Only child or lonely child?

Caroline Gans, Staff Writer

Picture a perfect family. The pure joy a family shares on Christmas morning. The kids waking up early and running to wake their parents up so they can open the presents they’ve been eyeing for weeks. Or maybe, picture a family camping trip, the telling of scary stories while cooking smores around a fire pit. 

I’m no psychic, but if I had to guess, I bet your vision of familial perfection includes more than one child. I know mine does. 

The only problem, however, is that  I am an only child.

To me, having no siblings is such a core part of my existence and identity that I forget I’m in the minority. While the average number of children per household is shrinking (according to The Pew Research Center that number is currently about 2 children per family), it is still more common for families to have three children than one. 

Maybe that is what accounts for the general response I receive when I tell people I’m an only child. It usually seems to be one of jealousy, and sometimes outright resentment. Phrases such as “Oh my god, you’re so lucky,” or “Oh, so you’re probably super spoiled” seem to be common themes in my life. Is that really the case, though? Just because I’m an only child, does that make me spoiled or enviable? Maybe it does, but maybe it’s just a stereotype with no real evidence. 

If I had to state my opinion, I would say that like everything, being an only child isn’t just black or white. It’s more of a muddled grey. 

My family’s choice to have an only child also fell into this grey area. It wasn’t anything they planned out. My mom has a younger brother, and when I asked her why she chose to only have one child, her response was surprising. “I didn’t set out to have only one child,” she leveled with me, “I always assumed I would have two.” Then, life happened, and by the time I was born, my mom was forty. 

For her, the long-time desire to have children didn’t manifest. “I had always felt young, but my once unlimited energy left me. Having a child at forty is difficult. But even though I didn’t foresee how tired I’d be, I also didn’t expect to be so overwhelmed by joy.

Having a child was wonderful, a complete experience in and of itself. I realized that I truly didn’t need another.”

— Jennifer Turner


Maybe for her having one child was enough. For me though, it’s hard to feel like I got the whole childhood experience. According to a French study conducted by Arnaud Regnier-Loilier, most only children want to have more than one child of their own. Maybe it’s because only children have a sneaking suspicion that they missed out on one of the key aspects of life, having a sibling, and want their children to get in on it. 

However, my dad’s side of the family provides a counterexample. My dad considers himself to be an only child. “I have two half-siblings,” he explains, “One of them is fifteen years older than I am and one of them is twenty years older than I am. I didn’t grow up with either of them, so they’re not really siblings in the sense of people that you grow up with.” 

The way he sees it, I am a third-generation only child (my grandfather on my dad’s side also had no siblings), so that begs the question: can it really be that bad? If one set of my great-grandparents, grandparents, and my parents all chose to have exclusively one child, wouldn’t at least one of them have broken the chain, especially if it was such a bad experience?

When I asked my dad why he didn’t want any more than one child, he told me that he didn’t even think about it like that. “There wasn’t a plan. In fact, to be quite honest with you about it, I didn’t ever really see myself having a kid … Once you were here though, it was a conscious decision to have only one.”

After talking to my parents, it seemed to me that being an only child wasn’t something they were vehement about. As my dad put it, “It was kind of just something that happened.” The thought that it could have just as easily gone the other way and I could have had a sibling was disorientating to me. I was so close to having such a drastically different existence.

To begin to answer the question of how a sibling might have changed me, I first looked at the advantages and disadvantages of a sibling-less existence.

The clearest advantage in my mind is that I have no competition in any aspect of my home life. I have never had to wonder which sibling my parents prefer or fight for the front seat in the car. I don’t have to fight for counter space in the bathroom or compete to see which sibling the family dog prefers. I always get the front seat, I have my own bathroom, and I know my parents and my dog don’t love any other kids more than they love me. In a way, that gives me a sense of security and adequacy. 

Sophomore Ryan Yanevich told me that “having three siblings is something which greatly complicates your schedule, as your parents have to plan around four children, in addition to their busy lives.” I never have to compete for my parents’ time, because for the most part, I get to plan my own schedule without much interference. Additionally, my mom doesn’t work, so I get to have a lot more control over my life than most of my peers. This has allowed me to fully explore anything I have ever been interested in the fullest extent possible. 

However, there are two sides to every coin, and I think that in a lot of ways, growing up without competition wasn’t the best thing for me. First of all, I can’t deal with conflict. As I’ve grown up, I’ve learned to deal with it more, but even now, when people make fun of me I take it harder than the average person. Miriam Baram, a sophomore at Sarasota High with a twin brother and an older brother told me that “having two brothers definitely made me a tougher person mentally and physically.” I never benefited from the thick skin that comes with growing up with what I imagine a sibling to be: an in-home boxing partner who delights in nothing more than to insult you.

Baram says that “having siblings can be complicated. I hate them one day but the next day we are back to being friends. When push comes to shove, I know that they will be there regardless of what happens between us because we are family.” That’s probably the one thing I feel that I missed out on the most: the unconditional bond siblings share. Since I have no siblings and my family is smaller than average, I am the youngest person in my family by a lot. When I grow up, there won’t be anyone who I can look back on my childhood with and reminisce on the so-called “golden years.” 

There’s also a definite social aspect that comes with having siblings. According to, “the first microcosm of a peer relationship exists with a sibling. Hence, what happens in the sibling relationship is the catalyst for all future social engagements.” That means that sometimes, as the stereotype goes, those sibling-less ones among us can be a little socially challenged. I know that for me, I spent a lot of time alone growing up, and it became something that was comfortable for me. Now, when I spend prolonged periods of time around other people, I become exhausted. Alone time isn’t boring or sad for me, it’s restorative. 

Nikole Gaydos, my fellow sophomore and only child, admitted: “Growing up without siblings was lonely, and I wish that I didn’t have to do that.” I definitely feel her pain, but I also think that one of the best things being an only child gave me was the ability to be alone without being lonely. Being alone teaches you how to do things yourself, and it means you have to learn how to deal with responsibility fairly quickly. It also means you often get comments like “Wow, you’re so mature for your age!” because you have to learn how to converse with adults early on.

At the end of the day, I think a lot of what makes people unhappy with their situations, whether they have siblings or not is the “grass is always greener on the other side” mentality. Personally, being an only child has given me a lot of opportunities that I may not have otherwise had, but I still find myself wondering if having a sibling would’ve been better for me as a whole. 

The way my dad summed up his whole experience as an only child was this: “If you would have asked me at fifteen [whether I liked life without siblings] I would’ve said no, but now that I have the maturity that comes with growing up, I think that it was a positive experience overall. Though having no siblings did make me different than others, it gave me everything I needed to succeed, and it was an experience I wouldn’t trade.”