The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Carolyn Hax: Parent searches for the upsides of having an only child

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
3 min

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: Can someone say something nice about only children, either being or having one? I have infertility after having our 5-year-old and I am trying to accept the upsides of it, which I know are many. But I tend to look on the dark side in general, and all of my friends have two or more.

— Dark Side

Dark Side: Oh my goodness, a ton of good things. Fewer sacrifices, more money, more mobility, more intimacy, more flexibility in how you create a noisy kid-filled household, if that’s still what you want. I loved my loud, crowded family experiences — growing up and as a parent — but neither family was nimble enough for ambitious travel, for example.

Life means trade-offs. You drew one card instead of another. That’s all. Not less, merely different.

I’ll let readers take it from here:

· The only children I know are all really welcoming of all kinds of people, and they’re flexible and agile at making friends. I think on the willingness-to-put-themselves-out-there scale, they are at the top, because they’ve always had to do so to have a friend around.

· It is so, so much easier to keep the bits of your life as an individual with one vs. being “Mom.”

· I was a lot more independent and comfortable around adults than my siblinged peers. I was free to do things after school without having to babysit another sibling. I made my own “siblings” with longtime friends and exchange students.

· I remember so fondly the intimate closeness of our little three-person family unit. My parents clearly loved spending time with me. Growing up, I did frequently want siblings, but I also appreciated the unique coziness of being an only.

· Your child will never text you at work to tell you their sibling called them an idiot.

· I don’t have to think about entertaining kids of multiple ages.

· Minivan not necessary, only one back-to-school night to attend, one college education to save for, vacations are less costly. I could go on.

· I only want one kid, because (among many other reasons) my brother abused me. Everyone says, “But don’t you want your kids to be best friends?” Sure, I would love that. But what if the worst-case scenario happens?

· You don’t have to have fewer children in your life. My daughter has a large group of friends, and we enjoy hosting. There’s lots of fun, laughter and chaos in this house.

· A family is as healthy/functional as it is, regardless of number of children.

· All the stuff about only kids being spoiled is nonsense. Our singleton is so good with people of all ages and all walks of life.

· I’m an only child. My parents got it right the first time, so they didn’t need to have more. At least that’s what my grandma used to say to the Judgey McJudgeypants ladies in her bridge group.

· The thing about siblings is they’re basically random people you’ve never met before whom you’re forced to share your life and home with. For everyone who loves their sibling, you’ll find someone whose sibling is their worst enemy.

· With a 5-year-old, any spacing now would be big. I can’t tell you about only children, but I can tell you that big spacing has major downsides.

· These don’t mean you should bury your grief over the vision you had for your family. Feel it, mourn, then embrace your life as it is.