Raising an Only Child … and Why It’s Not a Crime

“Is he your only child?”

This question, said with a mixture of curiosity and horror, has come my way more times than I can count. There are a lot of other only-child questions and statements on this playlist, too:

“When are you going to have another child?”
“You need to give your son a little brother!”
And my all-time favorite: “WHY don’t you have more kids?”

Let’s start there.

This is a seemingly harmless question and for the most part, it is. People are just curious because if they have more than one child, why don’t you? But let’s look at it a different way. To the person(s) asking those questions, let me ask you these questions:

Would you ask a single woman when will she get married?
Would you ask a childless couple why they don’t have a baby?
Would you tell a woman with an infant that she needs to breastfeed instead of use formula?

Unless you know someone’s situation, these questions have the potential to be extremely painful at worst or highly annoying at best. These questions contain in them a perceived judgment, however innocently asked. When you ask a woman, “Why don’t you have more kids?” the query often comes without knowing the road she’s traveled … maybe she’s unable to have more children; maybe she lost a child; maybe she can’t afford more children; maybe she chose not to have more children. Regardless of the reason she has one child and not more. She’s not committing a crime against nature. Right now in reading this, you may be thinking, “Well, geez… I can’t even ask a simple question?” But it’s all in the delivery. Instead of asking, “When are you, you need to or why don’t you have more children?”, consider asking the question in another way: “Do you have more children?” You’ll get the answer you seek, without potentially offending anyone.

Debunking the Stereotypes

By the way: stereotypes about only children are fallacies. One of the biggest myths is that onlies are self-centered. My son and the only-child adults I know are not self-centered. Or if they are, it’s not merely because they’re only children. Multiple factors go into why people are the way they are. I know plenty of people with siblings who think the world revolves around them.

  • Only children become too mature too quickly – I can only speak for my child, but he’s 13 going on 13.
  • Only children are socially awkward – anyone who knows my son knows he’s very outgoing and has a truckload of friends. The same is true for many people I know who are only children.
  • Only children don’t know how to share – this one may have some validity because only children aren’t used to having to split TV or computer time at home. Having said that, it’s how they’re raised that can make a difference and how many social interactions the only child has.
  • Only children are headstrong – well, my son IS headstrong … but that’s because his mama is slightly headstrong herself. (Okay, those of you who know me, stop laughing!)
  • Only children are brats – another myth that I’m happy to debunk. Since kindergarten, we’ve always gotten feedback from teachers that Christopher is polite and caring towards others. He’s now 13, though, so he’s part alien. But so far, he’s still a nice kid. (Check back in with me in a couple of years, as that’s sure to change.) Also, my friends who are only children are some of the greatest, kindest people I know, and the same for many of the only children of my friends. My Goddaughter is an only child (she’s grown now), and she’s one of the dearest, kindest, most considerate people I know.

It’s all in how we raise our kids that ultimately makes the difference. What we put into them is what we’ll get out of them.

My Journey to One

This was not a journey I set out to have. Having a brother, I’d always assumed I’d have at least two kids. I certainly didn’t think I’d have an only child. In my case, it was neither my choice nor biology that prevented me from having more kids. My ex-husband simply changed his mind on having more children (wait for it, ladies), he didn’t want to risk having a girl. That change of heart was an easy one for him to make – unraveling our joint decision to marry and have two children with the flip of a switch. But it set me out on a difficult path. At first, I assumed he’d change his mind, but as the years went on, it became clear that the situation was not going to change. The dawn of realization that I was finished having kids enveloped me. I even begged him to adopt, but no dice. I didn’t feel my family was complete. I couldn’t come to terms with the fact that I would likely not bear any more children because of someone else’s choice. I strongly considered packing up my then-toddler and leaving, meeting someone new who wanted a big family. But I couldn’t justify doing that to my existing child, so I stayed. (Although my ex eventually gave me a lot of reasons to leave years later!)

Only child.

This phrase used to be a cross to bear with me. Only. As if my child were an oddity, or I was someone for people to pity, or that I wasn’t a “real mom” or we weren’t a “real family” because I have only one. Every time I have one of those questions it filled me with such pain because those were the whispers of anguish that I was saying to myself in the recesses of my mind. Every time someone had their second baby, I’d think, “Well, her (first) child is lucky; I feel sorry for my son.” Every old stereotype and thought about only children rippled through me. I worried about my son not having a sibling. The statement, “You need to give your son a sibling!” struck a chord down deep every time, each note embedding itself into my psyche. This was especially difficult for the Type A person I am, someone who set out to accomplish what she wants. So much of my life was consumed with trying to change my then-husband’s mind to have more children … then the all-consuming guilt that would inevitably follow when I thought of the child I DID have. What would my baby boy think that his existence wasn’t enough? Why couldn’t I just be grateful for the child I already had? I was (am) grateful for him, but the guilt of that still brought me to my knees … until the next time I was asked, “When are you going to have another child?” and the vicious cycle started all again. It took me many years to get to the point where I was at peace with having an only child, but I got there (and, to be honest, I just barely got there).

One day I looked up and realized how blessed and fortunate I am to have this child in my life. This boy who calls me Mom. My noisemaker who fills my life with everything good and exhausts me with everything else is my child. I was spending so much time feeling sorry for myself for not having more kids that I wasn’t in the moment of the child who is here. So, I started accepting my small family and, slowly but surely, I realized that much of the anguish I was feeling had nothing to do with what my child was feeling. He was always (and still is) a very outgoing and happy-go-lucky guy, and I just needed to finally come to the party.

The Unanticipated Blessings of One

When I still had the “grass is greener” mentality, I took for granted all the hours of one-on-one time my son, Christopher, and I had (and still have): my undivided attention when we have heart-to-heart talks regarding how he feels about things in his life; playing countless games with him – when he was little like Go Fish. Now we play chess almost every day; having his countless friends come over to play – but then being able to say, “Buh-bye, now!” when they all leave; being able to watch him perform at every single one of his events, because my time isn’t divided.

I couldn’t see these unexpected benefits of having an only child in the middle of my wallowing at the beginning of my journey. But I’ve come to greatly appreciate this precious time with my son. I’m not advocating for or against having an only child; this journey is one that I found myself on. I now relish it. The choice for any woman – whether it’s the number of children she has or the choice to have children at all – should be based on what feels right for her. And that’s the choice I wanted to be able to make – to decide for myself how many children I would have.

Full-Circle Moment

As it happens, for some time now I’ve been contemplating the possibility of adoption. For years, I thought if I ever found myself single again, I would consider adopting an older child and give myself that once-wanted second child and give my son that elusive little brother. Now that I’m in the position to make that possibility a reality, I’m looking at my situation with more clarity – or, rather, from a position of having peace of mind (finally) and acceptance with having an only child. If it makes sense to add to my family that could be an option. But it’s now my decision to make. If I adopt a child, it’ll be out of want, not need … This is the moment where I’ve come full-circle in my journey because I no longer look at having a second child as a way to fill a void in my life. The fact that I’m even contemplating not adding to my family is in itself a personal feat. There are pros and cons to having an only child vs. having more than one child. The point is to recognize the GIFT of parenthood while our kids are still kids.

Isn’t that the point for ALL of us?

Maybe we had one child and wanted more; maybe we have multiple children and we feel overwhelmed; maybe we have all girls and never had that son; maybe we have all boys and never had that daughter … whatever the case may be, we must appreciate the blessings of parenthood that are there for us to enjoy.

Wendy and Christopher - Black & White
Rosanne Nitti/Pura Vida Photography



  1. Great article! I think being an only child has its perks. As an only child I was able to spend an enormous amount of time with my family. My family and I are super close and I would not have it any other way. In fact, I believe all the time that I have spent with them and all the lessons that they have taught me, have actually made me a stronger person.

    With so many single parents today, I see how hard it would be to raise one child, let alone multiple children. My mom has done a pretty good job with me, if I do say so myself!! Graduated from high school, got into an excellent college, graduated college with a 3.5 GPA, got a job in this tough economy, and we are still close as ever. I could not imagine where I would be if I had siblings and if my mom was not able to help me stay focused on my career paths.

    As a side note, hats off to all the single parents.

    Everyone is different, everyone has different situations, but I think being an only child has been such a blessing ☺

  2. Alexandra Montgomery

    Wendy, such a great article. As the Godmother of your son, I can attest to the wonderful young man….without any siblings….which you have raised. You made sure he had plenty of social interaction with other children his age. You made sure he was surrounded by people who contributed to his growth in one way or another. You made sure he received the kind of attention he needed in order to excel at everything he has attempted. You have made sure that he is respectful, compassionate and has an understanding that others may not be as fortunate as he is. Both you and Roy have given my Godson memories of a happy and healthy childhood that he will carry with him throughout his life. Some of those memories are with you, some with Roy and some with both of you. What an amazing gift. One thing your only child will never question is whether you were with him in each moment. You undoubtedly were.

    “What if’s” are a waste of energy.

    As a parent of an only child, I would look at that little face and say, “there is nooo way I have room for anyone else”. Everyone is different, everyone has different circumstances, and its simply okay!

    I think that sometimes we get so absorbed with wanting more or wanting different that we forget that what we have may be just what we need!

    Great read!! You have done a great job with your singleton : )

  3. Pamela, what a beautiful response. I have tears in my eyes, because what you describe with your relationship with your son is what I have and hope to continue to have with my son. We don’t always get to choose the path we’ll take in our lives, but how we embrace our lives is what makes all the difference. As with my article, I’d always wanted more and I’m considering adoption; but there are times that I think, “How can I fit another child into my life? It’s so full and now and I’d lose one-on-one time with Christopher.” Regardless of where I go from here, I feel at peace. THANK YOU for sharing YOUR story!!

  4. Barbara, what a WONDERFULLY amazing and insightful perspective as an “only” child yourself!! As the mom of an only child, it’s wonderful hear your feelings about it. Your feedback is not only thoughtful and engaging, it’s powerful and I hope a lot of people read your comment. I’m so glad you like the article!

  5. Love this article! I am soooo thankful for my son….Matthew means “Gift from God.” Evan means “Noble Protector.” and he has been both in my life. He is 27 now and we are close. Granted, we have our moments….adult to adult, however, I would not change ANYTHING about his upbringing. I only missed one track meet and one football game EVER as he was growing up from gymnastics, to baseball, to basketball to football from Pop Warner all the way to Fresno State. I made every piano recital, school program, parent meeting, etc. etc. All of his friends either call me Rev. or Momma D and I am thankful for the relationsships with all his of his friends….my “sons”. Matthew and I have had countless conversations, meals, and times where it was just me and him. When I would visit him at Fresno State, he would insist that he and I would have at least one meal together, just the two us. Even now, when he is home, either I cook or he and I go out for a meal or a movie, just the two of us. We have even traveled to a Fresno State and an Atlanta Falcons football games together. We plan to travel to an Atlanta Falcons game yearly. I am sure I would not have been able to do all of that with multiple children although my decision was made for me when my husband left while I was in the hospital after Matthew was born. I was very intentional about surrounding Matthew with a great “village” as I clearly know that it takes God AND a village to raise a son to be a man after God’s own heart. He has utilized his village as needed when there were times he could not come directly to me to discuss something, although ultimately he came to me with decisions about different issues as he worked them out. I am in tears as I think about what a blessing he has been, and continues to be in my life. Thank you Wendy for sharing your journey and know the “Best is Yet to Come.” Love and Blessings to YOU!!

  6. This article is dead on. As an “only” child, I’ve had a lifetime of these types of insensitive questions and negative stereotypical assumptions. Not only adults make these assumption–they teach the prejudicial associations to their children, who then feel free to ridicule children in school for not having siblings.

    I had opportunities that I would not have had with siblings. I was able to take piano lessons and ballet lessons rather than picking one. My parents were conscious of placing me in group and team environments to practice social skills. In addition to simply teaching me courtesy, sharing, graciousness and empathy. (Something sorely lacking in the types of people who ask the above questions.)

    My parents could afford to send me to a Public Ivy–but not a private college filled with blue bloods. However, I certainly got no more possessions than my fellow children and was not allowed to have my comfort with adults cross over into precocious-ness. A spoiled child is selfish (and all of the attendant negative traits attributed unfairly to only children) if they are spoiled, indulged, not taught how our society expects people to act. Just like any other child.

    How many children a woman has and whether she chooses to have children is private and central to our right to choose what to do with our own bodies and our own life courses.

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