Enriching the Life of an Only Child

This post is by regular contributor Tricia Hogbin of Little Eco Footprints.

My husband and I recently decided to give up trying for another child. Building our family hasn’t been an easy journey. With my 40th birthday on the horizon we’ve decided it’s time to embrace having an only child.

Calling it a day has been a relief after having spent much of the past eight years focusing on getting pregnant or staying pregnant. I feel somewhat grateful for the experience as I’ve grown to be more compassionate and empathetic. The wellbeing of others and the health of our planet now concern me more than I could have ever imagined.

I am sad that I won’t have another baby and that my daughter won’t have a sibling to share her life with. Having a sister myself, I value the shared experiences and knowing that someone is there for me no matter what. My husband and I have been giving much thought to how we can raise a healthy and happy only child. Below are some strategies we have identified.

  • Help our daughter nurture close friendships. We hope she enjoys sibling-like relationships.
  • Give foster care a go. We have more than enough space and energy to help other less-fortunate children. We like that fostering can give our daughter the opportunity to share her belongings, home and family with other children.

  • Nurture her relationship with her cousins. Her cousins live on the opposite side of the country, so we’ll help her to stay connected with them despite the distance. We have photo albums from our visits that we look through regularly. We encourage her to write to them and more recently we have started using Skype.
  • Have friends stay the night. Sleep overs with her friends provide an opportunity to experience sibling- like dynamics.

  • Holiday with other families. We’ve learnt the hard way that just the three of us going on holidays can get very ‘boring’. Holidaying with other families gives our daughter a good dose of play with other children and provides time for her to nurture friendships.

Do you have any strategies for raising a healthy and happy only child?

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  1. very helpful thoughts on this topic.. recently my hubby and I are thinking of having a second child, but if not, how to bring up our girl happily as a single child? good “strategies” here..

    Ai @ Sakura Haruka

  2. Tricia, I am the mother of an only child and often get asked for some tips- so often that I wrote two blog posts about the subject! Rather than try to give you a potted version here, I’ll put up the links:

    I hope you find them helpful. My feedback from adults who were only children themselves has been pretty much ‘THANK YOU for dispelling the myths!’, and from mothers of only children ‘THANK YOU, I can see I was doing just that (unwise strategy)… oops!’

  3. I don’t believe there is a ‘right number of children’ for anyone to have and you have just summed up all the reasons why having an only child is not the ‘worst thing’ in the world as someone once told me.
    It sounds like your family is full of love and compassion which is the very best environment for any child to grow up in.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing your perspective Tric. I loved reading this. xx

  5. There is obviously a lot of love within your gorgeous family. And you’ve developed some really fantastic strategies to help nuture your daughter’s growth.
    Quite a while ago I compiled a post where seven mothers – a one-child family through to a seven-child family – shared what they loved about the size of their family. Every family is so unique, but the same themes appeared throughout.

    • Thats a good point Kellie, I imagine its important that we all learn to love the size of our family even if its bigger or smaller than we had desired.

  6. These are really good strategies to ‘enrich’ your daughter’s life – although it sounds like her life is already enriched through having such wonderful parents as yourselves. I’m an only child. Due to similar reasons to what you’ve mentioned, my parents weren’t able to have another child – so I grew up with lots of interaction with my cousins. I played sport – where I met friends, and I was also involved in youth groups. I was lonely at times, but these days there are more opportunities for involvement in activities, and as you mentioned, Skype is wonderful for staying connected with family.

    • Thank you Debbie for sharing the perspective of an only child. I know very few adults that were raised as only children, so it’s nice to hear it wasn’t all that bad.

  7. Just wanted to let you know that I understand what you are going through. We are in the same situation with an only girl. Right now, she doesn’t feel lonely at all, but I worry that will change as she grows older. Big hugs to you.

  8. Thank you for sharing your story. You have some wonderful strategies there and I think being a foster parent is one of the most wonderful things a person can do. I’m sure your little girl will learn a great deal from the experiences.

  9. So glad to read this. We’re in a similar position and probably won’t have a second (the experience would probably destroy us!) and it’s nice to read positive things about only children (and to realise we’re actually doing most of your tips already – yay us!!). Thanks so much.

    • I’m glad I may have helped you see the positive Amanda. I must admit a year ago I couldn’t see any positive and couldn’t imagine ever being content with one child. It’s amazing what a little time and a load of positive thinking can achieve.

  10. This was great – and timely – to read. After a (medically complicated) ectopic pregnancy last year, we are facing life as a family of 3. Thanks for your thoughtful strategies!

  11. These are beautiful strategies, so thoughtful, your caring just shines through. I think your daughter is going to have so much. Just one thought, maybe you could add a strategy on something about you and your husband embracing all the benefits your daughter will have from being an only child. If you can get to actually feel good about it so will she. There’s an interesting book by Miriam Cosic ‘Only Child’ where she examines all the research – it turns out there are lots of myths out there about only kids, in reality they are just as sociable etc as children with siblings and actually score higher on self esteem :)

    • Thank you for the book reference Rachel. I’ll definately get a hold of it. I agree, at this stage my daughter realises a family of three wasn’t what we wanted. We need to turn that around and make her feel good about our little family.

  12. Your post and all the replies have me teary-eyed! We are a happy, low stress family of three. Our daughter is four. We have been trying for another baby for over a year now. At this point, we have no explanation. My daughter came to us easily and I am 28. Currently getting tired of all the “you still have time” statements. I’ll be checking out all the links everyone shared – thank you. I have a lot of soul searching to do, but I am confident that we will be happy whichever way it goes. I keep reminding myself that what we have is priceless and beautiful. As for my daughter, we try to build ongoing relationships with her closest friends at school and with her one cousin. I just wish that schedules weren’t so tricky and that playdates were easier to schedule!

    • The ‘low stress’ is one of the advantages we’ve noticed Johanna. Our home is definately a lot calmer those many.

      Good luck with your soul searching and I know you are right about being happy whichever way it goes.

  13. wonderful post here! As a psychologist and author (The Conscious Parent) and mom of one beautiful 9 year-old, I have done a lot of reading, introspection and observation around this issue and come to this conclusion: It is an ABSOLUTE myth that there is a negative effect of growing up as an only child. Only children learn skills that siblings never can. It is not a better nor worse experience – just completely different. The other day my daughter was with two other only children and she said to them, “Aren’t we lucky that we are the only kids?” And the other two nodded vigorously in agreement. Every family constellation is perfect AS IS.

    • Thankou Shefali – your words are a relief. And your daughters comments about being lucky warm my heart. I think you are right about ‘not being worse or better – just different’. Being raised as an only child is different – but it dosn’t have to be different in a negative way. Thank you.

  14. We are doing all the things you are! Having opportunities to play with other kids has been key for us.

  15. Years ago you could have one or two only children in a classroom, but today, a third of the group has more than two, other third has two or maybe three kids and the last is from families of an only child. I also have a gran daughter who is an only child. Kids don’ t even see a reason to think about it, for them it is their family and that is all. I understand parents may give extra effort on social opportunities, but maybe if we could research, big families have bigger difficulties than small ones. Just live your life the best you can. Try to think on how many women can’ t have even one. Congratulations to you for your effort and your beautiful girl! San Jose, Costa Rica.

    • Yes, I do remind myself regularly how lucky I am to atleast have one child.

      I am starting to encounter more only children. Up until a few months ago I knew very few. It’s reassuring to know my daughter will likely connect with other only children.

  16. I love to read posts such as these. I am a mother to my son (age 3) through the blessing of adoption. I’m approaching 40 as well and have come to terms with the fact that most likely we will be a family of 3….I’ve even began to embrace it. ;) (which hasn’t been easy after trying to build my family for 10 yrs). My list includes all of your strategies as well and I felt like I could have been reading my own words. :) That feels GOOD to know someone else feels the same way….. As far as fostering goes….we feel it could be difficult for our son to see children come and go from our home possibly wondering if he, too, at some point would go. Such another layer added when an adoption is a factor. Anyway ~ I just wanted to say thank you for sharing and for helping me know I’m not alone. ;) I come from a family of 5 girls and am the only one who has been unable to conceive. Sometimes that feels pretty lonely….

    • I’m glad seeing your stategies being implemented by someone else makes you feel good Jamie. And I’m glad my words helped you realise your not alone. I imagine your situation would be hard given that your sisters are all having babies. Good luck. x

  17. I am an only child myself, and want to tell parents not to worry. I had the most wonderful childhood I could ever ask for and as a child I never felt lonely or felt I was missing something. My house was always full of friends and cousins and my parents were very loving so for me that was complete happiness. So the strategies you suggest are really helpful. It was only when I grew up that I realized it would have been nice to have siblings, but not in a I hate my life way. Now I have a one year old daughter and I want to have another baby, but if it doesn’t happen (our first took a long time to come and some help from science), I know we can still be a happy family of three.

  18. My childhood was very similar to Carla’s (above me). I was an only child. I had a wonderful childhood. I was active throughout school and my parents were there all the way. I had friends and visited family often. I was never lonely. When I was older, I was told I was unable to conceive. At 43, the doctor told me I was pregnant. I am now a mother of one. A beautiful daughter. She’s only 5 but she’s my reason for living. I plan to give her every experience I possibly can. There are reasons for everything. I try to stay positive and look at the blessing I was given. She’ll be my one and only and now my life is complete!

    • Wow Tanya!! How increduible to discover you were pregnant at 43. And I know you are right – ‘There are reasons for everything’. Having faith that that is the case is what has given me strength. Thankyou for sharing.

  19. This was wonderful to read. Thanks so much for sharing. We are also a family of 3. It took us 3.5 long years to conceive our beautiful 27month old son. He is our world and we love him so much, so thankful for the blessing of having him in our life. Although there is still no 2nd blessing on the way, God Willing one day there will be. Until then, we are providing as many opportunities to our son to grow strong friendships with his church friends (thankfully there are many his age!) and with his cousins, all of whom live within 2 hours. Like many have said, all things happen and work out for the best, ultimately, and it’s making the most of our situation, and seeing the positives, no matter what life brings us. Certainly there are many positives to an only child :)

  20. I missed this post Tricia. I had no idea you were going through all of that. It makes Little Eco even more special.

    I think your strategies are perfect. The Germans have a word for the ‘family you choose’. Little Eco will find her own ‘siblings’ and in the meantime she has two devoted and loving parents to spent her life with. I think she will be very happy x

  21. Hi Trisha
    Thank you for this beautiful post. We were asked many times why we decided not to have anymore children after our beautiful Rose. Crazily, I often tried to answer the question, but was unable to articulate the devastating toll that postnatal depression had taken on my life. Finally, ten years down the track, I’ve started blogging at about ‘surviving’ postnatal depression, and about the very subject of choosing not to have more children.I have found my words, at last. I hope to reach out to others going through the trauma of PND by starting a dialogue…..
    101 is a lovely website. I only wish I had found it many years ago !

    • I had our wonderful son, now nearly 13, in a small town in Germany when I was 37, having lived in London for many years before that. It was a very difficult birth and afterwards I felt really isolated without my family and friends, and on reflection was probably suffering from post-natal depression. My husband who has always worked extremely long hours, didn’t want a second child and as I wasn’t feeling particularly strong, I let his wish override mine. In the subsequent years I became destructively preoccupied with the disadvantages of bringing up an only child and the loss of the missing second one which was very negative for my marriage . I would have wished it particularly for my son later in life. Contrary to my desires though, my son has always loved being an only child. He has good friends but is very happy with his own company and we have a great relationship – probably closer than if he had been one of more children. So to those of you who will only have one child, I say concentrate on your one beautiful child, and don’t let the desire for a second one spoil anything . As pointed out here, there are many solutions to to challenges thrown up and it really is still a family – you get to experience all those beautiful birthdays, christmases , first school days, sports days, cake baking, report cards and all the other wonders of seeing a child grown up in your own home, something not everyone is lucky enough to able to do. To those who of you who are afraid the clock is ticking, at 50 it is now too late for me to have another child, but all around me people are having first, second or third children well into their forties so don’t be put off by age-gap between first and second child or by your own age – it’s not true that the ages of the children have to be close together . There seem to be many advantages to the first child being much older. I wish I had realised that, as I made 40 my cut-off point and harboured a grudge instead of being happy with what I had or opening the discussion again for a second child. I can’t disassociate it from the recent break up of my marriage although as ever there were many contributing factors.

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