28 answers

Child Only Child - Herndon, VA

My three year old son is always talking about his friends, having friends over, how he wishes he had a brother or sister (or cat)... I worry about him being an only child. I didn't worry when he was younger, but now that he can express himself more I see how much he would have loved a sibling. I missed the boat on having a second - I'm 45, but I want to make sure he's not negatively impacted by being an "only". Any advice at all on making him happy and strong (and yes some advice on alleviating the Mommy Guilt would help too...)

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Thank you everyone who responded. What wonderful insight and helpful advice. I need to just relax and enjoy parenting more and stop worrying so much. Thanks to everyone for their kindness.

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Hi, M., We all want what we don't have, don't we? It is what it is; you can't change it, so please don't feel guilty. There are advantages to being an only, just as their are advantages to having siblings. Are there cousins nearby that you could "borrow" on a regular basis? You said he also asked for a pet - maybe that is a good substitute! Good luck. I'm sure he will be fine.

1 mom found this helpful

I'm not sure what you think the "negative impact" of being an only is. There is no need for you to feel guilty! I am an only child and think I am very happy and strong and have a great relationship with my parents and other people my age as well. Of course there have been times in my life where I wished for a sibling but I don't think I was negatively impacted. Some of the helpful things my parents did were to get me and my cousins together on a regular basis and have lots of playdates with friends. Also I was able to bring one friend (or my cousin who is my age) on vacation with me so I'd have someone my age to enjoy things with.
I think with an only child the parents may have an increased responsibility to make sure to treat the child in an age-appropriate manner. In college there were three only children who lived on my hall and we all were very different in our relationships with our parents and our experience of being "onlys" One was forced to be an adult too soon to fit into her parents' world and not really enjoy her childhood, while the other was extrememly babied by her parents. I think a balanced life is what every parent should strive for, not just parents of only children, but the attention that the parents give an only child is more concentrated when there aren't other children in the family.
Focus on the positive parts of having an only child -- the decision that was right for your family.

1 mom found this helpful

you could bring him over to play with my almost 3yo triplet boys and show him how they never get a moment's peace away from each other. that might make him appreciate being an only for a few minutes!! hehehehehe. ;-)

My son is 3 1/2, and my daughter just turned one. He still talks about having an older brother. We hope he will have a younger one someday, but of course we can't have an older one. (Financially adoption isn't a possibility at all for us, though we also hope to do that in the future.) There has been, especially initially, a lot of complaining about the sister-how she messes up his toys, how she doesn't play what he wants, etc. Please don't think that having a sibling means no complaints! Also, I had always wanted a sister, then we hosted an exchange student who was 15 when I was 16. It went terribly. I was so thankful when she finally left. I had 3 older brothers. My husband, on the other hand, was an only child, and loved it. He got all the presents, his parents didn't "forget" about him. He was their life. He married into a larger family (we're pretty close with our extended family) and enjoys that aspect, but we also love that our kids don't have to compete for affection with his parents. So your son may feel like he wants it now, but there are a lot of benefits he hasn't gotten to yet. Also, he can marry into a big family if he wants that later, and consider brothers-in-law as brothers (which is how it is in my family). But by then, he may decide that big families are insane and not want that at all. His whole life is ahead of him, and him being an only child certainly isn't a bad thing-it's just the way it is! Coming from a mom who loves her big family, don't feel guilty at all!

I'm an only child and my son is an only as well. So, I have lifelong practice at this. There will be times that your son goes through wanting siblings, and then he will go on and forget about it. It does cycle. The best thing that you can do is do your best to let go of the guilt. It never helps anything. Give him plenty of peer opportunities. That means,team sports, playdates at your house as well as other homes, group lessons of many kinds, art, etc. Maybe scouts or community clean up activities are wonderful. Let him know how lucky he is to have your undivided attention. Above all, follow your gut and listen to your son; as he will tell you what he needs.
L. M

Hi M.,

I completely empathize with what you are saying. I, too, am an older mom and when my son turned 3 he was doing the same thing (he's 4 now). I went through so much soul searching. What I now, a year later, realize is that he was discovering how much fun it was to play with other children and developing social skills - he was blossoming. He also started asking for a sister (he seemed to realize that he might want to maul the infant if it was a boy). I think he asked for a sibling because most of the other kids at school had one and he wanted one too. I let him know that having a new baby in the house would mean sharing his time with the baby. He seemed to be ok with not having one after the explaination. I also went through the guilt. But if you look at the statistics for singletons, they grow up socially adjusted, not necessarily more selfish (despite the prevailing stereotype and successful. WHat I realized was that this was more about my guilt (partially brought on by society's expectations and the constant questioning from well intended busy bodies about us having a second) than it was about his request. After all he requests candy every day as well and I dont feel slightly guitly about saying 'no'.

Be nice to yourself. Youve had him later in life which means that you probably really wanted him and hence put much effort into parenting. Youre a wiser mom and he is benefitting from this. No need to feel guilty here.

Some siblings get along very easily - other fight like cats and dogs. When it doesn't work out, the fighting, bickering, hair pulling and endless trying to make peace makes you wish they would hurry up, grow up and move out already. When my son was 3 (he's 10 now) he was very possessive of me. When me and Daddy were hugging, our son squeezed in between us, pushed Daddy away and told him "My Mommy! Get your own Mommy!". They do plenty of Father/Son activities now. When your child brings up how he wishes for a sibling, you can remind him he doesn't have to share his toys or keep them out of the way for a much younger child. He doesn't have to share you or Daddy or with another child. As he gets older, he'll have school friends and there are all kinds of activities that will have him playing and interacting with lots of other kids. There's also something to be said for a child learning how to amuse himself (building with blocks and Legos, making pillow forts, reading eventually, drawing, coloring) without the TV and computer games. At 3, you can play with him a bit to get him started, and then let his imagination take over.
Many 3 year olds do not realize the difference between a stuffed animal and a real one. If you get a pet, you will be taking care of it. There's nothing wrong with being an only child. My husband was one and my son is one and they both happy about it. I have a sister and I spent a big part of my life wishing I was an only child.

M., I hope you heed all the terrific advice below. Like you I am 45 and have one child. As our pediatrician (a mom of three) said, "You get the family you are meant to have. Embrace that and enjoy it." I admire my friends, and I have several, with two-and three-kid families, but they have told me frankly that they can't do things with their oldest that they'd like to do because they have younger kids in the mix. You will find as he gets older that you have time to do things with him; you can take him to events and places you simply could not take him if you had younger siblings along; and you can spend more time volunteering at his schools, Scouts, sports, etc. And one more thing -- Don't feel guilty for not providing a playmate. He's three, and to him a brother or sister means someone to play with. He has no idea at this age that a brother or sister means a tiny infant who does not play for a very long time yet and who occupies all of mom and dad's energy to the point he gets less attention; he thinks a sibling means an instant playmate.... And when he's eight, like my daughter, he may well say what she says now: "I don't want to share you with any brothers or sisters!"

Dear M.,
I think that any situation can work out well (or badly) and that includes having or not having siblings. I am an only child, and it worked out well for me. I am close with my parents and content with my other friend/family relationships. My friends complained about their siblings a lot -- it was easy to see that there are pluses and minuses to everything.

I think giving your child opportunities to have positive social interactions is a good idea, and also if you model looking on the bright side of things, then your son get in the habit of it too. It's a good idea for anybody.
P.S. Having a pet seems like potentially a good idea for anybody, too. Have you considered it? If you are allergic to cats, maybe a bird?

kids always ask for things, but they don't always get them...he is lucky in other ways - like your undivided attention, not arguing over toys, etc...plus I have heard only children branch out socially because the want to know more friends to interact with, so it may help him in that aspect in the long run. Moms always feel guilty about something, so you're normal there, but try not to worry about it because there's nothing you can do about it and shouldn't have to. He will be just fine - there are tons of only children in the world and they are fine too. Here's a list of only children who may be familiar to you - and they are great!!

Steve Allen

Lance Armstrong

Lauren Bacall

Bill Bradley

Carol Burnett

Laura Bush

Chelsea Clinton

Walter Cronkite

Leonardo da Vinci

Albert Einstein

Indira Gandhi

Tipper Gore

Ted Koppel

Charles Lindbergh

Joe Montana

Isaac Newton

Gregory Peck

Nancy Reagan

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Brooke Shields

Frank Sinatra

Robin Williams

I have had the unique situation of experiencing both being an only and having a sibling. My parents are divorced; in one home I was an only and in the other I had a younger half brother. In my experience being an only was lonely, and as I got into my teen years it made me want to spend a lot of time out of the house with friends. At my other house I had my brother to hang around with and, staying home on a weekend night was actually fun!

Of course not all siblings are close. I believe age difference and parenting are the most important factors there.

I agree that you shouldn't feel guilty about something you can control now. If you feel like you want more, adoption is a wonderful option. I worked with children who were taken from there parents and placed into foster care and EVERY ONE I met was just dying to be loved. There are sweet kids out there that would be just as thrilled to have your son as a brother as he would be to have them.

I have three observations:
1. Don't assume you "missed the boat." I had my second at 45. We, too, thought we had an "only." Surprise!
2. I now have two girls and guess what? My youngest pesters me all the time because she wants a big brother. Sorry! No can do!
3. No matter what you do, there are forces operating to make you feel guilty. My two girls fight like bobcats and *I* feel guilty I can't teach them to get along.

A pet might be a good idea for your little guy, assuming you're in a position to really care for one. Cats are generally lower-maintenance than dogs, but a cat might not take too well to a rambunctious three year old boy (though if you adopted an older, mellow kitty cat, they might get along just fine...hmmm...) Anyway, I'd explore the pet option. And don't waste time feeling guilty over this!

I can understand how you would feel guilty, but in all reality, your son would probably be thinking he wanted to be an only child if he did have a sibling! And who is to say that you would have had a boy? He might have been irritated at having a little sis tagging along...the "what ifs" are endless. Even as adults, it is easy for us to do the "what if" with just about everything. What about making some visits to cousins? Being around other children that are family might be just what he is needing. Other than that, if you are willing to make the committment and add on the responsibility, a fun dog in the house definitely is like having another child!! We had a lab for 2 years (recently had to give him away due to allergies in my 6 year old)- and seriously, he was like one of the kids. He was right there in the middle of everything, trying to be involved in every family activity. Maybe that could be an option? Don't beat yourself up about it. We always wish for the perfect senerio of everything, from childhood up through old age! He is just doing that, and he will get over it and realize what he has is just right.

Hi M.,
Don't feel guilty about having an only child. I am an only child and did well. My son who is an only child is 15 yrs.old and I feel well adjusted. He's involved in many activites and sports and has some great friends. Keeping your son active I feel is the answer. It worked for me.

hi M.,
and if you gave him siblings he'd want different ones<G>. no seriously, good for you for making your decisions on what works for YOUR family, not out of guilt or obligation! or age, for that matter. don't feel guilty for one second. onlies, especially of parents in their forties, have SO many advantages that other kids don't have! parents who are generally more patient and tolerant than young 'uns (young parents have us beat in energy though), and to be frank, usually a bit more solvent. there are pros and cons to every decision, so don't waste any precious time feeling bad about the love, focus and care you get to lavish on your very fortunate and loved child.
:) khairete

My daughter is also an only child. I would loved to have had another one, but it didn't work out for me either. I had her when I was 35, and my marriage to her father imploded within a year afterwards. She too used to ask for a little sister or brother, and it broke my heart because I knew it could never happen.

My daughter seemed to accept that "Mommy can't have any more" as an explanation when she was little. Now that she's 14, she understands the basic biology of it all, and doesn't seem to mind being an only child. So, he'll probably outgrow this phase in time.

And to alleviate the "Mommy Guilt" -- my daughter and I have grown to have a deeper, closer bond as a result of her only child status. She doesn't have to share my time and attention with anyone else, and she appreciates it. When other teenagers are starting to assert their independence by being disrespectful, smart-alecky, and avoiding time with their families, she and I are still have fun doing things together.

We all have "Bad Mommy" moments and do or say things that we regret. But having an only child is nothing to feel guilty about. As he grows up, his pining for a sibling should pass.

He'll become happy and strong because he has your love and attention; because he sees you being happy and strong, too.

I suffer from MOmmy guilt also. There is a GREAT book out there called Mommy guilt. It helps you get over a whole lot of things. I even feel guilty about saying no. By anyways. My husband is an only child and many times he wishes his parents had more but for ever reason they did not he turned out just fine. He was close with his cousins. Remind him of how great being an only child is. And when he gets bored playing alone have play dates and get him involved with activities. There are also many foster kids out there that need homes. Never say never.

I am a 40 year of mother of an only child who will be graduating from high school this year. My suggestion is to fine some clubs or sports for him to get into that will make a lot of difference because then he will find other kids that are only children and build a bond with them. As for you mom I still feel that way about not having more children because she will soon be off to college but I get over it quickly. Trust me he will be fine and don't feel guilty. Put all your time and efforts into him and he will make you proud. He's only 3 he will out grow it. Good luck and Be blessed.


My child is also an only child, per se. I also had her in my early 40's. My husband is older and had 3 kids from a first marriage who are now much older and were already out of the house when she was growing up. I do not think there has been any negative impact on her even though I (sometimes) wish that I had a second child. She was in "family day care" for many years. I dropped her off at a woman's house (licensed in the state of Maryland) and she spent the day (5 days a week) with several other children of diverse ages and backgrounds. She still keeps in touch with many of them to this day (she is now 15). They were like having siblings during the day because they essentially grew up together. She is also very sociable and well-adjusted and never says that she missed not having a sibling. I made sure there were always many opportunities for her to play with others. My point is that, in the absence of a sibling, there are many ways to help an only child learn to socialize (family day care, mommy groups...etc). It seems to be the most important factor in determining school readiness. Most importantly, don't feel bad about it! I wish you much luck.

My cousin is an only child and growing up she wished she had a sibling, mostly when her parents were arguing (so try and minimize that!), but after she got married, she said she was happy to be an only. I know that is far away for your son, but siblings are rarely all they are cracked up to be. She sees how much coordination is required at the holidays, how inconsiderate people can be, etc. Both my husband and I have siblings, and it does not incline us to have more than one child. I know only two people that I would say are truly close to their siblings as adults...so I wouldn't let your decision worry you. Also, kids go through phases and this may just be a phase. He hasn't had a baby pull his toys out of his hand, not be able to play a game with small pieces because the baby is awake, etc. I know many moms who say the bickering between siblings is exhausting. My son is almost three and will be an only. So far he's happy seeing friends daily during the week...but we do have two cats and two dogs that he plays with. Not sure if this was cohesive since my son is on my lap, but just because we wish for something, it doesn't mean we really know what it would be like if that wish was granted. Is it possible he's ready to spread his wings a little and go to preschool, moms morning out, or just switch time staying with a friend while you get something done and then the next week you watch the friend while his/her mom get's something done? I do think it's important for my son to be attached to other adults and kids in case I have something I need to do (surgery, whatever), and also other adults and kids add something to his life. Anyway, I wish you luck! D.

My husband and I had our first son 9 months ago and we are not planning on having any more children. Granted, we aren't doing anything permanent just yet. Part of our reasoning for wanting just one child is that we can give him everything. We aren't wealthy, and we believe we can offer so much more to our son if he doesn't have a sibbling. That's not to say we won't change our minds in the future, but that's how we feel right now. Also, I should mention, neither of us is an only child. I have a younger sister and hubby has 3 older sibblings.

My little guy did that too and I did end up having a sister for him because of that reason but there are a lot of only childs out there that are content at being the only one. Right now he is young and just wants someone to play with. It wouldn't hurt to get him a kitty if you like them and are not allergic to them. The american short hair is a very gentle kitty for children. Around here they would probably be called a ferral. I have one and she loves the kids and she plays with them a lot. Maybe have a friend of his over sometimes. I also did that for my little guy before his sister came along. He will get past that once he gets older. All he will want to do is bring his friends home with him.heheheh. I haven't made it to that yet as my two are still 5 and under.
Good Luck and don't feel so guilty.

I am also an older mother and I went through all of the guilt and worry over having one child. We told our son right from the start that having a sibling was never an option. We were always up front on the pluses and minuses of having siblings vs. no siblings. He is now 11 going on 40 but he is quite happy. He has friends at school, he still enjoys his parents, he covets his free time. Just being attentive parents with bundles of love is all that I think is necessary to a child. Our son is absolutely the best and I always tell people that we achieved perfection on the first try so why do it again and tempt fate.

Don't panic M. - he will survive!

I was an only child. However, not sure I ever knew it! I always had friends over for sleepovers and any family vacations, I always got to take my best friend with me, wherever we we went. I now have 2 children, and I have had some interesting conversations with friends. When I said - "how do we now take two children AND their two friends on vacations - now we will have 4!" My sweet friends laugh and say - when you have more than one kid - their sibling IS their friend on vacation, they don't get to take friends! I now understand how lucky I was growing up! My mom made sure I always had someone to play with, and lucky for me, it was always someone I chose to ride 10 hours in a car with and with whom to share a room - not a sibling! (Probably was a happier trip for the parents too!)

When I was older, we hosted an exchange student for a year, which was an amazing experience, and did give me a chance to enjoy the sibling experience. It was a novelety to have someone day in and day out to share time with, but I did realize how lucky it was that I didn't for the first 17 years!

Now that I have two, I realize I often expect the older one to entertain the younger one, and the thought of having two playmates over for the two kids for the afternoon sounds a little overwhelming. However, I think back to my childhood and how wonderful it was that I could always have playmates over.

So, your son probably wants a sibling because at the 2-5 year old range, it seems a lot of people are getting pregnant with their second in his preschool class. However, as far as his growing up lonely, you can make sure that he has a constant parade of friends that can spend time with him, teach him to share, fight with on family vacations over the best bunk, etc. And the best thing is, when he is tired of being with them - they can go home!
It may take a little more social planning on your part to arrange playdates etc. but he will soon appreciate being only child when his friends come to play and tell him how lucky he is not to have younger siblings tearing up his things and trying to be in the middle of everything!

Hi M.. I have 2 grown boys 23 and 18, and then at 46 years old I had another baby. So I've had 2 boys and now an only child (same husband, BTW). My 'only child' is now 5. He always asks for a friend to come over. When he was 2, I joined the MOMS Club which is everywhere. You can find them online and then put in your zip code to find a group near you. I joined this for the playgroup. They have playgroups by age, and this really helped. Then we were able to get together outside of playgroup with a few of the kids we met there so he could develop friends. And we do a lot of things where he interacts with friends-storytime at the library, gymnastics at The Little Gym, programs for kids at our local aquarium, etc... I do so much more stuff like that with this child than I ever did when I had 2 at home, but it's easy with one, and 2 kids is really like 10. kids compared to 1 kid. And I'm older and I have more $ now than when I was in my 20's and 30's. Good luck!

I'm an only child. I have sincere friendships, no time for superficial friendships. Then, I married a man with six siblings. Instant brothers and sisters. Sometimes you wish you had siblings, but the feeling passes. I feel the need for siblings more as my parents age; but then I think my life is simpler because I know all the responsibility falls to me anyway instead of having to beg siblings for help. I think everyone thinks the other scenario is better-you know-the grass being greener on the other side. Just teach your child that he is special and your family is just the way it needs to be. Try to balance his activities and, hopefully, he'll find good friends who can come over on weekends and holidays. If you have a big extended family, invite neices and nephews and try to get him involved in some activity--but not too much. He'll have to learn to do some things solo. Personally, I find onlies to be very creative, thoughtful, and mature because they spend more time with adults. Nothing wrong with that, I don't think.

I'm glad you posted this. I'm in the same boat as another mom with two older kids and a baby.

My aunt had a son when her girls were teenagers so he's been raised much like an only, too. She said that getting him into activities with other kids his age really helped. She did a lot more playdates than with the girls b/c he was alone.

I also agree with fostering close relationships with your friend's kids or cousins so that your child has a support system as an adult.

We, too, only have one child. It was not our choice, but God's choice. Our son never really desired to have siblings (now 11 yrs old), however, because of his "only-child" status, we feel it is extremely important that he develop strong family relationships with his cousins and our close family friends, which we foster as much as we can. This will be his support system as an adult. I would encourage you to develop these relationships as if they (cousins or friends) were natural born siblings.

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