Why only children are awesome

Posted by

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 am a 56 year old only child. Being an only child rocks! You have privacy, time to spend with your parents. Adult conversation with parents, not childish gibberish with inane siblings. No sibling rivarly! Peace! Peace! I would have it no other way! Amen!

  2. I loved being an only child. But I am now married to another only child, and that was…a little difficult. Sharing space? We’ve lived together for 6 years and it’s STILL an issue. Giving? Yes. Sharing? Nope. I often buy my own food so that I don’t have to food race my husband.

    We haven’t decided about kids yet, but if we have ANY, we’ll have one. And then we’ll be a genetic island all alone in a world of people with siblings.

  3. I was an only child and though I didn’t really think much of it now I see my husband and his brother and wish I had that sort of closeness with someone. Neither me nor my husband are very social beings and his brother is his best friend. It’s of course very nice to see but I am envious.

  4. I’m an ‘effectively’ only — my step- and half-sisters are 13 years younger and we never lived together. I envied children with siblings their built-in posses, but sharing my mother with some interloper was out of the question and I told her as much. I was definitely imaginative, bookish, and preferred the company of adults, and do think onlies have it pretty great in a lot of ways. The two reasons I’m considering having a second child are that I don’t want my child to have to face the burden of elder care alone, and that as older parents I know we will die relatively early in her life, and a sibling is the next-closest thing to a parent. The problem, of course, is that you never know what sort of relationship your children will have. My partner and his sister are extremely close and I would just love for my child to have a relationship like theirs. My mother and her sister, not so much!

  5. I’m 34 and pregnant with my first child and since I’m approaching the fabled 35 mark, already we’ve had questions about if we’ll have more than one. My grandmother, in particular has said “Oh, you don’t want an only child,” like it was some strange whimsical notion. She had two children, and both of her children had two kids as well. But I really like the idea of dedicating our focus to helping this child become the best person he or she can be without having to divide our attention. My opinion could change after we have the baby and get a chance to see what it’s like to raise a person, but for now, I think helping to make one great human being means the most to me.

    That said, my husband is an only child and one of the drawbacks is that even though we both would love to move to another state, we feel obligated to stay near his parents since they are getting older and we want them to be involved in their grandchild’s life. Then again, I have a brother who is 13 years older than me and we are both struggling with what our obligations are to our mother, who has no retirement savings, is living on a fixed income and has health problems and who we both have a difficult relationship. I love my brother and am grateful to have him in my life, but I don’t think either of us ease the burden for each other…we just have each others backs in a dysfunctional scenario.

  6. . . . or they’ll hate each other, or it’ll be something in-between, or two or three of them will love it and one will feel picked on and vengeful. . . etc. I’m sad that your only-child-hood was sad. It sounds like your parents had something to do with that–and they still do. It sounds like you have responded by creating a loving home with many kids. That’s truly great.

    Some onlies loved being the only, and continue to. I’ve had it both ways, having had half-sibs. I could tell you which I prefer, but you can probably guess!

  7. I just want to add my vote. I am an only child and I hate it. Sure, there are advantages and I know that having multiple children is not an option for everyone. BUT, I hate it. I could never do that to a child of mine.

  8. I’m a triplet. I don’t even know where to begin explaining the problems there.

    I still plan to have at least 2 children – in an ideal world, I’d have twins, because all I’ve learned about age gaps is that there is NO good age gap. At least with a set of twins, I’d know what to expect.

    Protip: don’t tell them which one’s eldest. Even better, avoid finding out entirely. You will treat them as ‘eldest’, ‘middle’ and ‘youngest’ whether you mean to or not – and that shit’s fucked up, man!

    • Woa interesting point about birth age! My identity as oldest is so there it would be interesting to have found my own or somthing like that…

  9. My childhood was… varied, for lack of a better term. I lived with my mom and grandparents until mom had a baby when I was 5. I lived with two older step siblings and a baby sister for a few years, then I moved in with Grandma, so it was just me and her for a few years until her death. Then I lived with my older step brother, and my four younger siblings (3 of which were 11+ years younger than me). Then my step dad took off, so i spent most of my teenage years being mom, while my mom worked. I’m now the oldest (my older step siblings live hours away, and my step dad never sees his kids) of six (new yonger step sister when my mom remarried) and aunt to one amazing new little boy.

    That ridiculously lengthy explanation aside, I loved the years I lived with my grandma as an “only child”. The relationship I had with her is probably the most defining part of my life so far. I was incredibly blessed, but I think that was more about knowing HER than being an “only” child. My relationship with my siblings, who’ve been through my dad’s abandonment, house fires, foreclosure, poverty… just growing up in general; I wouldn’t trade that for all the attention and money and fancy vacations in the world. Maybe because I played the mom role with them for a while my view is slightly less sibling-like, but they are the greatest, most amazingly infuriating, funniest kids I’ve ever known. I know not everyone has that relationship, but I’m very glad that I do. IF I have more than one child (I’d be happy with just one, as well) I hope they have that relationship with each other. If I only have one, you’d better believe they’ll have 900 cousins to pester anyway!

  10. I’m expecting my first child and we’re thinking about it being our only. I’m the youngest of 3, and I do love my brothers, but I much prefer spending time alone and imagining than I ever have playing with others. And when I do, I prefer small groups. So my unborn child’s socialization isn’t a huge factor to me. It’s more about committing to a decision and not turning 50 (I’m 34) and thinking, oops, wish we’d had one more!

    I laughed at your inability to share. The hubs and I share everything – meals, wine, food, the 1 car we drive, time, chores, etc. But there are nights I say, “If you want some ice cream, get your own, I don’t want to share this.” Boundaries! I think we can teach our child those virtues ourselves.

    The travel aspect worries me a bit, we want to go on month long stints various places. But that’s what summer camps and art classes are for, right?

    I love how positive you are about the only child phenom and its many benefits, these types of posts are hard to find!

  11. I used your altered image in my own blog post today which is on the subject of becoming an only child as an adult. I love the image…thx 🙂

    I must say that you’ve described my 17 year old only child to a tee. My life has been enriched by the many wonderful friends that have ‘tagged’ along with her over the years…especially her long time (since 4yo) bff (she is like my honourary daughter…I have been asked many times how old my children are when taking them out together even though they look little alike!).

  12. I am from a BIG litter myself and was devastated when I learned my baby would be an ‘only’. As a child and in my work life I had a weird knack for picking an only child within the first meeting. This wasn’t because of anything overly negative (although sharing thing was dead give away haha) it was just a huge invisible barrier of DIFFERENT-NESS. I remember thinking ‘Woah whats there deal? Ohhh an only child.’ It was just you just couldn’t get more different from me then that!

  13. Where to begin.

    1. Only children are precocious: I learned to read at the age of three and, according to my parents, never talked “like a kid”. I read so much that I imitated the things the adult characters said, which apparently resulted in me sounding like a very small adult a lot of the time.

    2. Only children are more comfortable with being alone and more imaginative: I spent hours and hours by myself, either outside making up games involving the trees and the yard and my cat, or inside, creating an entire world with my toys that I later tried to write a novel about.

    3. Only children are the center of their parents’ universe: I never once felt like my parents had to divide their attention at all. I grew up knowing exactly how much they loved me because they showed me every day. I was independent enough to not feel slighted when everything wasn’t all about me.

    As you may have guessed, I am not an only child. My older sister is in fact the one who taught me to read at the age of 3. She is also my best friend, far closer than I could ever be with anybody else. We grew up quibbling and pushing each other and yes, competing and it was the best thing I could have had as kid. We forced each other to grow and think in ways our parents couldn’t. Plus, I’ve never had the sharing issues.

    I love most of what Ariel writes but this post really got my hackles up because it is terribly dismissive to the advantages of having a sibling and pretends that the advantages of being an only child are impossible for those with siblings to attain.

    I’m not saying that all children MUST have siblings. I’m just saying that I think this presents a one-sided view of the matter. Ultimately every family is different and what works in one isn’t necessarily what works in others.

  14. Wow…It never occurred to me until now that I was the only one whose parent let me bring friends on vacation with me! I was also the only, only child of my friends so that makes a lot of sense lol.

  15. I had the best of both worlds – I’m an only, who grew up next door to my two cousins, both around the same age as me. We had a combined backyard with a patio, pool and swing set that both families shared. I had my mom all to myself whenever I wanted to, yet still had “siblings” wandering in and out of my house whenever they wanted to.

  16. The main reasons we are having 1:

    – having 2+ is more time consuming and expensive. (more time spent helping with homework, more maternity leave, less accumulated leave, less work flexibility/ options, more stuff to clean up, more food to make, more children to buckle in the car, potentially needing a bigger car/house, more doctor, childcare, school, dental fees, travel etc… more logistics, rivalries, less parent time potentially because we would have to make more money to provide for 2)

    – They might not get along anyway. Why have a sibling to potentially provide your child with a friend? They can pick their own. A sibling doesn’t guarantee anything. Plus I’d like to provide my all to one. With one I can still work full-time instead cycling down to part-time or stay at home mother like so many others around me. I’ve watched make the sacrifice or my partner can work part-time or I could without a huge sacrifice. I can juggle work, travel and parenting in a balanced way. With two I couldn’t.

  17. Although it was interesting to hear your views on being an only child, I don’t think your conclusions (pro and con) apply to onlies across the board. I was not an only child, yet ALSO wished I could have brought my best friend on trips, not just have my pesky sister there. Alas, my parents never thought of that. How about the fun of kids meeting other kids to play with on vacations? Your point about onlies having to get used to going to adult functions…isn’t that a little selfish on the part of the parents? Occasionally we’ll take our son to gatherings where it is all adults and I’ll say it worked better when he was younger. Now he’s an older kid and no, has not gotten accustomed to it, now he’d rather just not go, and I see his point. All parents of onlies aren’t living in a secluded, adult-only world that your parents seemed to prefer. We actually attend more family type events with families we’ve known awhile and he gets plenty of time around other kids. I do know other onlies and I don’t see that they have a problem with sharing, space or anything else. My son and his best friend are practically joined at the hip and are always swapping and sharing stuff. I personally feel that kids WITH siblings have a much harder time with sharing as they are always forced to share and are resentful of it. I know I was!

  18. I literally went to Miss Covington’s too! It’s hard for me to believe that anyone else from Bronxville, New York is on this site or friends with Ariel, but it’s heartening if true!

  19. I literally went to Miss Covington’s too! It’s hard for me to believe that anyone else from Bronxville, New York is on this site or friends with Ariel, but it’s heartening if true!

  20. Thank you for posting this. My husband and I have been speaking about this – I had significant concerns regarding having multiple kids with my underlying health issues, and it was so ingrained within me that ‘only children are at a disadvantage’ I was thinking the option was no kids or multiple! My husband has since opened my eyes to the possibility and this article really helps with that 🙂

Read more comments

Comments are closed.