Is it Fair to Have an Only Child

Dawn Davenport


The myths of only children

Is it true that only kids are lonely, selfish, and burdened? Do you owe it to your child to have another?

Is it fair to have an only child? And what if you don’t have a choice? For those who’ve struggled with infertility, the whole issue of “only children” is a double-edged sword. Anyone who chooses to have only one child has to contend with the stereotypes surrounding only children, but many of those struggling with infertility didn’t choose this option, it chose them.  They face all same prejudices and myths, but without the upside of getting to decide what is best for their family.

After going through hell and back to get their first child, many don’t have the option of trying for a second. Maybe they are emotionally or financially tapped out after the roller coaster that is infertility treatment and adoption. Maybe they spent so many years on different treatments that by the time they finally had or adopted their first child they feel like they are too old to have another. Or maybe they desperately want another, but treatment is not working and adoption doesn’t feel like a comfortable option.  They are “stuck” with having to make peace with having an only child at the same time they hear all the reasons why children need siblings.

Myths of the Only Child

Regardless whether you thoughtfully decide that your family is complete with one child, or you have accepted that you need to thank your lucky stars with the one you finally got and not try again, you will face the myths surrounding only children. We’ve all heard them – only children are lonely, selfish, and burdened. Only children need our concern, and their parents need our advice.

Our society still has a hard time accepting that a family with only one child is not an object of pity or the result of selfish parenting. We just don’t seem to believe that families with one child are a full-fledged family unit complete in all its wonderful glory–no more perfect or flawed than a family with 2, 3, or even 19 kids.

In researching for yesterday’s Creating a Family show interview with Lauren Sandler, author of One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child and the Joy of Being One, I saw this great video on BuzzFeed: Signs You Grew Up As An Only Child. What I loved about this video is that it acknowledged the myths and realities of only children and where appropriate turned them on their head.

Realities of the Only Child

Sandler does a great job of covering the research on only kids in One and Only. In a nutshell, only kids are no lonelier, selfish, or burdened than children with siblings. Or to state it bluntly: you can find spoiled rotten brats in all family sizes. You can also find one child carrying the burden of older parents in all family sizes.

The fact that the myths of only children are just that – myths – doesn’t mean that parents of only children will not face disapproval and much unsolicited advice. The key, Sandler believes, is for parents to be comfortable within themselves of the advantages of only children, while being mindful of the disadvantages.

Therein lies the rub for many parents of only kids in the infertility and adoption world: they struggle with being comfortable since it wasn`t necessarily their choice. While this makes acceptance harder, I still think understaning the advantages is a good step towards acceptance.  Listen to our interview with Lauren Sandler to boost your confidence and perhaps to start even reveling in your family size. The interview was as fun as it was informative. If you like what you hear, read One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child and the Joy of Being One.



What do you think? Do you believe the myths of only children? Is it fair to have an only child or do you owe it to your child to at least try for another?


Image credit: World of Oddy

06/02/2014 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Blog, Infertility, Infertility Blog | 19 Comments

19 Responses to Is it Fair to Have an Only Child

  1. Avatar Carla says:

    I am listening to the broadcast with Lauren Sandler. There is a lot she says that is good insight, but she’s actually a little light on the research, I wish she had more specifics. I wish she could have better answered the question about whether only children then have only children or large families. Surely there has been a study.
    I started an only child support group and it has been wonderful. Five of us had infertility. One did not. Like Ms. Sandler, she is more cavalier and still isn’t entirely decided on one although her child is five. This is hard for those of us who have infertility, so I’m sure some of Ms. Sandler’s comments were hurtful to other listeners. That’s the pain of infertility, there is always that bitterness.
    We conceived our daughter immediately and little did we know that six years after conceiving her, we would be doing a fourth IVF after three failed ones. We have male factor but I seem to have poor eggs although I am no “only” 36, my mother had very late menopause, and both my grandmothers had children in their 40s. So now I am often jealous both of women who have babies easily and those who have successful IVF. I just hold onto the memories of the perfect pregnancy and birth I had with my daughter.
    My concern for her being an only child is that both my husband and I are first-borns, and it is just too much intensity and over-achievement. However, she does not ask for a sibling, she is very happy, because we have never communicated to her that she shouldn’t be happy or that our family is somehow lacking. I’m a proud “busy mother of one”. Do you ever hear that?! although you hear busy mother of two! It goes along with what Ms. Sandler said about this perception that a family of three somehow is less. She is right, we should own it and be proud.
    Finally – and I will put in caps because of my long post – I HIGHLY RECOMMEND PARENTS OF AN ONLY GET A DOG. We got a little dog for our five year old and it couldn’t be more perfect. Her playmate and companion. The dog has made our family complete, I no longer have to be sad upon seeing my daughter playing alone, she always has her dog nearby!

  2. Anna, good luck with the meeting and this next leg of your journey to motherhood!

  3. Avatar Anna T. says:

    Thanks for the post Dawn, it really hits home. I am one of those people who is going through hell and back just to have one child. I begin my adoption journey today (sitting at the airport now in fact to go meet my agency) and I hope I am lucky enough to one day cross the finish line as a mom. Sometimes it’s very hard for me in my current position to hear families say that they’re “incomplete” with just one or two children, it makes me want to scream and say “at least you have that privilege, some of us didn’t get that choice.” As one of the earlier posts said, every family is different, but it doesn’t take away from the importance of feeling blessed with what you DO have. Every child is a miracle, and to me parents shouldn’t lose sight of that.

  4. Avatar Beth L. says:

    Your blogs always speak to me, LOL. I am an only and I have an only child right now, but not by choice. It is incredibly painful to see other families with sibling sets. While I want my son to have a sibling, I also dreamed of a home with multiple kids and I think that is what I struggle with the most – the loss of my dream. I think I turned out fine as an only and I know my son would be fine too, it is just not the family that I envisioned for myself.

  5. Avatar Autumn P. says:

    Interesting topic. My husband is an only while I am the youngest of 6. I am much younger than my siblings so in a lot of ways I grew up like an only and always wished I had a sibling close to my age. It’s a special bond that doesnt compare like other relationships. I have some rather hard lined opinions about this topic and have always said I wanted multiple children. My husband always said that he wanted one and for a while was thinking maybe on that. He is an only child and his parents have always advocated for how wonderful they think it is. His mother is from a large family like me but interestingly all of her siblings and even their children only had one and in a. Few cases two children. My family on the other hand has reproduced like rabbits! Lol! I personally would never choose to have just one but if that’s all were blessed with we’ll have to be greatful for what we have.

  6. Julia, the problem is in either your cache or cookies or browsing history. You have to clean them back to before we had the problem with the site. For me, one week was not enough. I had to go into “browsing history” and clear cache, cookies, and browsing history back 4 weeks. That took care of the problem. Sorry you’re having this problem too!

  7. Avatar Sam H. says:

    Just read it, that video is so cute. 🙂 I am one of three kids, each born a little over 2 years apart. My relationship with my brother is one of the best, most rewarding of my life, my relationship with my sister … not so much, but I see how each has been meaningful and taught me a lot. I never wanted to have an only. My husband is also one of three but he is the youngest with an 11 year separation between him and his sister. He grew up like an only and has never wanted to have an only. Do to life circumstances we both find ourselves heavily considering having our son be our only child and it’s really hard. The truth is, after our sons sibling (as far as we are concerned, she is our daughter) was returned to his birth mother, we are in no place to make any choices and don’t want to. I, in particular, would like the question of more children to go away for at least a long while. Whether we like it or not, we are faced with it. Our license is up for renewal and we want to stay open if there is any chance our sons sister comes back into the system. Right now, we are dealing with grief, so the emotional side wants nothing to do with considering children who are not the child we just lost. We have had and turned down three placement calls since we lost our little one and I know we will only get more when we get relicensed. We know that it is possible that we may want to adopt another child some year in the future but … ultimately we are doing our best for our child and ourselves. Our son is grieving now and although he tells us he wants a sibling (I know he wants his sibling back), none of us are in the right mental emotional space for that. I think renewing our license is right for us because we want to be here for the child we lost but it does make for more emotional complication. *Shrug* we are just going to keep taking it one day at a time. I will listen to the podcast.

  8. Avatar Vera W. says:

    We have one child and are content with that-our family is complete as far as I am concerned. I am not going to let people make me feel bad that for just having one. What is right for one family may not be right for another. It took us a while to adopt and we are content. I grew up as one of 3 children and my parents, especially my mother played favorites and played us against each other (and does so now that we are adults). I wish I had a better experience but I do not.

  9. Avatar Robyn C says:

    Did she look at children who were the only children of color in their families? For my (adopted) son, who is, in adoption parlance, “African American/Caucasian”, it was very important to him to have a sibling who was “brown” like him. (We’re white.)

    My husband is an only child. I have a younger sister, and we’ve never gotten along. But when my mom died, having my sister was very important. It’s not so much that we magically got along or leaned on one another, but there was someone there to split the to-do list with, who could do the eulogy, and who could understand what this particular person dying was all about. When it came time to choose whether to give up or update our home study, that was the deciding factor for me. My husband won’t have anyone when his parents die, and he does fear that. I want my son to have someone there for him. Now that we have a “four family”, our family simply feels complete, where it didn’t before.

  10. Avatar Lisa says:

    Whether it’s fair or not, sometimes it just is what it is…

  11. Avatar Julia T. says:

    Here’s what I get when I click on the link you posted just above in this FB thread Illegal variable _files or _env or _get or _post or _cookie or _server or _session or globals passed to script.

  12. Avatar Julia T. says:


  13. Avatar Amy says:

    I don’t know that I really have a question for your only child program but I can’t wait to hear it. I am an only child who swore never to have just 1. We adopted our son 3.5 years ago. We adopted 4 embryos last fall. The first 2 resulted in a miscarriage at 6 weeks. We have 2 more to be transferred in March but the reality is that if I do not get pregnant or have a full-term baby we have decided we are done emotionally and financially. I know that I cannot raise my son not to be an only. There is just no way to give him what a sibling would give him however we can give him a pet, possibly private school and vacations that we likely cannot afford if we have another. We are 41 and 46 and feel like our time is limited as well. So, although I will be mourning forever that we just had 1 I will be glad to move on from the 8 year fertility struggle we have had. Life will go on and maybe we will be able to enjoy our blessing so much more because he is an only. Also, continue to minister and love on his b-mom who has become family. Thanks for listening

    • Amy, I think that was Lauren’s point in One and Only, not to convince people that they should only have one child, but to focus attention on the many advantages if you either choose this option or it chooses you. Also, to dispel the very prevalent myths surrounding the “dangers” of having an only child.

  14. Avatar anon says:

    Of course not! And parents should do what is right for the whole family unit, not just what they THINK the child might like. We set out to have two kids partly for some of the reasons you stated here, but a big factor was that both me and my husband are from two kid families. Honestly, I think our second (youngest) would be much less of a handful if she was the only child; our first would probably want a sibling if he didn’t have one, but I’m afraid he doesn’t have much fun with the one he has! If you’re going to ask this question, why not also: is it fair to the children have 19 kids in a single family??!!

    • anon, great point. I think you’re right that the perception of what children want often contrasts with the reality. 🙂 I think the point is that great families can come in all sizes, and healthy kids can be raised in all size families.

  15. Avatar Julia T. says:

    Have you posted a link to yesterday’s show?

  16. Avatar Julia T. says:

    Dawn the links on the left of the page, the ones to other blogs, don’t seem to be working. I was interested in the embryo donation blog link.

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