Shoney’s buffet. You are so excited to get to do it, but sometimes the steak a’int that good.

    • I’m an only child and never have had a problem with compromise or information sharing. In fact, I probably over share information. I can bore people to death with minute details in stories. And it’s never my way or the highway when a decision is made, big or small.
      My husband, who is one of six kids, used to think it was odd how close my family is. I may not have brothers or sisters but I have tons of cousins, great aunts and uncles..He has his parents and sibilings, and his parents are the only ones he is close to.

    • I’m an only child & I absolutely loved it. I’m also very extroverted & open emotionally. When living with roommates I was able to share & compromise well. However, when I moved in with my 1st boyfriend (now husband) I did have to adjust a bit to sharing my bedroom with someone else. I think that’s probably natural though.

      I think my more negative traits probably come from the way I was parented. That may have something to do with being an only child though (it’s hard to tell) because to parent an only means all your hopes/fears are pinned on that one child. Either way, I don’t feel like I’m any more or less screwed up than my friends with siblings.

    • I have these same issues with my partner who is a youngest child (both of his brothers are about a decade older than him, I think his oldest was about 16 when he was born) and he can’t cordite his thoughts for shit. I told him it drives me nuts as an oldest child, and we’ve been working through it. Sometimes when he makes his, “I’m thinking face” I just ask what he wants to do, and stare at him blankly until he verbalizes it. In the beginning he thought I was nuts but now, he responds almost immediately. But as an oldest child he has noticed that I can NOT be last in anything, not matter what it is. I think no matter were you are in the line of children they are pro’s and cons. But I want an only, me and my partner call him out “Perfect Son, the ONE perfect little son” that we each want one day.

  9. I nearly peed myself when I read, “I’ll take you out for a nice dinner (my treat! have a third glass of wine!), but stab your hand with a fork if you try to sneak a taste of something on my plate.” I am the EXACT same way and I also get the “Sharing is not the same as generosity” speech from my husband. Ah well. Maybe some day I will learn….

  10. As one of 2 siblings, I have to say that there were times I wished I was an only child. However, as a child of divorce especially, it is nice to have at least 1 other person in the world who knows what it was like to grow up the way you did.
    Seems like there are lots of good reasons for both!

  11. I’m the oldest of 3 kids. I’m almost 30 and I’m STILL angry as hell that my parents had two other kids. I remember being happy as an only child and then devastated when my little brother came and my whole world changed. When forced to confront my anger issues over my brother and sister, older family members (parents included) told me that one day they will be your “best friends” — the older we get, the more I can’t stand them. So then what was the point? We didn’t enjoy each other growing up, we REALLY don’t enjoy each other now, every child creates their own family dramas that impact every other family member if they like it or not. At times it seems like torture. Which is not to say that multiple sibling never work out — it’s just to say that from my experience, it’s not worth it.

    So Ariel, I’m with you. The more I look at only children and all the love and attention they get, how mature they are at such young ages and how much they can’t even fathom all shit I go through because of two extra people that my parents gave birth to, the more I KNOW that if I ever have a kid, I’m stopping at one. I would NEVER want to risk putting my child through the hell that I go through because of my siblings. ONLIES FTW!

    • Oh, but that sharing thing… yeah, you guys gotta work on that! 😉 My bff is awesome in every way, he was the reason I decided that I wanted to be an only parent (if that time came) but he’s the WORST at sharing. He won’t even GIVE Ariel, so… at least you got that working for ya. 😉

    • I can only agree with Funkin here. I had the same “your bro will totally be your best adulthood bud” arguement with my mother dozens of times. Our relationship has been strained, awkward and uncomfortable (at best) from the word go. We are too different as people to ever see eye to eye. So on that score, I always wished I was an Only.

      That said, I think the precorcious child arguement is also valid for first-bornsies. I was given a lot of responsility from a young age to help take care of younger bro. It was my job, for example, to help him do homework and chores.

      Also, I think a lot of onlies get babied a lot more than kids with siblings in some familes (no judgement here, I don’t think this is the majority by far), resulting in adults with hyperinflated egos.

      6 of one, half a dozen of the other, I suppose. I think it’s up to individual parents to decide what’s best for their family. Thanks for the thought provoking article!

  12. i’m a very VERY VERY proud only child!

    i’ve always called my parents by their names, and my parents never wanted to be referred to as mr. or mrs. it was always joe and michele (my parents names)

    and when it came to attention not only was i an only child but on one side of the family i was the oldest child AND on the other i was the youngest.

    my parents took me on vacation to a place where there were tons of kids which was nice and people always asked me don’t you want to go to this place or that and i’d respond but there are no other kids to play with

    my parents went out of their way to socialize me because i was very awkward socially up until i was in my late teens my parents even bought a old used mini van so we could take more kids along in outings, because we could only take 2 people along when we went out and as in typical fashion my parents paid for everything including my limo for prom and half of the house we shared down the nj shore

    the only downside i had being an only child is that people just didn’t get that i didn’t want brothers and sisters and that people didn’t get why i got along with my parents so well

    yet my son will not be an only child i love being a mom a million times more than i thought i was and now i want a whole gaggle of kids

  13. This was really interesting and good to have little notes about my sweet only child husband.

    We thought our boy would be an only. And here we are 9 years later with a 6 month old. In a way, they will both be singletons. My little guy was not planned but also not a real surprise. We wanted him very much but our son wanted him even more. I kinda think that we’re getting the best of both worlds.

  14. I’m like Kelly, in that I am the child of divorced parents, so I grew up with 3 older half-siblings (who were 10ish years older than me). I’m still close with 2 of them, but most of my memories of childhood are times when it was just my parents and I. I remember really enjoying that. It helped that my best friend growing up was also an only child, so we spent a lot of time together (including our family vacations! This post made me realize that was an only child thing, I really never thought about it before!).

    I do think I missed out on some socialization, because my mom stayed home with me for 5 years. I think it would have been better for me in the long run to be in day care at least part time, but I understand her reasons for choosing to stay at home.

    But I definitely notice the imagination thing and being able to spend time alone. I spent a lot of time by myself – drawing, reading and playing pretend. I still tend to require a fair bit of alone time – I’m a classic introvert, where too much social time exhausts me and I need some alone time to recharge.

    My partner and I are planning on having one kid (though we’re doing IVF though so we could end up with twins) and are both happy with that decision.

    • We were so committed to only having one that, when we did IVF, we chose to do a single embryo transfer rather than risk twins. That’s how much of an only-child bigot I am: I’d rather have no kids than two! Damn! 🙂

  15. Additional question for all of you onlies. When my mom ended up with breast cancer, I couldn’t imagine not having my 2 sisters there. Only they knew how my family handles this kind of thing (no over affection, no big tears) and with 3 of us, we always know we have the ability to share in the cost and caring of our parents should they need more as they get older.

    My partner is an only child and his mom is in a wheelchair with very little ability to care for herself. His dad cares for her completely but as they get older, his ability both physically and financially to care for her will start to shift to my partner. This is extremely stressful on him, knowing what’s to come. And he also feels unable to move away or go on long far away trips, in case something should go wrong, because there isn’t anyone else to be there to help care for them.

    So part of me always thought I would have 2 kids so they wouldn’t be alone in the decisions and “burden” that caring for your parents may bring. And I of course don’t really think of it as a burden, but I hope you understand what I mean.

    It’s also very hard for my partner to believe me when I say, “if your parents or mom ever needed to live with us, I wouldn’t think twice about it or if we needed to support them financially we would make it work.” It doesn’t make sense to him to share this burden with someone else. Whereas my sisters and I will always share the responsibility.

    Thoughts? Have any of you onlies already gone through this alone? Do any of you that are having onlies worry about this?

    I am really enjoying this thread because I think those of us who have not experienced it may have a lot of skewed views or worries that we don’t really have any justification for. And clearly I want to feel okay about 1 child if that is what my future looks like.

    Thanks to everyone for their candid thoughts and honest experiences.

    • Elder care is a very real issue for adult onlies. But just in the same way that my parents had to be super hands-on with me as an only child, I’m going to have to be super hands-on with them as elders.

      Assuming they don’t off themselves first. My mom loves to talk about her latest dying with intent fantasy. Previous fantasies include: jumping off cliff and being eaten by birds, hiking to coast and “just laying down to die,” feeding self to lions.

      • My mom has made strange comments like that! I’m her only child.

        For toftie and others with her concern, I would add: from friends and family I’ve observed, there’s no guarantee that a sibling is helpful when a parent is old, sick, or dying. The sibling could have problems that prevent them from being helpful. I know it’s sad to think about that. But just as Ariel points out that having a second child doesn’t spare you grief should something tragic happen to your first, I have seen that it’s also true that having a sibling doesn’t guarantee relief, help, or support even when parents need help.

        We can see here that many people *do* benefit from that support, even with a sibling they don’t get along with, like Ariel V! So that’s great. But I have seen it work the other way.

        • When my mother died I cared for her in her last year alone despite having having seven brothers and sisters. They spent the whole time fighting over who should look after her while I just looked after her. Having more than one child doesn’t guarantee you’ll have someone to help you look after your sick parents. Mind you – I felt it was a blesssing to be able to care for her in her hour of need. It was a way of giving back because she had done so much for me.

    • Yep, my experience has been like others who aren’t terribly grateful they had siblings. I was an only for 8 years when my parents had my sister, and I was devastated, and I got that same line about her being my best friend later in life. She is now 28, and we have (at the least) disliked each other for all 28 of those years.

      It all depends on the family, of course, but I think it’s a ridiculous fantasy to think that just because you have children they will be friends. You don’t know who a child is going to be just because they share your DNA. Their personalities may mesh, they may not.

      But, I am also now an adult in the midst of caring for my dying mother, and I am SO grateful to have my sister to share this with. Not emotionally – we are not supporting one another through this and if anything are having an even greater exacerbation of our issues with one another because of it. But the simple fact that she will be trading off with me in a couple of weeks is huge. I am grateful that I can go home for a couple of weeks to recharge, fall into the supportive arms of my chosen family, and re-bond with my cat. It almost makes up for the rest.

      • it’s defiantly an interesting situation when all of a sudden you need to aid for an ill parent when you’re an only child. my mother came down with early onset dementia when i was only 18 (actually the week i turned 18) i took over taking care of my mother because my father had to keep working since they were a 2 person income household.

        it was really hard not to have anyone able to help like i did. i actually ended up not going away to college so i could help and the i ended up dropping out of school because of her care. it was hard because it was just me

        my mother passed away in dec. and because i’m an only child it scares me a little bit. now all i have left is my father, but i was lucky enough to have my awesome child last summer and i’m with someoe whos in it for the long hall

        but i do wish there was more people i my immediate family for the fact that my dad, when he’s gone i’ll have no one left

        • It does suck being the one to shoulder the burden, but having siblings is no guarantee you’ll get to divvy up the tasks of caring for aging parents either. I’ve seen one too many families where one child is tagged the “caretaker” and everyone else is conveniently too busy/too far away to be bothered to help.

    • I can tackle this from a the other side — having siblings. It TERRIFIES me to think about my parents getting sick or getting hospitalized or dying BECAUSE I have siblings. I know that it’s going to be made 100% more awful having to fight with my (in my experience) completely illogical siblings during that time. I would much rather deal with it on my own, as I see fit, without the extra drama, with just my awesome husband and friends to be there for me. I seriously worry about this all the time and wished (again) that I was an only child, and my parents are completely healthy.

      • my father came from a family of 5 kids, when my grandmother passed away it caused a huge fight, to the point where i haven’t talked to members of my family from the time i was 4 or 5 until my son was born (i figured let’s stop fighting because i don’t know why we are and my son deff. does not) even on my mom’s side of family similar issues came up when her parents passed away so i kind of think of being an only child makes it easier to deal with things of that nature, but at the same time it puts more of a strain on you as a person.

    • i cannot IMAGINE life without siblings: sister in army with whom i speak almost daily (even when she was in kuwait!) and brother in same city. he, his gf, my hubs and i are bffs – vacation, dinner together, etc.

      on the other hand, hubs has sister he barely tolerates, who ADDS to the “caring for sick parents” drama.

      my brother’s gf is totally estranged from her brother and has fights with sister (in 30s) every time there is a family gathering.

      my point? i can see both sides. i think because my sibs and me are so close, we have “taken in” hubs and gf, they have become fourth-and-fifth siblings. i imagine onlies often find “sibling” closeness in cousins, in-laws, best friends, etc.

      • i’m very VERY close with my 2 older cousins. we always went on vacation together and grew up together pretty much. my son will (because he can’t really speak yet) refer to both of them as aunt. we’re close like sisters are. we fight but also love each other

    • My parents aren’t at that age yet, but it does concern me a bit being an only. On the other hand, if you have one kid or six there’s no guarantee that any of them are going to take care of you when you’re old.

      I’ve also heard numerous horror stories of siblings fighting to the point of ruined relationships as the parents get sick and pass away. It’s either arguments over money, effort, or who gets what when they die. I’m sometimes glad it will just be me handling things when my parents get older.

    • I can’t imagine going to my brother for support with anything and I can’t imagine him calling me up. When we were kids and my dad died, we weren’t even helpful to each other then.
      My mom is one of 7 kids and you’d think that between them they’d have care of my grandparents covered, but my mom has taken care of almost everything.
      My main reason for only having one child is because I care deeply about the future of this planet. Almost all of our problems stem from overpopulation. Why do 2 people need to replace themselves, or worse, create more than themselves? One thoughtfully raised child seems much more valuable. I know parents think that they are teaching their kid to share and to not be narcissistic by not giving them their undivided attention all the time (and that only children can be neglected too) but I think there’s much better ways to learn that lesson. I want to give my daughter all the love and attention I possibly can. I figure that she didn’t ask to be born into this world. It was my choice, and I owe her my very best undivided attention (and room to be independent, of course).

      • I agree 100% about overpopulation…it is the root of so many of the world’s problems. Thanx for putting this sentiment in words. So glad I’m having only 1, for precisely the reasons you state…He’s going to get, as you state, our very best undivided attention (and independence)!

    • I’m an Only that didn’t come along until my parents had been married 18 years. Very soon, I’ll be faced with the same bleakness your husband faces. Not gonna lie, it sucks. If I think about it too hard I start to hate it, but then I remember that I’ve had the burden of “Daddy being old” looming over me for my entire life, and I’ve been so SO loved in spite of that for nearly 30 years.

      What worries me more is that my FHTB is also an Only with older parents; if the burden of their care falls to us at the same time, we’re faced with an even bigger problem. We’ll have to be ready to fly in one direction or the other at short notice every single day. And other than each other, neither of us has the kind of support group both of my parents had when my grandparents passed away. The ends of lives are when families pull together, even when siblings don’t usually get along, but we’ll be the other’s only family when the time comes. The thought terrifies me, especially growing up as poor as I did and knowing that his family is hip deep in credit card debt.

      But the fact that I’m able to plan for that possibility without the panic many people feel at the thought of their parents passing on is another of my strengths as an Only. I grew up worried and putting other people’s needs before my own (and admittedly angry about it), but that’s part of what made me realistic and organized. It’s part of what made me strong. It’s not the most positive part of being an Only, but it’s another possible skill. Supportive siblings would help, but a supportive spouse will do more good, siblings or not.

    • I’m an only child and I take comfort in the fact that I only have to follow my parents wishes for their end of life care.

      My mom has 6 siblings, all geographically far flung from each other. One of my aunts moved my grandmother in with her during her last year of life and cared for her without any local support, like an only child would have to. Once my grandmother passed all 7 fought bitterly over her things, ignoring grandmas wishes over who would have what and the funeral arrangements. 3 years later my mom is still complaining about a spoon she didn’t get and everyone hates that my mom took my grandmothers knitting needles for me (even though I’m the only knitter). Very ugly, very petty.

    • I’m real late to this party, but I wanted to offer a perspective from an only child who has been wrestling with this for some time. Between parental neglect issues and a huge geographic gap between us (my parents live in Florida, and I’m in Minnesota), I’m honestly looking to hand my parents’ care over to my cousins. I have a few cousins down there that are actually emotionally closer to my parents than I am. If things go south for my parents health-wise, I’m going to need my cousins to help me out because it would be about impossible for my husband and myself to pack up and move 1000+ miles when we’ve already set down roots really far away from my family. I’ll make periodic visits, but the everyday needs will need to be handled by someone else. (I should also mention that my parents absolutely refuse to live in Minnesota because it’s too cold for them while the cold helps regulate my moods.) So it may be time to sit down with your husband and look at some options for assistance (if not complete transfer of responsibility). Whether it’s (distant) family nearby, groups that help paired orphaned seniors with caregivers, or something else, it may be time to shift your thinking of elder care a bit. (Admittedly, I’m not sure what I’m going to do about myself when I get to be that age. My husband and I are not having kids, and I’m probably more likely to die before he does. I am looking at trying for the orphan “adoption” route myself, but I suspect I probably won’t be eligible.)

  16. As an only child I also appreciated that without siblings to compare myself to OR to be compared with I was able to more easily (I think) develop my own identity rather than having something foisted upon me (the oldest and therefore responsible one, the baby who is spoiled, the smart one, the athletic one).

    I still feel like I have a lot more freedom to be my own person because since I’m the only kiddo my parents know, they think most things I do are just fine, whereas if there was a sibling to compare to I worry I might not have measured up.

  17. Blood related family isn’t the only family out there. My best girl friends are closer to me than my parents and my brother. So onlies or those without a close connected family can be blessed to have non-blood related “sisters” and adopted “mothers” who are there and you love just as much as any blood related family.

  18. can’t imagine life without my lil sis!! An argument for multiple children, what happens when there is a horrible accident/tragic death in the family, and you are down to just an only child? What if you only started with one? I can’t imagine that sort of a loss . . . it’s a selfish argument to have more than 1 child.

    On the flip side, I know a friend who is an only and she basically got a job in college because she was an only and “knew how to work alone/by herself”

    • Yeah, I’m not sure “additional children as insurance premium against potential grief” makes a lot of sense for me.

      • I know a mother who has lost one of her two children in a horrible car accident. The devastation and grief it caused her was not mitigated by having another child. If anything, the surviving child didn’t get full attention and care while the mother was wrapped up in her grief.

    • “If your kid dies past that window, you’ll never have a kid again. Sure, you’ll have the memories, but that’s it.”

      Absolutely not true, and pretty surprising that this was stated on here. What about adoption? Surrogacy? Foster parenting? There are LOTS of options to have kids in almost all walks of life. If a parent loses their child later in life and is infertile, they can still have kids just like ANY other infertile couple.

      • “There are LOTS of options to have kids in almost all walks of life. If a parent loses their child later in life and is infertile, they can still have kids just like ANY other infertile couple.”

        And sometimes a parent who loses a child will decide not to have another one, for various reasons. My son was stillborn almost five years ago, and I have decided not to have any other children – in part because of age, in part because of some goals I have in my life, in part because it just doesn’t feel right for me.

        One child cannot replace another, in any way. It’s just not possible.

  19. This was fascinating, both article and comments. I’m the youngest of five children. At one point my mother had four children five and under, but then a twelve-year gap before I was born. (Surprise!) I feel that I got the best of both worlds. Four older siblings who adored me (my sister only applied to one local college because she didn’t want to miss me growing up, and she’d take me to all the Disney movies and sometimes I spent weekends at her dorm – great memories), but a solid support system. The age gap is enough that I never felt pressure to be like them, but my parents never freaked about anything I did because someone had done it before. (When I wanted to dye my hair pink, my mother said to go ahead because it’s only hair, and afterwards told me how great it looked.) I’ve always been a huge reader, so I never felt bored as a child. My parents enrolled me in daycare for socialization, but I never got on with the other kids and my mother would arrive in the afternoon to find the others outside playing and me inside, all alone, reading a book. So that didn’t work out so well, and I had a rough time of it in school, but I can’t imagine being any other way.

  20. I have to say I’m on the fence with this. I am 25 now and an only child, even though I always considered my parents’ siblings (seven uncles between 16 and 23 at the time I was born) and now their children (3-13 of age atm) as a “sibling-replacement” but I have to say that up to this day I would rather have had a sibling.
    It’s strange to me though, because reading Ariel’s post I realised how many of these things I would agree with (like being more like a small adult than a child or being wildly imaginative and I had almost verbatim the same statement on my gradecards in primary school) but I always felt that it would have benefitted me to have been exposed to children my age more. Being an Only has made me very individualistic and why I love love love that about myself, it gets me in constant trouble with other people. Sharing not only space or other things but especially friends and friend’s time is sometimes difficult for me.
    And the past year has increased my wish to have had a sibling. My Mum has had a stroke at the age of 45 and while she has recovered greatly, there was a huge strain on me since she was really unhappy during her recovery (and still is) and loaded a lot of that onto me. And while you can talk to your friends about that, I felt having a sibling to share that with would have helped me not having to feel so guilty and responsible for my mother. I think there are great reasons for either decision though…

    And just on the food issue. My best friend who is also an Only and me realised recently that we don’t only stab people with forks, we also inquire differently. Rather than asking: “Is anybody still wanting/eating that?” we ask “None of you is wanting that, right?” (fork already in the last piece of cake/corn-on-cob/whatever)… we do get a LOT of stick for that^^

  21. I am an only (currently single with no children). I lean towards the loving it side but I do have a few issues with it… a lot of what’s been said already.

    First of all, I’m incredibly independent. Always have been from a very early age. Like Ariel mentioned, I was at adult parties mingling with adults at age 3. I think that did make me a good conversationalist and also a social butterfly. But I’ve also been totally happy to be alone and don’t NEED a partner (which could be looked at as a bad thing in our society).

    I’ve always had an easy time making friends and love my close friends like family. Like someone else mentioned, a couple of my girlfriends are like sisters to me.

    I work for myself and love it (another symptom of doing homework myself, playing alone, etc). Only problem is I have a hard time delegating which is difficult to move business further, but I’m working on that.

    Here’s what I think could be possible differences in only children and their behaviors (of course, not always the case but sometimes)… only children of divorced parents have different issues to deal with. I was almost smothered by my mother. I was her everything after she left my father. Wonder if that’s why I now live 3000 miles away from her? I love her dearly but I’m guessing that had something to do with it. I also HATED holidays! It was always down to “who gets Megan.” I was always put in the middle and that role was incredibly uncomfortable at a young age (yes, that was my parents shit but I think that’s pretty typical).

    And lastly, with my father’s sudden passing 6 years ago, I have to say it was utterly awful to go through that alone. That was the only time I really hated being an only child. I would have loved the support and comfort of a sibling at that time and I can already visualize a painful time when my mother ages, as it’s going to be all up to me to care for her. Granted, I’ll easily put my life of hold when that happens (despite the smothering, she was an amazing mother).

    So I think for me, there are pros and cons. I don’t have kids but I would happily raise an only child and be seriously ok with that decision… mostly that I’m not into over-population and knowing that I was an only and came out pretty well (if I do say so myself).

    • As an only child of divorced parents, I really understand this. My husband is one of three, and his extended family is huge and local. My extended family is huge too, but live on the other side of the country. Suffice it to say, holidays get very busy. We have way too many places to go, and in my family, not attending isn’t an option. No one wants to share holidays, either, because both my parents want equal “me” time. However, this is our first holiday season with my son, so now I get to set the rules. It’s going to be great!

      However, one of the bigger pros of having divorced parents is that I get to collect steps! I have a step-sister and step-brother that I adore (and they were both raised as only children, so we all get it), and even have a little nephew now.

  22. Deciding family size is a totally personal thing. Some people are built for a big brood and others are not. I always tell inquiring folks, “I can be a really great parent to an only child or a mediocre parent to two.” That usually shuts people right up.

    • So true! I mean, I plan on having only one child (unless twins or something suddenly arise). As absolutely horrible as this it, our lifestyle wouldn’t really accommodate more, partially for financial reasons, but mainly because we like living in an urban centre (thus less space), we like taking trips (costly with multiple children), and I am at high risk for post-partum depression. While I plan on having one kid, I don’t think I would put myself at risk more than once.

      On the flip side, I think big families are great too! The main arguement I hear against them in offbeat/alternative culture is that they are horrible for the environment. I think only kids can be just as horrible, it is all about how the family uses resources. I mean, hasn’t anyone met couples with zero kids who live in McMansions and then say, “Oh, we aren’t having kids because it is bad for the environment” then drive off in separate gas guzzling SUVs. That came out ranty, but what my point is that there isn’t a “Wrong” number of kids. It is so personal, and it so depends on what works for you!

  23. You make some good points…but I am not convinced! haha. I can’t imagine only having one child…and neither can my husband (he is an only child and did not like it at all!). We don’t know how many kids we’ll end up having…but more than one for sure.

  24. My mom had five daughters and I can see a lot of drawbacks and pluses I encountered as one of five kids. I always had someone to play with, I am a fantastic mediator and compromise-r, etc. But I have always thought there were some drawbacks; for one I have a hard time meeting and maintaining new friendships. I think this is related to siblingness because I always had a built-in “crew”… and still do, so I never got used to putting myself out there to make new friends or maintaining relationships that were not the kind that ensured themselves (I will ALWAYS have my sisters, even though we’ve been total inconsiderate shitheads to each other here and there).

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