“Only children are selfish and socially awkward.”
“Kids need a sibling — it’s the best gift you can give them!”
“You’re not a real mother until you have two.”
I’ve heard a variation of these comments throughout my entire five-year parenting stint — especially since my son turned 2 years old and the incessant questions flooded in: “Sooo? When are you having another, hmm?”
To be totally honest, our decision to stick with our one-and-only was based more on circumstance than choice. And yet I can’t say I regret waiting five years (probably more, possibly indefinitely) to have another child. In many ways, I’m quite grateful for the only-child lifestyle.
Now you might misconstrue that as selfishness, or ignorance to the bliss of sibling love — but I don’t doubt the tremendous benefits to having a sibling that I, myself, have experienced. I’ll sometimes feel pangs of “what if” after reading beautiful, idyllic stories of sibling love, or seeing two close-in-age sisters cuddle on Instagram. But that’s not our situation or story.
There are plenty of perks and drawbacks for any situation, and I’m tired of the only-child lifestyle being plagued with such negativity and stereotypes. In a lot of ways, the only-child life is underrated. Having and being an only child isn’t a “syndrome,” it’s just a different life experience.
Here are 10 benefits of having an only child:
1. I have more one-on-one time with my kid.
“I think the biggest [perk] is having time to spend with her. I don’t have to split myself between multiple kids,” said Jeanne Sager, editor at The Stir and blogger at Inside Out Motherhood.
In a lot of ways, I agree with Jeanne — of course, like everything, this can be a double-edged sword for parents prone to being controlling or smothering. Yet research shows that all of that personal attention leads to higher academic success, higher IQs, and higher self-esteem for only children.
2. Less chaos equals a calmer mom.
Some people thrive in chaos and can cope with stress in a healthy, productive way. I am not one of those people. While you might argue that kids need a sibling, I’d argue that they need a sane mother more. And I know — without a doubt — that I’m a better mother in a less hectic environment.
Call me selfish; that’s fine. But I’d argue that knowing my limits and being my healthiest, happiest self is a gift for my child, too.
3. I have more free time.
With only one rapidly independent 5-year-old boy at home, I sometimes feel guilty for how easy it is to get out of the house, find a sitter, explore my own interests and my own “me time.” That’s why I’m happy to hear other parents of onlies address this perk, like in the TIME article, “The Only Child: Debunking the Myths:”
“There must be some balance between the joy our kids give us and the sacrifices we make to care for them. Social scientists have surmised since the 1970s that singletons offer the rich experience of parenting without the consuming efforts that multiple children add: all the wonder and giggles and shampoo mohawks but with leftover energy for sex, conversation, reading and so on,’” wrote Lauren Sandler, author of “One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child, and the Joy of Being One.”
4. It’s easier on the wallet.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Expenditures on Children by Families report for 2013, it costs a whopping $245,340 to raise a child in the United States — excluding college costs or inflation.
While “money” might not be my No. 1 reason to sticking to one child, it’s an undeniable perk. (A perk I’m reminded of every time Christmas or birthday season rolls around.)
5. More resources means more opportunities.
More time and money means more opportunities to explore sports, art classes, traveling, etc. I’ve heard plenty of parents with multiple kids say that extracurricular activities are just a sacrifice for the greater good of sibling interaction and the joys of having a big, bustling family — and I get that. I do. But there are real benefits to providing resources for kids to learn and grow in other types of settings, as well.
6. My child knows how to play by himself.
Most people imagine only children living these isolated, boring, adults-only childhoods with debilitating loneliness, but that’s not always the case. Luckily, we live in a kid-booming community where neighborhood playmates are in and out of our house on a regular basis, and he’s also growing up with cousins close by.
That being said, he knows how to immerse himself in imaginative play during the quiet times. Learning how to be less lonely when you’re by yourself — that’s a life skill. He’s developing a deep relationship with himself, a self-reliance, an antidote to boredom and quiet.
7. He’ll never land in therapy over sibling rivalry.
A sibling is a relationship. Some have good ones, some have incredible ones, and some have really crappy, damaging, toxic ones. As much as I love my sister, we were terrible to each other growing up. It took years to unlearn the unhealthy habits we established as kids, and to shake off the damaging insults and false identities that sibling rivalry can foster.
So while my son won’t have the benefits of a close-in-age sibling playmate, he also won’t have the chaotic fighting and animosity that so often comes with the package.
8. The odds are in my favor.
My son wasn’t colicky, or a bad sleeper, or a picky eater, or particularly challenging beyond the norm. And I’ve seen enough drastic differences in sibling personalities and heard enough first-person stories to know that this isn’t due to my exceptional parenting — it was mostly luck of the draw. I’ve repeatedly heard that there’s no way my second one would be that easy — it’s like the law of nature, or something.
9. Knowing I’ll only do it once puts everything in perspective.
When you know that it’s quite possibly your one and only experience in parenting — you know that the potty training and nightmare wake-ups and childhood milestones are fleeting — it’s easier to stay in the present moment and get through the tough times.
10. My kid is just fine.
Beyond the abundance of books and studies that show only children are not the selfish, spoiled monsters that society likes to perpetuate, my childhood friend is the perfect example of an only child who turned out just fine.
Growing up, she always wanted a sister to play and fight with (and I was all, TAKE MY SISTER, please!). But according to her now, at 28 years old, her need to have a sibling faded away. In fact, she now recognizes the unique benefits to being an only — like the resources and flexibility that allowed her to travel, go to college without tremendous debt, and be immersed in all sorts of activities.
“I truly believe that, at the end of the day, it’s how you’re raised that matters more than anything else, regardless of if you have four siblings or none,” she told me.
I think we’re lucky to find the bonds and loves we do — whether it’s a sibling or a cousin or a friend or a pet. All I can do is hope he finds those “people” in his life to fill a space that a sibling could easily stand.
He’ll find his people, he’ll have our love, and even if he has a few “what if” moments of sibling envy, I know he’ll be just fine.