Tuesday, April 3, 2012


My niece Rachel mentioned to me that a couple of her friends were really struggling with “just” having one child in a “multiple children” world. Neither is able to have another child. Rach asked me if I would write an “open letter to fellow mothers of only children.” It is a subject I have never spent too much time thinking about. But I took her up on the challenge. It follows:

To only-child moms:

At the end of our spring break in Florida, I told our 20-year-old “only child” I was glad he still liked to hang out with us in Florida for a week every spring. He said, “Yep, I do. We’re a pretty tight trio.”

His remark highlights the prime result of “only childhood.” They are kids who are usually incredibly close to their parents. We have a unique and special bond with our son that others seem to notice. We know each other so well, we can finish each other’s sentences, read body language, and discern feelings behind words.

My best friend has 3 sons, all in their early 20’s. She adores her boys, and has a deep connection with each of them. Yet if you asked her, she would tell you that as close as she is to her sons, she has always known that the bond we have with Sam is somehow deeper. She has said this for years.

It is a no-brainer. That connection is developed because you simply do not share that parent-child love with any other children. All the eggs are in one basket.

Let me clarify here that we wanted more children. Sam was a miracle baby after 2 miscarriages and almost 7 years of infertility treatment, and we were never able to conceive again after him. He was not intentionally an only child.

Our biggest concerns bought into the old stereotypes that only children are self-indulgent, spoiled, socially inept, bright nerds. Our second concern was that he would never have siblings to journey through life with and would somehow miss the opportunity to learn to share/argue/makeup. Our concerns were needless worry. We realized early on that we had the power to mold this life and avoid those issues.

Our child was never spoiled. We made sure of that. He will attest to feeling he was the last teen in town to have a cell phone, and never did, unlike all his classmates, have a car until he left for college (and he paid for half of it). His Christmas and birthday gifts were few and far from indulgent.

We also made sure that our only child was connected to playmates, early children education gatherings and cousins (to whom he is very close). He never lacked for social skills. If anything, he was more mature than his peers because he was around two adults most of the time and had an elaborate vocabulary at a young age. He has always made friends easily and his life today is richly filled with friends and family.

Only children almost always are intellectually advanced and it is no secret why. Parents of only children have more time to focus on the general aspects of child development and learning and can give their child so much more one-on-one time and attention, which makes such a difference.

Sam was read to, sung to and talked to extensively as a baby and toddler, all important factors in brain development. If I had a nickel for every book I read to my child in his early lifetime, I would be a rich woman. We could easily spend an hour at a time reading, at least twice or three times each day. Again, with younger siblings, Sam would not have received that much word stimulation.

Case in point: Sam was interested in numbers from an early age, so I taught him addition and subtraction around age 4. He continued to want to learn, and I had that one-on-one opportunity to teach him. By age 6, he was doing double-digit multiplication and by the end of kindergarten, he had learned basic algebraic equations. In his scrapbook is a page of “doodling” I found one day that he had left on the table. He was writing and solving math problems that looked like this:
                                       X - 35000= 16,000   =51,000  
                                       X + 500 = 1400   = 900.

Being an only child did not give our son his math talent. I suspect he was born with some of that. I only highlight this as saying that I had no other kiddos needing me so I had the luxury, again, of spending long chunks of uninterrupted time feeding him the math information he was very ready and hungry for.

With one child, it is probably the gift of undivided time that creates kids who are brighter than average. This is absolutely not to say that multi-child parents do not spend time stimulating/teaching all of their children. Only-child parents just have more time to spend at it. Sam started kindergarten at a high level, and I predict that only children do that often.

Based on all the research on only children, they are generally more resilient, independent, opinionated, confident, and intellectual than multi-sibling children. All of those qualities are positive!

When you live with adults, you emulate adults. You hear adult-speak. You listen to adult wisdom and advice. It “sinks in” for only children in ways is doesn’t for kids who hang out with siblings all day. We made an effort to insure that our only child was well-adjusted and “normal” in a culture where there are not a lot of single-child families.

I know there can be downsides for some only children. They may be over-protected because parents have not had the chance to let down their guard, as they seem to do with second children. Some parents may be too involved in their kid’s life. Only children never have the opportunity to be mentored by an older sibling, or mentor a younger one. I suppose some only children may say they are lonely.

I asked our son yesterday what he felt the advantages have been of being an only child. This was the list he emailed me:

          Incredibly deep relationship with parents

          Better ability for communicating with adults at a young age

          More mature

          More intelligent because of more attention given during development

          Parents can invest themselves more easily in child's activities; means a lot to child

          Knowing you are deeply loved because you are truly THE most important thing to the parents    

Yes, we wanted more children very much. But I would not trade what we have had with our son for anything, even another child. I consider it a privilege and blessing to have invested my life in one child. I could have had 2 or 3 and been an adequate mom to all, but I may not have been the mom I was able to be with just Sam. Being a mom of one was the only life I knew, and I hope I did right by my child. I know it has been all positive for my husband and me. 

To Rachel's friends, do not think that having just one child is "second best." It isn't. There are pros and cons to having one, and having more than one. If you embrace the gift of only childhood that it is, I predict you will someday look back, as we can, and say that it was "first best!!"

I believe we raised one child well. He is bright and talented, generous and grounded, sensitive and loving. What greater gift can one leave the world?    



Cole said...

After finding out I had endometriosis and going through my first surgery, the doctors could not fully predict whether or not I'd ever have another child. Tristan was only 1 1/2, but I can honestly tell you that we would have accepted God's will either way. He's a wonderful son and we know how blessed we are to be his parents. We are grateful that, for whatever reason, God did hear our plea for a sibling and gave us Eliana. Her name means, "my God has answered my prayers." We couldn't think of a more fitting name to follow her through life.

For what it's worth, I think you are an amazing Mom and all that you poured into Sam shows back in the love & respect that he has for you. What a wonderful gift for both of you!! =)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this-Rachel posted this on her blog. I needed to hear this! We have a only (with VACTERL) and God has not blessed us with another-and I am ok with that. Emma was our miracle baby and I struggle daily about not giving her a sibling, that she is spoiled, that she is lonely. But I love that I only have her to spoil, that I can focus 100% on her when I get home from work, that she and I can read 10 books at bedtime b/c we can. I don't know a lot of mom's with "only one" so it's refreshing to read this-God knew I needed to read this today. She is a smart little firecracker at 6 and loves math lol! And I know she fiercely loves us as we love her.