Prev Next

Only children: will they grow up to be selfish, lonely, self-centered, homicidal maniacs?

By Alice Bradley

Scott and I have been torturing ourselves over the question of trying again for a second child. We share an urge to embiggen the family, but we also like our little club just the way it is. Henry certainly seems happy enough on his own. True, he has occasionally asked for a little brother, but I think he does that just to hear my heart explode. Practically speaking, our lives heavily favor the three-person-family scenario. So maybe we’re okay as we are. (Maybe.)
Now, if we were making this decision a century ago, we would know that we were duty-bound to procreate again, lest we warp our son forever. “Being an only child is a disease in itself,” stated G. Stanley Hall, turn-of-the-century child psychologist. ( Hall, a grim-looking bearded fellow, is largely credited with starting the anti-only prejudice that has lingered lo these many years. ) And according to olde-timey psychologist Alfred Adler, “The only child has difficulties with every independent activity and, sooner or later, they become useless in life.” (Oh, Al, you’re adorable .) Freud wrote that only children had sexual identity problems. But what do you expect from Freud?
Fortunately, modern research has debunked these expert’s questionable opinions. Henry, it seems, is more likely to be warped because he thinks “olde-timey” is a valid adjective (seriously, he uses it all the time) than he is by his only child status. In fact, hundreds of studies have shown that only children are no different from their peers. If anything, they’re, shall we say, superior. A landmark 20-year study showed that the only child’s increased quality time with his or her parents results in higher levels of achievement, academically and professionally. And according to a Newsweek story, “only children tend to be friendlier and more communicative, to get along well with adults and to have exceptionally close relationships with their parents.”
Still, there’s a lot of guilt associated with the decision to stop at one. Is it a selfish choice? Will my child be lonely and wish he had siblings, down the road? A quick Google search showed me that I’m hardly alone with my questions. Ask Moxie fielded questions similar to mine, and the comments she received from parents of only children were, by and large, reassuring. One potential problem kept cropping up: the only child being forced to take sole responsibility for aging parents. One commenter wrote, “If there is a compelling reason to have another sibling ‘for the sake of’ an existing child, then it’s not because it will necessarily make the kid’s childhood better, but because it will save the child from having to care for elderly parents by himself or herself, which is actually a pretty big burden. Is it enough of a reason? I’m not sure.” I’m not sure, either. But if the parents of an only child are that concerned, surely there are steps they can take well before they become too infirm to make their own choices.
Practical matters aside, the only child is left to bear alone the emotional burden of his parents’ aging and dyingβ€”and that’s a sobering thought. When my father had heart surgery and then suffered one complication after another, my siblings and I provided each other support, information, and lengthy bitch sessions. I don’t know what I would have done without them. And there’s something invaluable about a sibling who can agree that Event X really did happen in the way you remember, or that your mother (for instance) really did act as crazy as you think she did at Easter dinner. Siblings can help you feel less insane. (Unless they’re crazier than you are, in which case I don’t know what to tell you.)
If we lived in Italy, I might really be torturing myself over this issue. Across Europe, the average family size is shrinking, with birthrates plummeting to dangerously low levels in countries such as Italy and Greece. This trend, along with the population’s increased longevity, could spell disaster down the road: imagine countries populated by retirees, with no one to run, well, anything. It’s not a pretty picture.
Fortunately us American people are still birthing like crazy, so our only-child status won’t destroy the United States’ future economy. So maybe we should have another child and then move to Italy, to help Italy’s population. But what will we do in Italy? Questions, questions. While we mull these over, please feel free to provide your own thoughts on the only child in your life (or your imagination, as the case may be).

Alice Bradley
About the Author

Alice Bradley

Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.


Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.

icon icon
chat bubble icon


  • SuburbanCorrespondent

    August 8, 2008 at 10:49 am

    Moving to Italy sounds like fun…
    I think we shouldn’t worry so much about the big questions and just make the decision based on what we want. You want another sweet-smelling, cuddly baby? Go ahead. You’re happy with what you’ve got? Great. It’s almost impossible to base the decision on what you think the child will want, because no one knows. Some children grow up to resent anything their parents did (you didn’t give me siblings! or you gave me a sibling!) – in that case, you can’t win, right? Some only children do wish, as grown-ups, that they had siblings to share childhood memories with. But there are plenty of grown-ups who don’t even talk to the sibling they grew up with, either!
    Just do what makes you happy, for heaven’s sake. Babies sure are nice, though; especially when your other child is older and doesn’t want to hug and cuddle anymore. (You knew I’d have to slip in a plug for another one, right?)

  • MomVee

    August 8, 2008 at 11:21 am

    Nothing against my brother, but I loved being an only child for 8.5 years. I’m a firm believer that birth order and family constellations shape our nature, but as such I believe in a wide variety of family constellations. It takes all kinds to make a world, and one of those kinds is Only Child. So do whatever makes you happy, and buy long-term care insurance!

  • Dana

    August 8, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    I’m at this same impasse right now: I have a 2 1/2 year old, just turned 42, and am leaning for the moment against trying for or adopting another, though I do fantasize about it sometimes. Parenting books always talk about having “family balance” — well, our family feels plenty balanced now (not to mention snugly crammed into a 2-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn — you know all about that, Alice.) And can you imagine traveling (or just getting around town) with two ? Why not just board a bus with two live goats and a crate of chickens?
    Still , it’s tough to get around the fact that, as an adult, it probably is better to have a sibling than not to have one, not only for the parents-aging-and-dying period but during your whole adulthood. Think about it; if you have no brothers and sisters you have no nieces and nephews, your kids will never have cousins on your side, and you won’t have anyone to huddle in corners with and complain while fixing Thanksgiving dinner with your mother who, God love her, is frankly out of her mind. (I’m speaking, of course, of my future self.)
    So for the moment we’re sticking with the ridiculously awesome child we have already. But every time I meet an only child, I anxiously query them for proof it hasn’t ruined their life. I’m going to head over to Moxie now for some more reassurance …

  • Lara

    August 8, 2008 at 1:01 pm

    I, too, ask myself these questions – especially when the 4 yr old daughter asks when she’s getting a brother. So one day, I wrote out a pro/con list considering the “logistics” of our lives, our circumstances, and our desires. The pro list for having another was considerably smaller than the con. At this point in our lives, I’m content to consider that as proof we won’t have another. If we suddenly get a bigger place, have to work less than full-time, or our lifestyle changes, maybe that list will look different. Who knows.
    As for only children being well-adjusted: I’m a high school counselor, and I seldom worry about the only children. They just don’t show up in my office as often. Not that this is proof, but it counts for something, I think.
    Great thinkin’ post!

  • MLB

    August 8, 2008 at 1:10 pm

    We have 3 and I can honestly say that the “taking care of elderly parents” reason strikes me as a terrible reason to go beyond 1 child. I have witnessed too many destroyed relationships that sprung from taking care of elderly parents, or dysfunctional ones that were exascerbated by caretaking, to make that a compelling argument for 2+. In fact, personally, I hope that my kids can get through my old age (fingers crossed!) still speaking to each other, based on the trainwrecks I have seen.

  • Marcy

    August 8, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    Alice, I have a ten year old daughter who is an only. She’s a really social, happy, well-adjusted person–academically gifted, athletic, and basically just an awesome kid. Every so often she longs for a sibling (then she visits friends and watches them fight with their sibs!) but just as every so often she mentions how pleased she is to be an only. She has a ton of friends in the neighborhood and all the girls end up at our house because there are no sibs to butt in on the fun (the only downside to this is that I serve up a LOT of snacks and have to keep replacing bathmats that end up nail-polished).
    I have to say that having another child so Julia would not be bearing a burden alone (be that parents’ death or caring for elderly parents) DID occur to me. But then I realized it was a truly lousy reason to bring a child into the world, in my case–and honestly, with the advent of long-term care insurance, etc., there is no reason we need to burden ANY of our kids with caring for us. Visit me, sunshine, but please don’t change my diaper–thanks! Oh, and recently, my best friend (an only) lost her father and all us grrls (friends since High School) rallied around and supported her through the grief. Sh sent me a thank you note that read “Although I’m an only child there wasn’t a moment through the entire process of losing my father when I felt alone.”
    I don’t know if any of this helps at all but I just wanted to share that only children can be pretty darned content! :o)

  • Becky

    August 8, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    I think I become a better parent with each kid, but not because I’m more experienced. With every kid, I loosen my control a little, let go of a few more of the details and let the little stuff slide by. In my case, I think my eldest is doing better with a little bit *less* of my attention. She’s becoming more independent and confident. I shudder to think what she would be like if I was still so up in her business.

  • Marcy

    August 8, 2008 at 3:02 pm

    I have always felt it very important to provide my children with siblings. Both my husband and I are very close to one or more of our siblings and enjoy that bond so much that we feel we have to pass that on if we can.
    However I’m sure when we get to the point of actually thinking about #2 I’ll be quite torn about it. I remember what it was like when all we had was a cat and we were debating getting another kitten. What would our cat do? Would she accept this new “sibling?” Would it change her personality forever? WILL SHE STILL LOVE US?? Pretty ridiculous, I know, but it’s true. In the end, after a 6 month adjustment period during which she wanted nothing to do with us because she was too busy watching The Strange New Creature 24/7, she eventually calmed down and loved her new buddy.
    I figure it will be kinda similar when we provide our little Donovan with a brother or sister one day.

  • Katie

    August 8, 2008 at 3:18 pm

    I’m an only child. So I’m probably biased. But here I go, talking like I have all the answers:
    1)Taking care of elderly parents: You don’t just need siblings to help you get through this. Only children grow up to have spouses, partners and best friends to help out and talk to. My mother has SEVEN siblings and only a couple of them were any use at all–some were distinctly counterproductive. Maybe it’s sometimes better to be able to make decisions without running them all past a committee of siblings.
    2)”Dangerously low” birth rates in Italy–pish tosh. Like other low-birth-rate countries, there are plenty and I mean plenty of young immigrants eager to move in. It’s only “dangerous” if you consider greater ethnic plurality a problem.
    3) Just in general–as an only child, I had much greater resources than other kids whose parents had similar jobs but more children. Not just parent time, which I had plenty of, but also really conrete things. My parents could have paid for a fancy private school if they’d needed to. Which equals a better-paying job, and more resources my whole life, which will help me when it comes time to take care of my own kids and the fabled aging parents.
    Anyway. I’m glad to be an only child and wouldn’t change it. I’m still “sisters” with my best friend from childhood and am happy enough with her.

  • A

    August 8, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    I was an only child for 6 years.
    Then, between the ages of 6-14, my parents (divorced and remarried) managed to pop out 6 more kids. My dad and step mom with 4 more, and my mom and step dad with 2 more.
    When the time is right for me to have kids, one might assume that I would be dying for a big family as well?
    No. No, no, no.
    I want 2. That is it.
    I think that the decision is very personal and situationally based. It is an important decision and I think that it has to be made considering not only the boring stuff like financial feasibility, but also about the fun stuff, like how wonderful it is to watch your child(ren) grow up, teaching them things and watching them learn.
    I agree with Marcy’s comment that thinking about the burden of health care down the road shouldn’t be a reason to bring a child into the world.
    Children are such incredible little creatures and bringing them into your world requires alot of consideration. Bring another baby into the world because you want to share more love.

  • Tonja

    August 8, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    I’m a 35-year-old only child and I don’t murder people!

  • Marie

    August 8, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    This is something I’ve thought about — mostly because, for reasons beyond my control, I won’t know if I’ll be having any more children (or least for a good long while) — and I think there are things to avoid, like with raising any child. There are perks and silver linings, like with any child. What’s a challenge is the questions of — when will you have another? Then when I stammer an answer, the follow-up being a listing of why it would be a horrible fate to be an only. I think there are plenty of examples of all types of families that we could strive towards…..or avoid. I would love to have another child but if it’s not going to happen, I will not lament or let my desire diminish the wonderful son I do have.

  • Candace (Mama Luxe)

    August 8, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    As others have pointed out…you can’t guarantee siblings will be helpful, supportive, life-long companions.
    You do what’s right for your family. Simple as that.

  • Ammie aka Sleeping Mommy

    August 8, 2008 at 4:18 pm

    I’m on the other side of this debate from the other commenters. One of the main reasons I wanted more than one child is because I had such a lonely childhood. And now that my dad has passed I feel it even more because there is no one to share the memories with or the grief and when my mother dies I feel like I’ll be all alone–even with my husband and children, it’s just not the same as having that family of origin bond of growing up experiences.
    Of course, I’m a bit overly emotional today, so that could be clouding this comment a bit. πŸ™‚

  • Hip_M0M

    August 8, 2008 at 4:26 pm

    I have an only child and have no plans for having another anytime soon. I too wanted more children but things didn’t work out that way since my son’s father and I are now divorced.
    That being said, I think only children are much different than those of siblings because they have more work cut out for them. They have to work much harder at communicating with other children and therefore end up being more social and outgoing.
    My best friend is an only child and I’ve spoken to her on several occasions about this. She’s very outgoing, has many friends from different circles and is happy and stable in her relationships. She knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to ask for it.
    Every parent is different as is each child. If you all agree that adding another baby into the family is best for you, then go right ahead.
    Your life will change drastically with Baby #2 but you’ve done it all before; it does get easier.
    There is no wrong choice to be made, either way!

  • lawschoolmom

    August 8, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    I am an only child raised by a single mother, but I have three children of my own because I HATED being the only child.
    My grandmother was one of eight children and my mother is one of six children. I have a lot of cousins and I had an incredible time with them whenever we got together, which was infrequently because they lived several states away from us. I was always very lonely when I returned home.
    Taking care of my mother is not something about which I worry because she’s still quite young (52) and in good health. But, what is challenging is the pressure I feel because I AM the only child – pressure to succeed, pressure to phone mom every day (some days that’s hard to do), and pressure to not screw up.
    Also, when I was a young adult, my mother was quite controlling and I often wished for a sibling to deflect some of that intensity.
    I have three children because I would have loved to have a sibling in the trenches with me with whom I could commiserate about my mom. My children have each other because, as I tell my husband, they need someone to bitch to about me. Who better than a sister or a brother?

  • amy

    August 8, 2008 at 4:40 pm

    I am an only. I think it made me a creative soul. I think it made me have a wonderful bond with my whole family. I think it made me a fantastic friend. I think it has also left me with a bit of a small hole in my life. I am jealous of siblings and have always wanted that feeling, that certainty. Always. Yr life is how you know it though I guess. xo

  • Fairly Odd Mother

    August 8, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    Funny but I think that parents of only children probably hear a lot of the same things I hear as a homeschooling mom: how will your kids learn to get along with others? what about socialization? aren’t you isolating them too much?
    I think that as long as Henry is living a full, active and happy life, your family and he will be fine. Families come in all flavors and no one can say what is the best.
    (written by the daughter of two only children, who turned out to be wonderful parents and even better grandparents)

  • Anonymous

    August 8, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    I hate being an only child, and plan on having at least two children so that they do not have to have the same experience as myself. Like other people said, you need to spread out the responsibility of caring for your parents when they do get older (my mom was one of 7 and barely did anything before her mom died–great example there, but I digress. At least she can talk to her siblings about growing up and their mom before she died, etc.)
    I really don’t like that I have no one to talk to about my parents and no one to relate to in that way. People assume privilege and other stuff must have come with being an only child, but like someone else also said, sometimes being in your parent’s spotlight 24/7 can be wearing on you. It would be nicer if all the eggs weren’t in one basket, so to speak.
    That being said, I bet it’s harder for kids to deal with having a new sibling when they are spaced very far apart too, because they’ve had lots of time to form their identity and relationships with parents as the only. Those kids are probably more like only children psychologically anyway. But at least later on in life they will have the chance of having more family ties.
    God, I wish I had a sister or someone now. I do have great friends, but that is never the same thing.

  • C

    August 8, 2008 at 6:38 pm

    I am a 39-year-old Only Child. I have lots of friends, a spouse and three children. Oddly the worst aspect of being an ONLY during my childhood was the fear that I would die and my parents would freak. (Yes, I am one of those people with a runaway imagination.) Anyway, I think that melodramatic fear captured the primary disadvantage of being an Only, which was feeling a fair amount of pressure to excel academically, athletically, socially, professionally, ETC. I have always felt that I need to do well in all of those pursuits, which has created a bit of a panic disorder (I’m slightly kidding here.) I was a happy kid and am a happy woman so the only caveat I would offer to parents of young onlies is to loosen up (if that’s an issue for you) and make sure the kid knows he/she can just be a kid! Make sure you don’t force your kid to dwell on the fact that he/she is your only chance to raise an astronaut/olympian/brain surgeon who also is named MVP of three varsity sports and gets five invitations to the prom… I’m sure this also applies to the Only Son or Only Daughter in families where the parents clearly tried, tried and tried again for that elusive other gender.

  • MamaCass

    August 8, 2008 at 9:03 pm

    I will say this. I have two daughters. The second is still new. I never imagined the amazing amount of joy I would feel as I see them interact and love each other, even at such a ripe age. They adore each other. It’s inspiring, and frequently brings me to tears. There is a lot of juggling to do, and sometimes I feel guilty that my first doesn’t get the “only” treatment any more, but I feel like when I look beyond the jealousy of a moment, or the time when one parent has to do bed time instead of two, I think her life is ultimately richer. I don’t see anything wrong with one child if that’s what works for your family, but undoubtedly, a sibling brings a different kind of joy for everyone.

  • not me

    August 9, 2008 at 9:45 pm

    My mom is one of three children and she still holds pretty much all of the burden for caring for her aging mother and for caring for her father before his death, not to mention caring for her grandmother. This doesn’t seem unusual in other families I know. I always wanted two children, but honestly, my marriage hasn’t turned out to be what I had hoped it would be so…

  • JChevais

    August 11, 2008 at 7:46 am

    My husband is an only. I remember he asked the doctor if everything was okay with my innards right after our first was born, because he was damned if his son was going to be an only too.
    I sometimes wish that my husband had had siblings (it wasn’t his family’s choice, but after he was born it became medically impossible for his mother). He can be relatively hard to live with and I sometimes wonder if it’s because he grew up an only.

  • Marnie

    August 11, 2008 at 12:07 pm

    The only thing that really bothers me about my daughter being an only child is when friends talk about other kids and say “Well, you know, he’s an only child…” (because that somehow explains away whatever they perceive as bad behavior) and then remember that my daughter is an only child, and immediately say something like “well, of course, she’s not like that!” It makes me wonder how many times they talk about her to their other friends.
    At any rate, this is something I’ve thought about, but not really struggled with. We feel like a complete family, and while I’m sure we’d still feel like that with another, neither of us has a burning desire to have another, and so that’s what drives us to be content.
    A couple years, when she was 5, ago my daughter started asking for a sibling. She’d never asked before, and I wondered if it had something to do with the death of our dog. Later that year, we got a new puppy, and she was thrilled, but a few months into it, mentioned still wanting a sister. I pointed out that when the puppy gets into her things or chews things up, I can put him in his crate to get him away from her stuff, but that I can’t do that with baby brothers or sisters. She’s never asked again.
    Do what’s right for your family, and the rest falls in line. And, if you stick with an only child, in addition to that college fund be sure to build up a nice therapist fund, just in case.

  • Liz C

    August 11, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    I have two ‘only’ children, born 16 years apart. Daughter’s 25, son is 9. Even though I tried for years after my daughter for #2, it was probably better that it didn’t happen because of who I am as a mother. Hate to admit it, but I’ve learned that one at a time is all I can do. My two ‘onlies’ have been great kids (so far) but if I had gotten what I wanted so desperately when I was younger, things would have been very different, I’m sure.

  • Kristine

    August 11, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    My mother had a brother. He died of Leukemia last year. Their mother is now sick (will recover, but is in rehab being ornery), and she’s dealing with everything as she would have if she’d been an only child (with the exception of keeping her niece and nephew informed as well as everything else). But she has other family members to lean on, so point 1) just because you have more than one doesn’t mean they’ll still be there when the time comes to help out with the elderly parents and point 2)she does still have a support system. So it doesn’t seem like a logical reason to have a second if you don’t want a second.

  • Little Read Hen

    August 11, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    I’m having great internal debate on this one too. Complicated somewhat by the whole ‘blended family’ business. My daughter is 2 and a half. Her father and his girlfriend are having a baby next month and she has a one year old son…so the sibling benefits are more or less covered. My partner and I talk about possibly having a baby (or trying for a baby) next year, but he has a teenage son and grown (step) daughters…we could wind up with a total of five kids and a 28 year age gap. Seriously, what the hell?

  • Andrea K

    August 11, 2008 at 11:55 pm

    Someone at the Chicago Tribune is reading your mind… yesterday’s paper featured a, well, *feature* on only children:,0,2157019.story
    It’s such a personal choice. My one caveat would be not to let your miscarriage make this decision for you. It’s nerve-wrecking and emotionally draining to try again. But if you decide your family wouldn’t be complete without another baby, you *can* do it. I did. πŸ™‚

  • LeggyNic

    August 12, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    I feel like I’ve been both an only and an oldest. The only of my parents, I lived with my mom while Dad remarried and had two more (15 & 16 yrs younger). Mom remarried when I was 21 and I have a step-brother who’s 2 years younger. I’ve never lived longer than 2 weeks with any one of them.
    I enjoy a lot of independence that I learned as an only and can get along in just about any social situation. I have no problem being front and center if needed either. I also enjoy being close with my siblings when things are going on in the family.
    Seeing my husband interact with his two younger siblings and their incredibly nuclear family I’ve noticed how they all fall into roles. Doesn’t matter what’s going on, as the oldest most of the responsibility falls on him. The three of them could be in a birth order textbook.

  • Katie

    August 12, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    I have a three-month-old daughter, and I realized about halfway through my pregnancy that she would be our only child. I discussed it with my husband, and he was relieved, I think. We have several reasons for stopping with one, but the clincher for me is the overwhelming gut feeling I have whenever I think about it. And I’ve thought about it. A lot. I just see us as parents of one child.
    I am extremely close with my sister. Like, I can read her thoughts close. I know my parents are going to flip right the hell out when I tell them this pregnancy was the last stop on the baby train for us. They’ll point to my little sister and ask how I can deprive my daughter of a similar relationship.
    My husband is extremely NOT close with his brother. Like, they see each other only at Thanksgiving and Christmas not close. You just never know.
    We’ll be able to take our daughter to Disneyworld for a week in the summer and to see New York City all lit up at Christmas. We’ll be able to make those kind of memories for her. She’ll have the undivided attention of at least one of us for homework, playing dress up and life’s burning questions. And she’ll most likely go to a really good college, if that’s what she wants.
    Spoiled? Nah. Special? Yes.
    In the end, you have to do what’s right for your family. I always said I wanted ten kids and to be a stay-at-home mom. I was wrong. Like the article said, I want the best of both worlds. I want to have a family AND be financially comfortable. I want to be a mom and still be me. Having one child will make this possible FOR ME.
    So, we’ll buy long term care insurance, make sure baby girl spends lots of time with her cousins and live our lives. The way we want to.
    Of course, like I told my husband, I reserve the right to change my mind about this, and I’ve kept my maternity clothes. Life can be funny, you know. πŸ™‚

  • Liz

    August 12, 2008 at 4:38 pm

    There are NO guarantees that a sibling will be of any help in a time of crisis. My husband has one brother and I have already observed that parental responsibilities have and will fall entirely on my husband’s shoulders and brother will most likely be a very difficult person to deal with when their parents pass. As for me and my sister, we are fairly close, and we definitely get those great shared memory/commiseration benefits that others have mentioned, but our current geographical locations mean that a lot more of the hard family stuff will probably fall on me. And mixed in with the wonderful childhood memories are some pretty ugly ones, too.

  • Amanda

    August 12, 2008 at 6:38 pm

    I’m not an only child, and I’m still a self-centered maniac.

  • Compa

    August 13, 2008 at 4:50 am

    I’m an only child of an only child mother. I always sort of wanted a sibling, but with a single mom who spent the first half of my childhood digging us out of poverty (great job by the way mom!) it wasn’t going to happen. So I had lots of surrogate siblings, both younger and older.
    Here’s the thing about surrogate siblings, friends, and spouses: they’re not siblings. If I compare the support that my husband and his sister were able to give each other during his mother’s illness and after her death, it is really of a different level and quality than what I was able to give, even with the best of intentions. I am SO glad they had / have one another, even though they’re miles and countries apart.
    Compare that to dealing alone with my father’s stroke & the rehabilitation, anger, frustration, unemployment, and poverty for him that has come from that, and you have a very good case for siblinghood all by itself, even if it weren’t worth it when the kids are young (which I figure it is).
    My son is five, and somewhere right around his birthday, his younger sibling will be born. Whether it’s through birth or adoption, I figure we owe it to our kids to give them the gift of that lifelong bond.
    I know, it doesn’t always work out that way, but hell: marriages / long term relationships have a much lower success rate working out in the end-wise, and it doesn’t stop most of us from giving it a shot, right?

  • yannayoga

    August 13, 2008 at 8:20 am

    I think you should do what’s right for your family, of course. But I will speak for only children, as I am one(except an older half brother.) I’m very sad as an adult with no sibling, and I craved one as a child too. I do consider my parents as they age, and I’ll be alone when they die. I am very close to them, but the threesome being so tight has often confused bondaries. I’m sure it has a lot to do with me wanting a huge family now.

  • Anne

    August 13, 2008 at 11:28 am

    Dear Katie and Marnie, I love you. πŸ™‚ My daughter is an only and I frequently hear and deal with the things you’ve mentioned. I have a brother, and to meet the two of us together you’d think one of us had to be adopted. He will be of no help if something should happen to my parent – the fact that we shared the same events growing up hasn’t magically made us close.
    My daughter is going to be an only due to some potentially very serious health problems for my husband, at his request, and I was okay with that. I told him from the outset that I was not a woman who felt compelled to have an even set of children, or one of each gender or whatever – if he wanted just one, that was fine with me. If he wanted more than one, that was fine too. But that was before we found out about his heart. My daughter wishes for a sibling but I can only hope that we’re creating a network of family and friends-like-family that will help her through any tough times in the future. However, I am happy to report that C belies just about every only child stereotype that people try to pin on her. She’s an excellent sharer, she has tons of friends, she works hard to make sure that everyone has a turn or has a say in the rules of whatever game they have made up.

  • Mox

    August 13, 2008 at 1:25 pm

    We’re working on the third generation of onlys in my family — my mother was an only, I am an only, and my kid is an only. On the opposite side of the coin, my dad is one of eight and my husband is one of five. I can certainly see the charm of being a kid with siblings, and I continue to be amazed at how different kids in the same family can be. On occasion I have wished for a sib but for the most part I am comfortable and complete as an only and as the mother of an only.
    Having just one child is a personal decision. You have to ignore all those naysayers out there who wax philosophic on what onliness will mean. Yeah, I might be a little more self-concerned than my spouse, but then again who’s to say I wouldn’t be if I had a sibling anyway? And as for the “lonely” — I have a very dear friend who could not be closer to me if we shared the same gene pool. Family is who and what you make it.
    The only concern I have is for the future, when I will need to take responsibility for my parents. But I’ve seen my mother have to do the same thing, so at least I won’t be flying blind.

  • Alisa

    August 13, 2008 at 10:42 pm

    My husband is an only child and I’m with Jchevais–except she said it much more nicely (and much less bitterly) than I’m feeling right now…I feel fairly confident that he is much (much) harder to live with than he might otherwise have been had he had siblings. And I don’t even think he was spoiled–just that he has never had to relate at a peer level, with another family member (it probably didn’t help that he has no cousins close to his age). I have a couple other friends who are married to only children and they say the same thing about their spouses.
    As a result, I’m pretty determined to not let my 1 year old be an only child, despite the fact that I (really) hated pregnancy.
    Anyway, I’d love to convince you to go for another baby because I think Henry is ADORABLE, in every way and the world would be a better place with another finslippy baby.

  • anonforthisone

    August 14, 2008 at 12:36 pm

    I have one child who is 3. I don’t want any more.
    Partly because I am afraid of what PPD will do to her, since she would be old enough to remember.
    Partly because I already carry a heavy load handling housework and more. My husband is a nice guy and he does his best, but he’s one of those men who is incapable of so much as putting a dish into the dishwasher while he is also providing childcare to our child. (There’s a scientific study: why can women multi-task housework, and why do men SUCK SO BAD at it?) I cannot take on more and keep the household together.
    Related, I feel like it has taken us 3 years to achieve some sort of balance where everyone gets what they need and want most of the time; I have NO desire to upset that applecart.
    As far as sharing responsibility for parents is concerned β€” my sibling doesn’t have the resources, physically, financially, or emotionally. So I don’t buy that as an argument. A sibling can be a drag as well as a benefit, because I can see that I will be helping in that regard, too.
    Really, every birth order effs you up in some way, whether it’s being an older-child-control freak, or a middle-child-exhibitionist, or what have you. Everyone has baggage, being an only child is just one kind.
    There’s also the environmental argument of how much strain every additional child puts on our natural resources (hoo-boy, gonna get flamed for that one, I can tell).
    But all of that would be insignificant if I felt any kind of pull toward another one. And I just feel so complete with my one fantastic kid that I cannot imagine wanting another.

  • Jenn

    August 14, 2008 at 10:50 pm

    I’ve sometimes wished I had siblings, but I’ve never really actively regretted that I’m an only child. The only thing that makes me really wistful was watching the way my mother and her brothers were able to talk together to remember their mother after she died. For over ten years my mother and I lived alone together and I feel like nobody else really knew her during that time–so I’ll have nobody to really share that with and keep the memories alive with after she’s gone.

  • Mauigirl

    August 15, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    Never fear, Alice. Both DH and I are only children and we liked it that way. I’d see my friends fighting with their brothers or sisters and be glad I didn’t have one. When I was little I always made friends even if we went away on vacation – I’d always find some little kid on the beach to play with or meet one at the cottage complex we were staying at or whatever. And if I didn’t, I didn’t care – I was very happy by myself because I had, as my mother calls it, “inner resources.” I could entertain myself for hours, which a lot of kids don’t seem to be able to do anymore.
    As for taking care of aging parents – it’s just as well to be an only. As someone else mentioned, only kids do have spouses. And DH and I do take care of each others’ parents or elderly relatives together. And we don’t have any of that resentment that comes from being THE sibling that does EVERYTHING for the elderly parent while the other siblings do nothing. I have heard so many people complain about the fact that none of their siblings lift a finger to help. There is always the one sibling that does it all. And if you’re an only child you know it will be you. But that’s OK because at least I’m not mad at my sister or brother for not helping. That would be even worse.
    If you feel one child is working out then don’t have another just for his sake. Henry will be just fine.

  • Molly

    August 22, 2008 at 10:03 pm

    You should read Maybe One by Bill McKibben. It covers a lot of the stuff in this column in somewhat more depth, and goes into environmental aspects analyzing the average American child’s carbon footprint and whatnot. So if you do move to Italy, start walking to the corner market every day to buy fresh bread and vegetables, carry them home in canvas bags, reduce your footprint, you could have a much larger family with a similar or smaller environmental impact than most American families. Not that the environment is the only (or even the most important) factor, but it’s an interesting perspective.
    I was in the middle of this book when I got pregnant with my second child, so I had to stop reading it. It seemed rude to the fetus.

  • Heather

    August 25, 2008 at 11:43 am

    My husband and I were discussing this yesterday on our way to get blinds for the baby we are expecting in November (a little ahead of ourselves, oh hell yes). You see, I think we’d both prefer to have two children because we each had a brother growing up and having a sibling has meant a lot to us in our adult years. But for our income level, and our lives, it might not be affordable. Daycare in our city is the same as a mortgage on a 2 bedroom condo (when you can get it- a recent estimate put the number of available daycare spots in our county at 150 infants per opening) , the public schools are crap if you aren’t a genius, and the housing market is a disaster so we may not have enough room. Money might make the decision for us, which is hard.

  • SydneySailor

    August 25, 2008 at 7:53 pm

    I have an only child who is now five. I would love to have another child, but nothing really seemed to be happening for years, so we’ve moved on (for the most part.)
    I am currently reading The Future of your On1y Child by Carl Pickhardt, which I have found to be a great book on how to make sure you don’t screw up the future of your adult only child. Well, I figure we are going to screw them up at least a little bit (regardless of how many in the family.) But this book will help us identify where the pitfalls could lie. One thing to note from the book is that if you have an only child for six years or more, than they are functionally similar to only children. Something for you to think about even if you do decide to go for number 2. I do highly recommend the book (and I am not trying to market it.) πŸ™‚ I also recommend it for adult only children and their partners. It really sheds light on why adult only children are the way they are and what their partners have to put up with.
    I also read Parenting and Only Child by Susan Newman, which wasn’t quite what I thought it would be. I thought it would be more like the book above. However, it did convince me that we, nor my son, needs more siblings to live a happy life. And I feel no guilt about having only one (especially since it is not really a choice.)
    I like to call my only child, “my luxury child”, since he is such a luxury to have!

  • Donna

    October 26, 2008 at 1:15 am

    I just came across your blog today and LOVE it! You are an excellent writer.
    I just happened to find this post and wanted to chime in, even if it’s an old post.
    I’ve had a difficult time deciding if we should have another child. We currently have only 1 and while I’ve always only wanted one, I do worry about the long term future and him being alone. But, I’m an only child and my husband is and we turned out fine I think. I have a lot of friends, am able to talk easily to people, and am very caring and generous. I can’t stand those stupid stereotypes of onlies. I also think I was able to do a lot more (activity-wise) b/c my parents only had to worry about me. While this may not be the case for everyone, it definitely is something to consider for a teacher (my hubby) and me (a school counselor). I also have a somewhat different situation with my son. He DOES NOT WANT, is completely adamant about staying an only child. If I even mention having another, he screams, “No, I want to be an only child!” Sigh. So, even if my husband and I were to consider it seriously, we worry it will really change our son for the worse. Sure, I hear kids get used to it but I don’t think he will. He hasn’t changed his mind since he was old enough to understand what a sibling was. Sorry…my reply is all over the place but I guess what it comes down to is that I think it’s fine to have one child if that’s what you want. πŸ™‚ That’s all we will have. πŸ™‚

  • Beth

    April 16, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    I am an older parent (53). I was an only child–lost my Mom at age 11 and Dad at age 39. Before my dad died, I lived in contant fear of losing him. So basically lived much of my young life in the state of grief.
    My husband (now 61) and I adopted our angel from China when she was 11 months. Now at age 4, I am freaking out about the fact that she is an only-child with older parents, and what will happen to her when we get old and sick?
    I want to adopt another child–older between age 4-7, but my husband will not do it.
    I am so plagued byt he thought of my daughter grieving alone like I did.

  • MJS

    April 17, 2009 at 3:56 am

    Have another kid while you still can. Your kid will resent you for it if you don’t. I’m an only child and I curse it each day.

    • Jean

      October 16, 2015 at 8:55 am

      I guess looking back it would not have worked out well. My parents’ marriage would not have held up with the added stress of multiple children. But I am struggling bitterly with being an only child more now in my late 40’s than ever before. I have always hated being an only. I grew up without cousins close by, without a best friend, and cannot have my own children. I am so deeply envious of those who have siblings or at least were able to form friendships who filled some of that void. My husband is the second of five kids, he always has readymade friendship, someone to do things with while I have no one.

      • Isabel Kallman

        Isabel Kallman

        October 16, 2015 at 10:33 am

        I am sorry to hear that you are struggling so much. Perhaps you can talk to someone about it? A professional?

        I have a sister but we are not very close. I have found that friendships with other couples work great for us.