Monday, 7 July 2014

The Joys and Pitfalls of Having an Only Child

Until I had my son, I'd always assumed that I'd have three children - maybe four if I turned out to be really really good at it.  I was supposed to be infertile, so I'd be adopting them.  Two of them would most likely be twins, because I could totally have handled twins, you know - what with me being a primary school teacher and everything.  Piece of piss.  I would certainly not be having an only child.  No way.  That would be an incredibly selfish thing to do, and it would be one of those spoiled only child brats that you see, or a total weirdo.  Earth mother - that's me.

Then I had Rory, and every single part of the pregnancy, birth and baby phase was so unrelentingly horrible that the thought of doing it all again made me want to whack on a chastity belt.  My body clearly does not like being pregnant or giving birth, and it turns out that even if you've got a PGCE and years of experience of working with children, you can still be a crap parent to a baby.  Especially if the baby doesn't ever knobbing well sleep and decides that it wants to be mobile and climbing things at 5 months old.  My son has ruined babies for me for life; beautiful and hilarious though he was, he was a massive pain in the arse.  And it doesn't matter that everyone tells me that you never get two babies the same - a) I probably would - this is me after all, and b) if I get an angelic baby next time, that probably means that it will be an unholy terror from the age of two.  And my horror baby hit 18 months old and suddenly transformed into a charming, well behaved and entirely reasonable (albeit eccentric) child.  I have no desire to find out what it's like to parent a 'normal' toddler.  No way.  No more babies for me.

Nothing to see here. Just a far too busy and mobile 7 month old baby hell bent on running his mother down with a fire engine.

That makes him an only child.  More than one person has actually sucked in their breath through their teeth like a boiler engineer who's about to tell you that your whole heating system needs replacing when I've mentioned that he's the only one.  How rude.  And also, how presumptuous.  Lets have a quick look at the myths about having an only child.  And lets not forget that I once believed these myths to be true myself:

1. Only children are spoilt.  Mine isn't.  When you just have one child, you can't help but spoil them with love, but he doesn't get bought everything his heart desires, we don't let him do what he wants all the time and we've always made sure that he gets left to his own devices sometimes so he can entertain himself.  He also knows that when my husband and I are talking, he can't just barge in and interrupt.  I've met a lot of spoilt only children (many of whom were still spoilt as adults), but it doesn't have to be that way.  You choose how to parent your child.

2. Only children are rude.  Nope.  Mine is extremely polite and well mannered.  Partly because we've always taught him to have good manners, and partly as a side effect from being the only child in polite adult company most of the time.

3. Only children don't know how to share.  Actually, he's very good at sharing and always offers to share his sweets (or whatever) with my husband and I or his friends.  My theory behind this is that he's never had to fight over anything because he doesn't have any brothers or sisters, so therefore, sharing is a novelty and feels like a nice thing to do rather than something he's resentful of because his siblings are always taking his toys.

4. Only children are lonely.  I think it comes down to personality.  All the adult only children I know who complain that they were lonely as children are natural extroverts and love company.  My husband and I are fairly introverted and both very happy in our own company and don't need to be around other people.  We both have younger brothers and although we love them very much and would never change our upbringings, we both feel that we'd have been perfectly happy as only children as we were very self sufficient and preferred to play by ourselves.  As for Rory, he's begged us not to give him any brothers or sisters ever since he was old enough to vocalise it.  He loves that we're a team of 3.  To quote: "I just love hanging out with you guys".  He has no trouble making friends and socialising, although he's always ready to come home after having a lovely time with his friends because he needs his peace and quiet.  I can relate to that.  

3 is a magic number

Now, I would never ever criticise anybody for having more than one child.  Your family is right for you, whether you choose to have one child or ten, and there are many benefits of having siblings, just as there are many benefits of having none.  Plus there are also a few things about having one child that bother me a little: I do wonder what another child of ours would be like, and I especially grieve a little for the daughter that I'll never have.  Fortunately, a very good friend of mine has an awesome little girl who is now 6 and a total bookworm.  I'm loving buying her all the books that I loved to read when I was her age - the ones that I can tell that Rory isn't going to be interested in - and seeing her discover them.  That helps.  I also feel for him a bit at Christmas time and on holiday (well, I would if we could actually afford to go on holiday) as there are no siblings or other children for him to play with or get over excited with.  He still seems to have a great time, though.  I worry about him being left with all the responsibility for Rich and I when we're old, ill or dying.  And most of all, I worry that something will happen to him and we'll be left as childless parents.  I'm going to have to move along from that one quite swiftly, though, as I start obsessing if I think about it for too long.

And, of course, there is a particular scenario that we would happily do without every weekend.  He's perfectly happy to play by himself up to a point.  And then this happens:

"Can you play He-Man with me, Daddy?"
"Not at the moment, dude."
"But you said you'd play He-Man with me later, and now it's later."
"Yeah.  I'm just doing some work, though.  Go and do some colouring or something."
"But I want to play He-Man."
"Play it by yourself."
"I can't, because who would be Skeletor?  I can't do the Skeletor laugh.  And I need Mummy to be Ram Man."
"Mummy's busy.  She doesn't want to be Ram Man."
"Well, she can be the annoying one, then."
"Yeah, him."
"Mate, we're too busy right now."
"Sigh." *wanders off*
"Er, what?"
"I might stick this Spiderman sticker up my bum."
"Very funny."
"Right up it."
"We probably wouldn't."
"For sticker removal?"
"Yep.  And he'd say 'how did that sticker get there?' and I'd say 'because nobody wanted to play He-Man with me and I was sad', and then he'd tell you off."
"Very creative."
"So, think on."
Mate, I am not playing He-Man at the moment."
"I'm removing my trousers......."

Yeah.  Swings and roundabouts.


  1. One of the best blog posts I've read in ages! I was an only child and I swore I'd have at least two, preferably three kids. I had one and he was very hard work, much harder than I'd anticpated - I'd spent years saying 'of course I know it's not easy bringing up a child' but secretly thinking it couldn't be that hard!!

    When he was almost 3 no.2 was on the way - I joked (again not really joking) that this one would have to be an easy baby as 'no two babies are the same'. Well that's kind of right, he was not the same..... he is SO much worse!!

    And all the only child myths are rubbish, I agree with you on all of them! You crack on, enjoy your only child, he will be fine, well assuming he doesn't end up with too many stickers up his bum ;)

  2. Love that conversation!
    I don't think it's anyone else's business how many children you have (unless they are willing to parent any further children until age 2 of course). Until my older daughter was 2.5 I Didn't want any more either - if came as a surprise to me when I found myself wanting another! And my baby is easier, but I was very lucky - I think I'd have broken down if I'd got a difficult baby. No more for me :)
    Enjoy lots of he man (I'm glad I didn't have a boy - I just have to play a lot of barbies and princesses!) xx

  3. Too right each family has to decide what's best for them. I used to think, probably have four too lol then I relocated to the UK, total life change, got married had one at the ripe ole age of 37 and thought hell no not another, Then again that one yearns for a companion and just about the time I was JUST starting to get the hang of parenting him I decided to have another. Now we are back to square one :0) But I hasten to add I'm not having another either of them.I think 3 is the magic number the are able to articulate what they want, they are starting do more for themselves and they are beginning to understand what is acceptable and what is not acceptable behaviour in certain situations. Stopping by from #Youvegotmail, your my penpal :0)

  4. Hey you! We thought about Gus being an only child for a while too. I mean...a long while. My pregnancy and birth and breast feeding clusterfuck with Gus were all GOOD reasons. Also, neither of us (me or my husband) are mega close to our siblings. And we read really good things about only children being successful, independent and confident...all the things we're not. I wanted six kids before i had one and realised i was rubbish at it. I definitely don't think it's a selfish option.

    I also thought about....what about when we're old and infirm (i'm not firm now, mind)?! AND about what if something happened to Gus and we'd be childless. And then I think, well if something DID/DOES happen to him, and we have Joni....Joni's life isn't going to be made better by having a sibling who died! :( That's a terrible argument...rid yourself of that thought immediately!

    We had another one so i could prove to myself that I could cope with more than one. That's the worst reason EVER to have another child!

    Joni is easier in some ways....she's more laid back than Gus. But when she's crying and Gus is having a meltdown...i feel like i am literally in hell. I do think sometimes that i wish i'd been brave enough to have just one....and then all the hard stuff would be over. Not tho I'd ever, ever regret having know what i mean. :)

    Sod other people's opinions.

    BUT SEVEN MONTHS?! He's riding that Thomas truck at SEVEN MONTHS?! That's impressive. Joni can barely sit up. Lazy biatch.

    Big love. Xxxxx

  5. This is a great post. I think how many kids you have is just personal to you, and people can be pretty judgemental. We have three (no more for us now thank you very much) and three is just right for us. Quite often people stop us in the street and say "Oooh you must have your hands full" and I'm like you don't know the frigging half of it love. We also got asked if we had a telly upon the announcement of number 3. What I have learned is that one baby is hard work - more = more work, but strangely it's not any more stressful. They just sort of 'stack up.' I don't mean this to say EVERYONE HAVE LOADS OF KIDS but I just think each to their own.

    And our third baby was a happy surprise... ;) Lovely post, with a gorgeous conversation at the end there! xxx

  6. BRILLIANT! Love this post so much, and I've got two kids! I really think we need to stop referring to children with no siblings as an 'only child'. It makes it sound like they, and the family as a whole, are missing out on something, when you're not. It's probably a hangover from the days of high infant mortality, but it really doesn't reflect the love and joy you so clearly express. We need a better label. If I were clevereererererer I'd suggest something clever and witty. But I'm not. So I won't. :-)

  7. Wow....refreshing to read. My story is so similar to yours its ridiculous!! Am so relieved i am not alone!!

  8. Ha ha, great post and made me laugh about him running you down with his fire engine. He's a real cutie, too cute actually. I'm an only child myself and can tell you I LOVED it!!, What's more I am so giving and affectionate so I shouldn't worry. I must admit on the loneliness front, I do really enjoy meeting other people and can't stop talking so it affected me slightly but he'll be fine I'm sure. If by any chance I was to live another life I would be an only child again too!. Sadly I have an illness :( and it was genetic so that's why I am an only child but if all goes well I plan to adopt....yes you guessed it, just one child!! ha ha ha. I know what you mean about one disadvantage is you don't get the other gender (for you a girl) but there are drawbacks to absolutely everything and you just enjoy him!!. Welcome to the 'Only Child Club' Rory!!. x

  9. Interesting read. I'm fascinated by the dynamics of family sizing. Do you have any research references to back up the anecdotes?

  10. love this, a woman after my own heart. after I gave birth to my daughter I said to the midwife 'so tell me, why do women do this repeatedly' she said, because you forget.... well I haven't and don't believe I ever will!

  11. Thank you for this, I worry constantly about my son being an only child but he is one of the happiest, politest little boys I know and loves our gang of 3. Maybe one day we'll have another child, but if we don't, he'll be just fine!