Like many people, I always assumed that I would have two kids — a boy and a girl. I grew up with a brother and, although we fought sometimes, we generally had a pretty good relationship. And siblings are just what you do, right?
So when my then-boyfriend floated the idea of having only one child, I was surprised.
Like me, my now-husband had grown up with an opposite-sex sibling and had a decent relationship with her both as a child and into adulthood. So it’s not like he had some sort of trauma or a big reason why he always imagined his life with just one child, but that’s the tough conversation we had early in our relationship when it became apparent that we were both in it for the long haul.
In the end, I was able to convince him that two might be a great option and he was able to convince me that having just one could be great, too. We opted to wait and see how it went once we got there. But as we got closer to having a baby, I became convinced that there were far too many benefits to being one and done that just couldn’t be discounted.
When I first thought about having only one child, I thought about all of the common stereotypes that you’re probably thinking about too:
As a mom who researches everything I can about every step in the parenting journey, I decided to look into what it’s really like to have and be an only child.
First, I spoke with friends who were only children and friends who had siblings. I asked questions such as “were you lonely as a child?” and “did you love having a sibling?” Surprisingly, my research came up pretty split.
Many only children friends talked about their close relationships with friends who became family. Friends who had siblings often spoke about how their sibling relationships were fraught, and they continue to be distant as adults. I didn’t know a single only child friend who was spoiled or bossy. In fact, the kindest person I know is an only child — so where were the stereotypes in real life?
Eventually, I decided to look into the actual research.
Three books are often cited when discussing only children — and I bought them all. I started with Parenting an Only Child: the Joys and Challenges of Raising Your One and Only by Susan Newman (published in 2001) and her follow-up, The Case for Only Child: Your Essential Guide (published in 2011). Then I read One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child, and the Joy of Being One by Lauren Sandler (published in 2014). And boy, did I learn a ton!
The first thing I learned in my journey of exploring the potential benefits of having an only child is that all of those stereotypes are not based on any research or science. And they’re very, very old. Like, Victorian Era old.
Knowing that my potential only baby wouldn’t be a spoiled and lonely brat who bosses everyone around and struggles in life helped to quell my initial anxieties. But what fascinated me was all of the scientific research that pointed to the many benefits of having a singleton.
Despite what the stereotypes say about only children being spoiled and lonely people, it seems that they do pretty well in terms of their personality.
Those stereotypes about only kids being lazy because they always got whatever they wanted are clearly not true if only children are more ambitious than their sibling-having peers. And if they’re more confident and intelligent, then they’re not really the bossy brats everyone imagines them to be.
One of the ways that I have always imagined only kids to be is spoiled, which we of course tend to think is the parents' fault. But it seems like only children aren’t the adorable little monsters they’re made out to be on television. (Remember Angelica from the Rugrats?)
Instead, only children and their parents tend to have good relationships. It seems that because parents do not have to split their attention between little ones, they develop a close bond that’s difficult to replicate when you have more than one.
You might have already figured out that only children have better grades, and it makes sense. Parents can devote more time to helping their kids, but they can also invest more money when kids are struggling at school.
Even better, home life for parents of only children seems to be nicer, too, since only children do more chores than kids with siblings. This finding is quite surprising to me since I’d have imagined that two or more kids means that more chores get done. But regardless of the reason why this happens, I’m personally pretty happy to hear it!
And these are just a few of the benefits for the children themselves. What most surprised me is actually that there are plenty of only child benefits for the parents as well, such as a happier marriage because you can devote more one-on-one time to each other, improved family finances because you won’t have to worry about double the costs of raising a child, and significantly better mental health for mothers since they can get that ever-elusive time to themselves.
At the end of the day, there are quite a few advantages to being a one and done family — both for the only child and for the parents themselves. When I first considered having a singleton, I was afraid of all of those stereotypes and more. But the more I explore the benefits of only children, the more I am convinced that my husband and I have made the right choice for us.
And most importantly, I know that my 2-year-old son won’t be lonely, bossy, or spoiled. Instead, he will be loved, nurtured, and absolutely just fine.
It takes a village!
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