When people find out I’m an only child, they often ask me how it was growing up. Well, I don’t know any other life, and I had a very happy childhood. So I’d say it was great!
However, as I consider my own family and how many children I’d want, I have to consider more carefully. From a parent’s standpoint, I can understand why people would choose to have only one child. Raising just one child already requires a lot of time, energy and money. And for some people, they are only able to have one. But if I were given the opportunity to have more than one child, I would. To me, it’s short term pain for long term gain. Why? Here are some of the pros and cons to being an only child from my experience:
– Attention from my parents. This one’s pretty obvious. Because it was just me, I had both my parents’ full attention. I never had to compete for it. Perhaps if I was a more rebellious kid, this may have counted as a disadvantage. But I did enjoy having all their attention.
– Relating well to adults. Since I grew up without siblings or cousins my age, I spent a lot of time around adults. I remember sitting with my parents and their friends after dinner just listening to their conversations. This taught me how to interact with people much older than myself. When I got married, Tim noticed that I had lots of older women friends and that I would strike up conversations with people older than us with much more ease than he would.
– Independence. Not having siblings meant that I had to make decisions on my own. It also meant that I had to entertain myself and find ways to occupy myself. I ended up doing a lot of reading and drawing. I also had to problem solve on my own.
– Suited an introvert. Being an only child was great for me as an introvert. I had plenty of time to think and be by myself. I’d still have play dates with friends, but a lot of the time, I just hung out on my own, which I totally didn’t mind.
– Maturity. One of the effects of spending a lot of time with adults was that I learned early on how to think like them. In my growing up years, I would often hear the comment, “You are so mature for your age!” But maybe it was just that I learned how to sit still and not run around that made me appear more mature.
– No one to share responsibility with. As I grew older, I realized that one of the downsides to having no siblings was that I had all the responsibility for my parents as they grew older. For their 25th wedding anniversary, I threw them a big party and I remember wishing I had siblings to help me with organizing it. And as I look into the future, I will be the only one to care for them in their golden years.
– Not knowing how to fight. Believe it or not, learning to fight and have disagreements is a useful life skill. Having no one to fight with while I was growing up meant that I had a lot of catching up to do when I hit my adult years. My first roommate bore the brunt of this learning curve for me. Thankfully, she was very patient and gracious with me. To this day, I still recoil at the thought of debating someone, which is too bad for my husband because he loves to debate!
– Unaware of other’s opinions. A related effect of not having to disagree with anyone was ignorance of perspectives outside of my own. Again, I learned about this from my first roommate. When I first moved out of my parents’ house, I thought my approach to problems was the only one and I expected others to see it the same way. Over time, I learned that there is usually more than one solution or one viewpoint and that others’ opinions are just as valid.
– Loneliness. This is usually the first disadvantage that comes to mind when people think of only children. Well, it’s true. There were many times where I felt like I was an “only lonely.” And I grew up often wishing I had an older sibling (older, because a lot of my friends had younger siblings and they didn’t seem to enjoy having them very much).
– Discomfort relating to children. Since I spent so much time with adults, I never was very comfortable in relating to other children. I didn’t really know how to let loose and play like the other kids. It was not until I had my own child that I could finally feel less awkward playing with kids.
– Not knowing how to ask for help. The flip side of being independent was that I tried to do everything by myself. It was an eye opener for me when I started dating Tim to see his family ask each other for opinions before making decisions. I have had to learn to ask for help and input over the years.
Overall, growing up as an only child was a positive experience for me. But there were definitely areas (especially socially) where having siblings would have prepared me better for engaging with the world. So even though as a parent, it would be easier to only have one child, in the long haul, I think it benefits the whole family to have more than one child. Who I am today is very much influenced by the fact that I grew up as an only child. But I’m also thankful that through marriage, I have siblings for the adult part of my life!
Want to read more? Here are a few books about being and parenting an only child (affiliate links):