One: Singular Sensation or Loneliest Number?

The day we found out I’m not pregnant (again), Dave, Viv and I went walking in our neighborhood and spotted an adorable family.  A smiling mom watched her son and daughter – ages 3 and 5 – racing up and down a grassy hill, squealing with laughter.  “Do they always get along so well?”  I asked.  She told me they fight sometimes, but mostly they’re great friends.  In fact, she said, “Sometimes I try to join them and they tell me, ‘No adults allowed.’”  I could sense her pride in their bond.  I want that for Viv.

There are many reasons I’d love to have a second child, but a big one is my desire to provide my daughter with an always-there buddy.  A playmate that goes beyond play dates.  24/7 access to the kiddie clubhouse.  Some of my favorite childhood memories are of the weird shit my brother and I got up to – stuff only kids could have invented.

We made forts by draping old rolls of carpet over logs.  We caught toads and tried to train them (unsuccessfully) for a circus.  We played a game that can best be described as dodgeball in a tree.  One of us climbed to the top, the other stood at the bottom with a ball—5 points for the limbs and 10 for the head.  How awesomely fun and dangerous was that?

Me & my brother, back when I was taller

I know there are no guarantees.  Some kids never play well together, and even my brother (love you!) would tell you I was a nightmare big sister a lot of the time.  But if there’s no sibling, who’s going to be there for Viv to make up secret passwords and nonsensical songs and inside jokes?  Who will play three straight hours of Yahtzee?   Who will watch The Little Mermaid AGAIN?  Okay, Dave and I will try.  We’ll do our best.  But will we ever be able to mimic the playtime stamina or pure imagination of an actual sibling?  I have my doubts.

If you’re an only child, or a parent of an only child, I need some help here.  How do you create the best parts of the sibling experience without a sibling?  Lots of cousin time?   Multi-family trips?

What about all that stuff like sharing, negotiating, winning, losing and finding your individual place in the world – how does all that happen without brothers and sisters crowding your ass?   This is one mommy who would really like to know.

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  1. Debra
    Posted December 28, 2012 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    not a mom yet, but i think the answer is friends. they are the family you choose.

    • Posted December 28, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

      That is certainly true.

  2. Posted December 28, 2012 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    I am an only child. My mom got sick, parents divorced and my dad never remarried. My situation is a little different in that I grew up in a family daycare, however, I second the comment above that friends are the family you choose. You fill in the gaps – friends’ kids are cousins, you seek out situations where your kid is socially engaged. I don’t know – I hope that consistency and discipline can help with some of that single child syndrome? I suppose the times I wish I had a sibling is when I am caring for my mom…but my aunts fill in and I look to them as role models, but also sisters.

    I think you teach your kid how to forge their own support network, how to be independent and resourceful people. I guess that is our job as parents to one or 12 kids? And I bet Viv might remind you just how it easy it is to get lost in your imagination.

    We have one son and though I think about a second, I am not sure it is in the cards for us for a number of reasons. I have the same fears but try to remind myself that I had a great childhood (and am best friends with the people with whom I grew up), can make new friends, got married, have a job and I don’t lament not having a sibling. At our wedding my best friend gave a speech and the last line was “sometimes you are born with a sister and sometimes the universe chooses her for you.” It’s just how it is and it’s cool.

    • Posted December 28, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

      When an only chooses to have an only, that’s a pretty good endorsement to me. I do hope I’ll tap into that childhood imagination again…it’s got to still be in there right?

  3. Rachel
    Posted December 28, 2012 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    Ok Amy, here I go getting all defensive: I am a single child (preferred term to “only”), my son is a single child, my half-sister (16 years my junior, raised in a different home from me) is a single child, our first cousin is a single child. So first be aware that there are LOTS of us out there. Many, many more than there were back in the 70s when we grew up (I have many mom friends with one child, whether by choice or circumstance, and Jason has many friends in school who are single children.) I always had plenty of playmates, we all have lots of great friends, went on great adventures, created great memories. We all learned how to share, negotiate, win and lose, find ourselves, with adults as well as children (single children tend to spend more time with adults, often making them more capable of handling adult situations, not to mention more well-spoken with better vocabulary.) A few things I love about being a mom to a single child: we get more family time that other families who are constantly in divide-and-conquer mode, and it’s more as they get older than when they are babies. Mom drives daughter to ballet, dad drives son to soccer. When does mom get to go to soccer? or sister? We can afford family vacations, dining out and other luxuries that parents with multiple children can’t afford, and we like that. We are saving for one college education, which is scary enough. We have a special Mommy-Daddy-Jason bond that wouldn’t exist with another child (yes, a different bond, but not OUR bond.) Having one child was not our plan initially, but like you being “advanced maternal age” and 2+ years of trying to get pregnant got us to where we are. I love it and I wouldn’t change a thing. Please stop thinking that Viv is missing out if she doesn’t have a sibling, yes there will be some things she doesn’t have, but there will be many, many more things she has as well. Not the least of which is the undivided attention of both parents. And of course the love!

    • Posted December 28, 2012 at 8:00 am | Permalink

      yes, yes! This is why I put it out there – this is the stuff I need to hear. I can’t see outside myself right now so thank you.

  4. Mailisha Chesney
    Posted December 28, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    Clearly this is such a tough issue. The toughest part being that we just can’t *know* ahead of time… I used to trip out on the (similar) issue of child-spacing: Is it best to have the kids close in age? Is 4 yrs apart too much for them to have a close relationship? And on and on… I actually “interviewed” many friends and acquaintances, only to reach the conclusion that everyone’s experience is unique. Duh. Soooo NOT helpful!

    In the end, I just had to start trying with baby #2 and see what happened. I was actually quite disappointed that it happened so quickly. I wanted MORE spacing, just for my own sanity. But at age 39, and with the lack-of money-mama-needs-to-get-back-to-work-at-some-point-soon issue, it seemed smart to start trying sooner, rather than later. It worked out for the best (which I can say NOW, of course). Our #2 just turned two and she’s such an amazing little girl! (I can’t believe, looking back on it now, that I was actually disappointed with that pregnancy. OMG. Shame on me!) Besides, I also have many friends who are in your situation: having a hard time conceiving #2. So I need to remember to feel grateful for the “problems” I have, right?!

    Anyway, what I meant to say at the beginning is that I’m an “only” and I hated it. I sooo longed for sibs. But my family life was pretty awful; I was an abused, neglected child who felt very isolated by my lack-of sibs. (Fortunately that is an unusual situation, and isn’t the issue with Viv. Phew!) I know many “singles” who felt great about it (such as the above post). You just can’t know how it will be for Viv -or for you and your future hubby.

    But your positive sib experience is clearly driving your desire for more kids and I am so happy for you that you had a great brother to grow up with! My wife fought with her little sis like crazy growing up (it was actually quite miserable for them all- ugh), but now they are literally Best Friends. It’s disgustingly sweet how they love to get together to bake pastries, try out new soup recipes, can fruit from their gardens… Seriously. Disgustingly. Sweet. (obviously, I’m totally jealous!) Also, by a stoke of luck they each have two daughters who are almost the same age, and they only live 1.5 hrs apart so they can see each other often. But that’s the kind of thing you just can plan for, right?

    Of course you know that there are many, MANY babies/kids needing homes that you could adopt… We had thought about going that route for kid #2 ourselves. But, in the end, as so many do, we were compelled to “make our own.” What a strong drive that is!

    • Posted December 28, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

      The drive is so strong, isn’t it? I think it’s worse now that we have one because we’re so damn fascinated with our little science experiment. We want to see how the next one would come out! Adoption is beautiful but I don’t we’ve sorted all our feelings out about it yet. Funny that you put so much thought into child spacing only to be foiled – I’m not very religious but I love the expression “Man plans, God laughs.” Thanks so much for your comment.

  5. Fen
    Posted December 28, 2012 at 9:47 am | Permalink


    Take this with a grain of salt since I’m neither an only child nor the mother of an only child. I think about this a lot because we came pretty close to stopping at one. Where I live there are a TON of only children (2 of our 6 neighbors, lots of our kids’ classmates) and I think there’s a lot to be said for their lifestyles, as other commenters have pointed out: better allocation of resources, more intentional relationships, and in many cases a stronger family unit (think of how a stool with three legs is less wobbly than one with four.) For example …

    – More attention from mom and dad (soccer games, recitals, playing)
    – More time for the marriage (1 kid = easier kid-free weekends away, afternoon matinees)
    – Better financial situation (Paying for 4 can kibosh a vacation or swim lessons)
    – Less sibling rivalry (some people never recover from their siblings)
    – Conscientious socialization (you’ll be deliberate in fostering her social life)
    – Smaller carbon footprint (feel less guilty about the crosstown soccer games and imported strawberries)
    – A self-sufficient, independent, creative kid (one who knows how to thrive in solo, self-directed situations)
    – more room for you to grow, too (find hobbies and work you love, nurture yourself)

    I think the insecurity of not knowing whether there will be a sibling is fuel on the anxiety fire. You are strong and ambitious and you will appreciate and celebrate your future family, whatever its number.

    • Posted December 28, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

      You know me so well, re: the insecurity/anxiety. Limbo is rough. I still have hope right now, but if later we end up with one, I will spend a lot of time going back through these responses and really taking them in. All good points.

  6. CarrieB
    Posted December 28, 2012 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    I’m an only and the mom of an only (3 1/2 hr old daughter, who does ask for a sibling but won’t get one–we are “one and done” by choice). I’m also relatively introverted, and grew up far from extended family and without cousins near my age anyway. I’ve always had one or two close friends, and several more playmates in school, etc. Honestly, I could spend HOURS playing by myself with stuffed animals and dolls, creating elaborate stories and conversations in my head (and sometimes out loud), combing the woods around our house for fairy food and houses, and generally amusing myself. I very much want my daughter to be able to rely on herself, know how to make her own fun and amusement, and to be creative and imaginitive. All these things can happen with or without siblings, in different ways.
    My daughter adores her daycare, a Montessori school that she’s been in since 3 months, and that social situation has made me feel much better about her interaction with children her age even if they aren’t at home. She has two non-school friends close in age that we try to schedule activities with on weekends, maybe once or twice a month. She spends time away from us with each set of grandparents for a few hours each week, and as often as possible with other adult relatives, to learn that Mom and Dad are not her whole world. She is thoughtful, creative, playful, a little bossy, sometimes shy and sometimes outgoing, and I have every confidence that she will be just fine as an only child.

    • Posted December 28, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Carrie. I also value showing my daughter a world outside of mom & dad (even though I’m pretty clingy towards her!) and think you make a good point about grandparents. We’ll just have to really make the effort like you’ve been doing.

  7. Epstein's Mother
    Posted December 28, 2012 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    But you know, fratricide worry can really age a parent.

  8. Kate
    Posted April 17, 2013 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    I’m an only, and as an adult I find that I handle alone time much better than my friends who grew up with a constant playmate in the form of their sibling. I spent a lot of time in daycare/preschool/summer camp which, I’m sure, helped enforce the ideas of sharing that my mom taught me. I also spent a great deal of time with cousins, so that also helped. But what I remember most of being and only is having my Mom be my playmate. She’d take me to feed the ducks, pick out new books at the bookstore, the playground, etc. She was also pretty great at making even the boring-errands-seem more entertaining because she kept me engaged. In a nutshell, I don’t feel like I missed out by not having a live in buddy, I just got a different, equally rich, experience.

    • Posted April 17, 2013 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

      Your mom sounds amazing. I think one of my fears is having it be all on me – mom – instead of being able to trade off entertainment duties with siblings. But glad to hear your perspective. Helps.