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The only child debate. Are you a happy only child?

(71 Posts)
josephineamy Mon 22-Jun-09 12:01:03

Hello everyone,

My basic question is, is it so bad to be an only child? I have a wonderful 5yr old little boy and DH and I had always intended to have at least one other child. But I had hyperemisis (hospitalised with extremely bad vomiting) in my first preg as well as various other horrid complications. These things are very likely to happen again if I were to become preg again and that terrifies me and would, I fear, put a lot of pressure on my marriage, as my DH found it very hard to cope with me being miserable and ill the first time and had to pick up a lot of slack after our DS was born as my recovery was slow. It was the hardest time of our lives and we're only just back to being on an even keel. This time we'd have a child to care for too. I don't have family close by who could help out (did have the first time and lent on them heavily!) and we don't have the money or space for a nanny or the like. So, with the exception of some great friends with their own kids to care for, we'd be on our own.

But if we don't give our DS a sibling are we sentencing him to a life of lonliness? I've read a book recently that suggests that only children miss out on learning some of the important lessons in life about parental fallibility (they don't see you making mistakes with another child!) about sharing possessions, time and space, about fighting for what you need in groups scenarios etc. etc. This book seemed to have only the most meagre of silver linings (onlies get all the financial and emotional support of both parents) and the participants, all only children, pretty much all seemed scarred by their childhoods. Whilst I can mitigate for some of the things DS will miss by providing him with lots of opportunity to play with other children and by not giving him too much responsibilty and making him a small adult (another common complaint in the book). Would I be being selfish in not providing him with a brother or sister? Is anyone out there a happy only child? Or are you too raising an only who seems happy and well adjusted? My son does so far. Should I, as a couple of friends have suggested stop reading parenting books??!!!

Your experiences of being an only or raising one would be very welcome.

Thank you.

mumblechum Mon 22-Jun-09 12:18:06

DS has been an only since we lost his elder brother 9 years ago when ds was 5.

I've definitely gone down the over compensating route in terms of always having a house full of kids after school when he was at primary - every kid in the village knew where the biscuits were in our house!

Now he's at secondary and every weekend is spent with his mates, so as far as sociability is concerned, I don't really feel he's missed out except for on holidays when I can't bring myself to take a friend along with us. Those times it's quite fun just the 3 of us.

I think it is quite easy to spoil them, but try hard not to. He does appreciate the fact that he has everything he wants/needs but he doesn't actually ask for much and appreciates what he does have.


Flyonthewindscreen Mon 22-Jun-09 12:31:54

I have to say I was an 'only' and hated it and chose to have 2 DC close together as a result but I think there were a number of other circumstances that made being an 'only' horrid for me and these are all circumstances that are probably v different for your DS.

Firstly very few other children in my school were onlies so I stood out and felt different, but these days it is far more common and unremarkable. My DC are 5 and 7 and probably 20% of their classes are onlies.

My parents were 'old' parents for their time so this was another difference from my peers and my parents friends had much older children and there was never anyone for me to play with at weekends, etc (also I had no cousins). You mention close friends with DC so this is probably not an issue for your DS.

Imo if you feel that having another DC would be so negative for you then don't have one and don't feel bad about it. I'm sure some mums of onlies will be along in a minute to tell you all the great things about them smile

thisisyesterday Mon 22-Jun-09 12:38:27

my dp is an only child.
I've talked to him about it on occasion (mostly when contemplating ds2) and he says that he honestly was/is happy being an only child.
he says he never felt that he was missing out by not having siblings, and that he had a perfectly happy childhood. he's close to both parents and his extended family.
he would have been perfectly happy to have left our family at only one child too

MadBadandDangerousToKnow Mon 22-Jun-09 12:45:39

I have a sibling but am the parent of an only child who is (as far as I can see with my mummy goggles on) happy and well-adjusted.

I don't know which book you've just read - and I don't want to deny the experiences of the people who contributed to it - but it does sound as if it presents a very bleak view.

The first thing that jumps out at me is that these people are (to judge by what you say) blaming all their unhappiness on being an only child. That is how they interpret it, but I do wonder whether some at least may be people who would have been unhappy whatever their family make-up. Their status as an only child may just be the peg on which they're hanging their woes.

Looking at some of the areas in which only children are said to suffer or be lacking:

* learning some of the important lessons in life about parental fallibility - alas, they will experience us making mistakes with them blush

* sharing possessions, time and space - there was an interesting thread a few days ago which mentioned that the obsession with sharing is a British thing and other cultures put the emphasis more on respecting other people's property and co-operating. Anyway, home isn't the only place where these things can be learnt; from pre-school onwards, my child has had plenty of lessons in sharing and co-operation (it was one of the reasons I was so keen for her to go).

* fighting for what you need in groups scenarios - Doesn't this rather contradict the point about sharing? Anyway, this is another thing which can be experienced outside the home and (again) another reason why I may have overcompensated with out-of-school activities as a means of socialising in a peer group.

There have been several threads over in one-child families which discuss the positive side of being a family of three. Some of the contributors made a conscious and deliberate decision to have one child, others - including me - had little choice in the matter (medical issues etc). You might like to read those threads.

I think your friends may be right to suggest ditching the parenting books. Or, at least, to question what they say. It is far too sweeping a statement to suggest (as people on MN and elsewhere often do) that all only children are spoilt and selfish, condemned to a life of dysfunctional relationships and a lonely old age. Some may be, but so will many people with siblings. As parents, we all try to equip our children with skills to get through life.

I can't advise you on whether to have another baby. But I never think it's a good idea for anyone to have a baby out of a sense of obligation to provide a child with a sibling.

FrauFrau Mon 22-Jun-09 12:47:52

I am an only (also the child of two onlies - it must run in the family!) and am currently debating whether to increase my family beyond one DD (still only 20 months, so I'm in no hurry!).

I have also read up a bit on only children, and while I agreed with some of the points in the books (e.g. slight emotional immaturity - although hey, I'm admitting it which must be a step in the right direction! and perhaps more seriously some difficulties in finding friends, in particular during the teenage years), I feel strongly that there are good and bad parents of onlies, just as there are of siblings. The people who feature in books about only children are far more likely to be those who feel scarred by the experience, than those who were (like me) reasonably content.

In particular, I do not think that it is inevitable that only children are incapable of sharing - I like to think that my friends would say (as they have done to my face) that they would not have known I was an only child if I hadn't told them.

So this is just intended as a counterbalance to the more typical response to questions about being an only child. Not to say that there aren't lots of pros for having more than one, but being an only needn't be a miserable experience!

josephineamy Mon 22-Jun-09 13:41:50

Thanks all. I agree that the authors of the book to which I referred and the websites I drew from had a vested interest in including and attracting contributors who are less than contented with their only child status, thus validating their own experiences and explaining some of their won shortcomings as adults!! As the eldest of three children I recognised from my own childhood many of the issues that they contended were peculiar to 'onlies', particularly being required to be very responsible and thus developing a hyper-concientious 'people-pleasing' character in adulthood. No issue is truly exclusive to only children I'm sure and no childhood is happy in every respect. I'm glad to hear from some of you that there is a fairly happy, 'normal' experience to be had as an only. Madbadanddangeroustoknow I agree that some of these points seem to contradict each other, though that's more down to me than the book/websites in question who flesh out these points more fully and show them to be simply different elements of one experience.

One good thing to be said for the only child book is that it did refute the 'only children are all spoiled' argument and suggested that evidence is in fact to the contrary. Onlies are often very easy on their parents and teachers and rarely have a teenage rebellion phase. My DS is very well behaved and polite and just doesn't fit the spoiled cliche.

bobblehat Mon 22-Jun-09 13:57:35

I'm an only, and often wonder if the lack of siblings is the reason I don't make friends easily, don't like confrontation, am happy with my own company.

The truth of the matter is that I'll never know how things would have been if I'd have been part of a big family. And neither can these researchers.

In spite of the above, I also think that I had a fantastic childhood, my parents did loads with me (and stuff that we would not have been able to afford to do if there had been more than one of me.

sis Mon 22-Jun-09 14:02:47

You might like to look that this thread is one of the ones on the positives of having an only child that MadBadandDangeroustoKnow mentioned.

GooseyLoosey Mon 22-Jun-09 14:08:29

I am an only child. I think I am relatively happy. I am not the most out going person in the world but not the quietest either. I would not have liked a sibling when I was growing up - I liked having my parents' time. I was rarely lonely and did (and still do) enjoy my own company a lot.

The only thing I would say is that I have lost count of the amount of time that I have been told "you don't seem like an only child" or "I would never have guessed". I think this is because there was absolutely no way you could say I was over indulged in any way as a child.

I have 2 children, and watching them squabble all of the time, I sometimes think back with fondness to my own much quieter childhood. I think that having siblings has advantages but also disadvantages and the happiness of your child may have more to do with your parenting than how many people there are in your house.

Bucharest Mon 22-Jun-09 14:10:23

I'm an only daughter of an only father with an only daughter......
I never yearned for siblings....t'is only DNA after all...and for every lonely only I can show you a sibling who might as well be an only as they don't get on with their siblings....
My daughter is as independant as they come...she loves playing on her own, she loves playing with her friends.
Having an only child, or being one, is what you make of it. If you choose to see it in a negative light, then it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Thunderduck Mon 22-Jun-09 14:13:41

I'm an only child and I'm happy to be so.

I love it, always have. I've occasionally thought it'd be nice to have a sibling, but that feeling has lasted for literally five minutes.

I do prefer my own company as a rule, and I'm not the most sociable of people but I can and do talk to anyone of any age,class etc. I'm not neurotypical anyway. I'm a dyspraxic so my preference for my family's company and my own could be related to that too.

I know a few people who hate their siblings. Really hate them, to me that's far worse than not having them at all.

I did learn to talk to adults at a very young age. I was more mature in many ways than my peers, but again that could be just me being me, or part of my general oddness that my dyspraxia gives me.
Not that it's a bad thing to be able to have a conversation with adults at a young age.

I know a few other only children and all are happy and well adjusted. And more sociable than I am.

There's no need to feel guilty if you want only one child.

yappybluedog Mon 22-Jun-09 14:17:11

''I'm an only, and often wonder if the lack of siblings is the reason I don't make friends easily, don't like confrontation, am happy with my own company.''

Well, that's me to a 't' and I am one of 4!

bobblehat Mon 22-Jun-09 14:20:02

I should possibly add that my mum is one of 5 and does not get on with any of her siblings and hasn't spoken to any of them in years. Just because you have the same upbringing does not mean that you will always get on and make the same life choices

bobblehat Mon 22-Jun-09 14:22:45

My point exactly blue!

Geocentric Mon 22-Jun-09 14:26:04

I think that being an 'only child' today is very different from before, in that more people are opting for this so its much more common then when I was small.

Also I think that there are a lot more opportunities for socialization now, with after-school activities etc.

We have two DCs, but their school is full of families making this option and bringing up perfectly well-adjusted children. I don't see a problem with it, really.

artichokes Mon 22-Jun-09 14:32:53

I am an only child. As a child my Mum made a special effort to make sure I had lots of friends around etc. However, I was often lonely. I probably romantacised what it would be like to have a sibling, but I longed and longed for one.

As an adult I have found being an only even harder. My Mum found it hard to give me space as a young adult because I was her only child. Then she got very ill and I had no family to share the caring role with. Losing mum and having no sibling to share that loss with was horrendous. Now I long for a sibling who I could talk about my childhood with, who would remember Mum and want to talk about things we did. Because both my parents died young I had no family to take an interest in my DCs, that is another sadness.

So for me I knew I wanted to make sure my DD was not an only. Even though I found pregnancy hard I knew I wanted more than one. Now I have two and I love the hustle and bustle of it all. We may try for more. Hwoever, it is of course a very personal decision and there is not right or wrong family size.

mistlethrush Mon 22-Jun-09 14:39:57

I'm an only; dh is an older brother. I never missed having a sibling - in fact, I never even gave it a thought. Dh gets on OK with his brother - but its not a close relationship. I think I probably stand up for my rights more than dh does for his.

Ds is an only. He was 4 in April. He is increadibly independant - but wonderfully loving too. He loves younger children and talks about which of his toys they can play with when they come (host the occasional coffee morning) and will share his treats with me and dh sometimes. He will certainly never come last in the fighting for rights/ needs stakes... grin

It sounds as though the book you have read is, as you rightly point out, biased - who can tell what would be if things turned out differently?

squeaver Mon 22-Jun-09 14:48:44

What everyone else said grin

daisy99divine Mon 22-Jun-09 15:02:40

oh, I think MadBad is too gentle. I would burn the book OP - it may be valid for some people but it is making you feel unhappy and uncertain about a choice that appears to be right for you!

Being an only can be great. My DS is an only and I hope/ think he is very happy and very sociable and jolly....

ljhooray Mon 22-Jun-09 15:20:05

Josephineamy, totally understand why you were concerned. As a mum on one dd, I have had exactly the same worries and got totally dismayed at all the support groups for 'onlies' on the web. However, my mum is bonkers and not an only, her mum was bonkers and one of 5! Had a fairly challenging childhood myself but on reflection (and a degree in psychology later!) it is exactly as others have said, it is the parenting and family environment that is the factor, not being an only or having siblings. However, we will naturally search for reasons for unhappiness and with the negative stereotypes that have been attached over the years, you can see how the only status becomes the reasoned connection.
So took it upon myself to ask why I was so obsessed with whether dd being an only was cruel and quickly realised it's just my tendancy to guilt and I'd probably beat myself up if I had more than 1 and felt I didn't give them the time they needed!

TheDullWitch Mon 22-Jun-09 15:42:36

I'm an only. Christmas and holidays were so boring as a child. And there was way too much intense parental attention, which isn't at all healthy. But then again it meant they concentrated on my education and, since they had few resources, I benefited. Also you are more vulnerable in friendships, not used to the rough and tumble of them. TOok some years to understand that.

I had two dcs as close together as possible. There is no way I would have had one alone, unless of course it was not possible to conceive.

But having said that, I don't miss a sibling now I'm older. In fact looking at other people with siblings, they seem to get twice as much grief as companionship. Always competing and feeling hard done by.

The worst thing is my parents are very old and will die soon. The whole worry of their care falls on me, which is very daunting and complex as they live 200 miles away. Then there will be no one alive who remembers my childhood or teenage years - I have lost touch with all schoolfriends and don't have many other relatives. So that is a hard to bear...

Also my dh's family is large and I sometimes feel overwhelmed by them, like they are trying to claim my children from me. I feel sad that I cannot give them cousins, they are all on my dh's side.

Children, in my experience, have a huge sense of family and connections. I think it is great for them to have as many as possible threads in their life. With an only there are far fewer.

fufflebum Mon 22-Jun-09 15:45:56

I am an only and have found it a positive experience in the main.

I have two children, DD and DS and they both seem to enjoy each others company at the moment!

My husband has a brother, they rarely speak. My mum is one of five kids (there are huge jealousy issues between them) and my dad is a twin (they have not spoken in years!) So as far as I can see being an only is not all that bad!

I must say I feel I did miss out when I see my DD and DS playing and one making the other laugh. But do we need siblings for that? I used to play with a couple of cousins who lived near by.

I understand why you are concerned, I had the same discussions with my DH about whether to have more children. But would have been happy either way.

I would suggest that being an only child is no less unpleasant than being one of two, three, or more sibling families. There just seems to be a lot of focus on only children.

Parenting books can only tell you so much to be honest.

As for loneliness I bet there are loads of kids with siblings that would have been grateful not to always have to share their toys and to have some peace and quite.

whatever you decide make sure it is right for your family not based on some parenting book!!!!

lazymumofteenagesons Mon 22-Jun-09 15:49:26

DH is an only child and he has always maintained he was very happy. But I feel he did spend alot of time on his own. He also tends to think we are arguing when it is just a discussion and is not brilliant on the art of compromise. i tend to put most of this down to not learning it by growing up with siblings. The most noticeable outcome of only childhood that I see at our age (late 40s, early 50s) is the reponsibility on the adult child of ageing/ill parents. I think this is an awful lot easier when it can be shared with siblings.

nomoresleep Mon 22-Jun-09 16:43:46

''I'm an only, and often wonder if the lack of siblings is the reason I don't make friends easily, don't like confrontation, am happy with my own company.''

This describes me and yet I have a brother. I hardly ever had friends round to play and I certainly never saw other children in the school holidays. So I only ever had my brother to play with, which sounds a lot worse than your DC,s situation OP.

I struggle to connect with others a lot of the time.
But DP is an only child yet he has the most emotional intelligence of any man I know, deals with people issues brilliantly and is excellent at compromising.

But he does worry about ageing/ill parents and I agree with other posters about this being the key downside for onlies.

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