In praise of the lonely only

Believe what you hear and only children are spoilt, greedy and incapable of making friends – nah, we’re not like that at all. And whether through choice or necessity, there’s nothing wrong with stopping at one.

I’ve read articles and posts by parents of only children, fed up with the question: “when are you going to have another” – fed up because it’s not for want of trying.

This piece in The Guardian’s family section comes to mind. I understand, but I’d like people stop asking for another reason – because it’s ok to have an only child.

I’m an only child and in some ways, it’s not an ideal situation.

If I had siblings, they could share the load of looking out for my mum – she might even have one of them living close by.

But it isn’t quite that simple. Grown-up siblings don’t always get on and those difficult decisions about health, care and money are often the source.

As a child I really wanted a big family.

I was born when my mum was 39 and used to think my parents had difficulty conceiving at a time before IVF.

The truth was that even though my parents married in their thirties they waited until they’d paid off the mortgage before thinking about a baby. People didn’t know much about the post 35 fertility drop and this was apparently quite common.

I think my wish for siblings was more about fitting in than any desperate desire for company. I liked being alone and having a quiet space to do my own thing. What I hated was being from the only single-child family in my class.

Things have changed a lot since then.

Onlies are now a significant minority (around 47% of families have one child).

This is somewhat unscientifically borne out by my experience. Of the group of women I was working with at the turn of the millennium all have gone on to have just one child – the reasons are mixed; bereavement, divorce, choice but the result is the same.

This was also true of my daughter’s reception class. Looking at them alongside their siblinged peers, I can honestly say the only children aren’t always the spoilt egotists they’ve been painted.

I don’t think my daughter has ever stamped her foot when I wouldn’t buy her something, demanded an entirely different tea from the one being provided by a friend’s parent or necessitated a phone call from school because she keeps falling out with people – all of which I’ve witnessed among children with siblings.

And yes, we have way too many toys but not the rooms full I see in some houses (of non-onlies).

I never actually decided to have just one, but I did know that I’d be ok with that.

When I became pregnant at 39 I never thought beyond that one life-changing event. She was born, and the first year was … difficult.

She was nine-months-old when I returned to work, and I was astonished to find people in my ante-natal group were already pregnant with number two – I felt so low the very idea that they were having sex was difficult enough to grasp, never mind putting themselves though all that again.

By the time she was two, sleeping at nights and out of nappies, I was coping better, but still not ready. I could probably have taken the plunge when she was three or four but I was 43 and it just all felt too late.

My only regret came when she was old enough to feel she was missing out.

My daughter is a very different child to me – more sociable and quite popular with little ones. At four or five she started to question it – after seeing a leaflet about the NSPCC she asked if we couldn’t get a baby from the charity shop.

I did feel bad about this but I think things have been ok. Getting older, she’s accepted it and I hope that as time goes on she’ll see the benefits; the ability to enjoy time alone and do what you fancy, whether or not you have someone to do it with – be that popping to the cinema or travelling the world.

So if you’ve only got one, for whatever reason, don’t listen to the propaganda – only children can be as thoughtful, gregarious and caring as any others – just possibly more mature and self-reliant.

Plus your life will undoubtedly be easier and you won’t be stuck watching kiddy tv programmes for anything like as long!


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