You might wonder what I could possibly say about the only child as I am raising three children, not an only child. And if you have read this blog for any length of time you probably know I think the ideal number of children (at least for myself :)) would be four or five children.
However, I myself am an only child so I feel I can speak from my own experience on this subject! I have also worked with many families who have only children, and all of these families have had almost the exact same concerns regarding their child’s “only child status”: are they getting enough time with other children their own age? Are we doing enough to prepare this child to interact with their peers? Less frequently parents with an only child have asked me if they were “spoiling” this child? Will this child be prepared for life on their own or will they expect everything to go their own way?
First of all, I have to say that most of the only children I meet are really sensitive, talented children. Most of them are very attuned to adults and adult body language and how adults think and do things. Most of them seem to have very high vocabulary levels. Many of them are relaxed children who enjoy life. Some of them do seem anxious socially and have problems in this regard, but so do many children who come from families with multiple children.
I feel the question of “socializing” an only child to peers of the same age is often not an issue at all. I think it is important to the only child to be viewed as the same as other children in terms that the family as the basic unit of socialization is “enough”. There can be many opportunities within one’s own family for the only child.
In my own childhood, I had a large family where I was raised by and lived with my grandparents and my great-grandmother, my father and my uncle and my other set of grandparents were frequently around (and did I mention all my grandmothers’ brothers and sisters who showed up for a month at a time? My family was big into “Surprise! Here we are! We are staying for a month!”) I also had many cousins I was close to and stayed with for periods of time who treated me like a little sister. 🙂 Part of my family were in business together, so that added yet another dimension of “togetherness” to the equation.
Possibly what is more of an issue is in socializing an only child to peers who are NOT of the same age as the child. The only child often seems to relate well to a child who is older, perhaps because that older child is viewed as closer to an adult, but may have trouble accepting the noise, attention span, and immature behavior of a younger child. They may not understand how to play with and include a younger child the way an older child from a family with multiple children does. Again, this is just my experience in working with only children, and it may not be typical of your experience at all. 🙂
Another area that I think *could*, (but again may not be in your case), pose challenges is that of a mother homeschooling an only daughter. I don’t think this is such a challenge in the younger years, but I do think sometimes mothers and daughters can really get into each other’s “stuff” the older a child is.
One area I think all parents in general need to be aware of is what is appropriate for the child developmentally and how to parent the ever-changing stages of childhood. I have seen only children in the early grades who were treated as much younger and less capable of doing things than they really were, and this may be because there was no smaller sibling around to gently remind the parents what small really looks like. 🙂 Conversely, perhaps that only child seems so mature and adult-oriented that we forget that child really is still very young. To me, if you can figure out how to parent the only child, you can homeschool the only child! The parenting is the harder part!
There are things about having siblings that just can never be replicated for the only child, and I am not so sure that should be a goal. The only child is having an experience that is different than a household full of children, but there is value in the experience the only child is having as well. Why should we try to make the only child’s experience into something else?
If you are a mindful enough parent to be considering these issues, then I am sure all will be well. 🙂
I would love to hear your thoughts, challenges and successes on the subject.
this post regards me. As you know I’m mom to an only child (girl 5 and a half).
I’m not going to answer right now. There are many challenges in parenting only one child, I do really think multiple children is a big effort but might be “easier”. What I’m working on right now is to leave and let go the nostalgy of not having other children. I’ve spent days in which my ideal vision was constantly like this: “If there had been another child how much more beautiful our family would look like. If now I were going out with 2 kids, what a joy.” And so on and on.
I think this attitude is not fair for my little girl: to feel her mother longing for something that hasn’t happened and not valuing enough the tremendous gift of having her.
I’m turning 43 in one month, I feel like it’s too late now for having another child, there would also be too many years between them, I left my job when she was born, we left Milano, we as a couple had many problems after the revolution the child brought into our lives and I don’t consider myself so much talented as a mother! And many other thoughts like these are on my mind. But still I do love families with multiple children. Not so many as you write (so you’ll have two more, right?!). I know only 2 catholic families who have 5 children and in one of them the fifth child was really “too much” and added lots of relationship difficulties between the 2 older ones and the last one. They were teenagers and had a very hard time in accepting the new born and still have…
Thanks for your sensitivity and respect in dealing with the issue of the only child.
Thank you Carrie. I’m a loyal reader of your blog but have not commented before today. Like Federica I am an ‘older’ mother (47) of a so-far-at-least single (I guess I prefer that adjective to only) child, a 2.5 year old toddler son. My husband is 11 yrs younger than I am. He and I do a lot of thinking and talking about the single child status, even though our son isn’t very old yet. Of course we don’t know what’s going to happen, and I think we might try to adopt another child, which is obviously a whole ‘nother set of issues. But I am drawn to home schooling, and like to imagine that we could or would homeschool our son at least in some dimension or another. I appreciate your posting about it, and if you ever in the future have additional thoughts or insights, even incorporated into multi-child issues or topics, I’d be interested to hear them.
I am an only child, and mother to an only child – and from a long family tradition and culture where “only” children were more typical than in the US. Perhaps that is why I don’t feel such pressure of getting a sibling, though a older sibling seems like a good idea on some days! Socializing does not seem an issue for him, at 2.5 – and this is combined with my staying home at our farm outside of town, with rare outings but with weekly little visitors.
I did feel challenges in how I relate to others, especially as a child, but I would never attribute them to being the only child. I think my shyness, timidness and such were coming from being placed in a harsh childcare environment with 30 kids and 2 caregivers. My mother still quotes one of them replying to my request of needing comforted at 3: “If I comfort every one of you, I will have no time to do anything else”. I think I shut down in that style of nurturing. Being the only child for me also meant (and it still does) an easier relationship with my parents. I am VERY glad that we don’t have any additional vectors of tension, as my folks are very critical, love to compare how I fare vs. some other people; who did what for a vacation, or how much their friends’ kids are making annually etc. Of course we all who are reading this blog strive not to be such parents, but I think that dynamic exists anyway in many families.
Wow, you really read my mind today. I am a 47 year old mom of an almost 5 year old gorgeous human being! She is a singleton and most likely will grow up that way. Lately i am feeling frustrated and that I just cannot give her what she needs after school. She is at an in-home waldorf inspired school. She is there until just after lunch. When we come home she wants to play act out things in her imagination or that we’ve read or scenarios from school. This week i feel we are both frustrated by it. I want to exert my imagination and she wants to tell me what to do. Not sure what to do.
This year she is really thriving socially. Of course kids a little older feel safer to her or younger. The latter because she get’s to be the grown-up person or in the power position in the play dynamic (i think).
Today with her dad home i found her to be really demanding and whiny when she didn’t get her way.
I’m just blathering on here.
Thanks for highlighting the topic.
I am an only child who is married to an only child. When we decided to start a family we planned on having one child because it had been such a postive experience for both of us. Our beautiful daughter is four years old and there are no plans to add to our family. Some people seek us out to ask about our childhoods. They ask if we were miserable, lonely… due to concerns regarding their own only child. The answer is always “No!” We would like our daughter to have a childhood similiar to ours. Neither of us feel like we missed out on something because we did not have a sibling. Others will say things to us like “don’t do that to your daughter – only children are ….” Once I actually asked, “Do you think my husband and I are that way because we are only children.” The person responded, “You are kidding! I had no idea!” All of this to say, there is no need to stress over raising an only child. It may not be as familiar to you if you were raised with sibilings but it is not a reason to worry. Celebrate the beauty of your family regardless of it’s size!
Thank you for raising this issue. I am the only child of an only child and also have an only child (DS, 7yo). I had a very positive experience of being an only, and always believed that children thrive being onlies. This is probably a generalisation, however it was my experience.
My husband is not an only, but there is a large gap between him (the youngest) and his siblings, so he grew up whilst they were at school and had many of the benefits of being an only. He was very keen to have only one child.
Now that I have decided to homeschool it puts a whole new spin on having an only child, and it was not part of our plan when we decided not to have more children. In my fantasies I imagine having more than one child is easier on the mother – for my son I have to be EVERYTHING – mother, teacher, playmate. It can be exhausting! But I do have less bottoms to wipe, vegetables to chop and clothes to wash. And I only have to teach one grade.
Sometimes the issue of socializing with other children plays on my mind (does he get enough?), but my son is so happy being with us, and he sings everyday when he is playing on his own. At this age at least it is not really an issue.
I think the hardest part of being an only is the thought of what might happen to your child if you died with no family to love them – aging grandparents aside. That is my greatest fear.
Wow, I was just wishing I could have another child last night. (I was reading the birthing stories in Mothering Magazine–not a good idea for a single mother :)) We recently moved into our own house after always having lived with other people: my parents and brothers mostly, and a summer being a live-in nanny. It’s strange to not have anyone else ever around. I was always sole childcare, but just having other people around to talk to, to have him talk to, was nice. In some ways it’s easier not having to worry about other people, but I miss the companionship for both of us. I also grew up with 5 brothers, so I remember how much fun we used to have playing together. It’s nice to know that only children don’t remember their childhood as miserable and lonely.
thanks for your comment. I’ll keep in mind that you as a child didn’t feel like you were missing something out. I wasn’t a single child, I was the second and I was born only 14 months after my brother so I never experienced being an only child.
I do think for parents might be a big joy to have more than one child. I mean, I’m so in love with my daughter, discovering how a child develops and think that it’s all such a miracle that could be pure happiness to repeat and experience again. And I love to see little siblings at my daughter’s Kindergarten.
Nevertheless a parent should also accepts her “limits” if she-he has not the strength to have other children.
I have an only child. I think if you have a big extended family who are in frequent contact then it’s not so much of a problem but we don’t so socialisation is of great importance. It’s also an issue that depends on the child’s personality and temperament. I have a child with a very Sanguine/third house (gemini) personality – she loves being with other people.
We have play dates, joined scouts/guides, other social activities. The socialisation wasn’t as important when my child was little in that some playdates and playground meets were great but it didn’t need to be every day. However, now I have a child in the “Grades” it is essential that socialising (rather than socialisation) takes place to meet her needs.
I also think having pets can help a great deal with an only child, at least that is what has worked for us. This gives a sense of caring for something other than yourself.
Again, it all depends on individual differences I suppose but I do think socialising, rather than socialisation can be very important to some children (people) in order to fulfil their needs.
Another only child parenting an only checking in! I enjoyed this post and the comments…thank you for addressing the needs of so many types of families.
I LOVED being an only child. It’s hard to truly miss what you’ve never had…so no, I never “missed” having a sibling. Of course, there are drawbacks and benefits to every decision. My parents were open about their decision to have just one child. They explained from a young age that they felt one child was better for them financially, socially and personally.
One issue I feel like I have to check myself on a lot is….being overly sensitive to people thinking my daughter is spoiled/lonely/insert only child stereotype. I want to protect her from those accusations by making sure she’s extra polite, sharing etc… KWIM?
Also, I feel only children often have a tremendous amount of pressure on them to succeed. (Even if it’s just perceived pressure) I often felt like my parents put all their eggs in one basket for me and I didn’t want to disappoint. To this day, I’m a perfectionist & very tough on myself. I wish for my daughter to be more gentle with herself and patient. Two things, I am not.
Just a thought but isn’t it really NOT normal to have a great amount of kids the same age in the same place? If you didn’t have schools…where would you naturally find these age ‘groups’?
My thought is that socially most people relate to people above and below their age ‘group’ and need to do so politely and use other equitable means of relating. (sorry, just really tired, can’t figure out how to express it better).
(you might have expressed all this in your article but i didn’t see it. Doesn’t mean it isn’t there; I had to stop 3 times to get my oldest to let the youngest sleep in peace and leave the pup be.
I’m the mama of an only child (6 y.o. son). I grew up in a big and close family and have found it difficult to accept that having only one may be what is right for us. My son is amazing. I think being an only child is a unique and beautiful opportunity. Instead of praying for another child at the moment I’ve switched to thanking God for the wonderful little family that I have.
Thanks for posting about this topic…there are lot’s of opinions and stereotypes out there, so we need to hear good. balanced and wise things about this topic (especially as mothers of only children… we’re prone to worry).
I have been pouring over the pages of this website, since finding it a few days ago – what a blessing it is!
I am a 34 yo stay at home mother of an only child (son, aged 3), and only for the past two months have we started to really question our parenting and overall family structure/plans (hello, age three!). We would love to have another child, but due to many external factors, this is not possible at the moment; this leaves us wondering how to best meet the needs of our growing son.
He has started telling me that he is lonely and whenever I am tending to work in the home (during our weekdays, when daddy is at work), and it is not something he can be involved in, then he exclaims “What am I supposed to do? Who is going to play with me?” – because he has always been used to having his father or I to play with/keep him company/etc. I suppose I am feeling at a loss as to how to keep him occupied?/DO I keep him occupied?/do I leave him to his own devices more?/what is the best approach?
I am always looking for ways to involve him in work around the home, and do spend a good amount of time with him both indoors and out each day, but am honestly a little surprised at my son’s unwillingness to spend ANY time playing on his own, or even playing near me in the room I am working in. It seems he is literally crawling over me all day. Now those thoughts of – do I look into preschool programs, do I join some playgroups, etc – are creeping in!
I would certainly appreciate any words of advice.
I am so glad you are here with us in this space… The situation you describe is not uncommon. Your thought of involving him in practical work around the home is an important one, and it can be a challenging one in this age when we don’t have much more work than pushing a button on a vaccum cleaner or a dishwasher. Working to de-mechanize your home is really important. Also, at three, he is in an imitative phase so he may need your help with at least waking up and finding a play scenario set up. You can start him and then back off a bit whilst being in the vicinity. The other thing to peek at is how much time outside he is getting outside – a three year old boy needs quite a bit, two to four hours a day is typically what I recommend. These back posts should really assist you: https://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/01/13/waldorf-in-the-home-with-the-three-and-four-year-old/
Here are several about fostering creative play: https://theparentingpassageway.com/2008/10/29/more-about-fostering-creative-play/
and this one: https://theparentingpassageway.com/2008/10/05/fostering-creative-play/
Please let us know how it is going after you read these,
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Dear Carrie, I’d love to read any more insights/advice you may have for home-schooling an only child, please. Especially an extroverted girl, by an introverted mother.