Are only children destined to be spoilt or lonely?

Zoya Patel 7 July 2021 28
Child looking out a window

Is having only one child setting them up for selfishness or loneliness? Photo: Jeremiah Lawrence.

Unsurprisingly, as soon as you reach a point in life when you’re seriously contemplating and preparing for having children, opinions are thrown at you from every direction as to how many you should have, what schools they should attend, and how you should raise them.

In general, I’m pretty happy to smile and nod to most unsolicited advice. Still, one topic that is causing me to pause is whether having an only child will be setting them up for selfishness or loneliness.

I’ve always said I only want one child, purely for practical reasons. Children are expensive, and each new one requires time out of the workforce and potentially reduced capacity for my partner or me to work until they’re in school.

I also have a fairly debilitating chronic illness, so it’s highly likely that pregnancy and childbirth will significantly impact my health, so I want to be sensible about how I approach motherhood for that reason too.

And there’s also a range of other considerations – housing, holidays, hobbies, free time, attention. Having one child seems achievable, where two or more feels like it would strain all of these aspects of what we can offer our children. “We’ll have one kid and provide them with the best of everything,” is the mantra I repeat.

This leads me to the most common warning that I hear in return: “They’ll be spoilt, and children need siblings to socialise with.”

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I can see how perhaps a child spending the majority of their time with their parents could become precocious, and there would be plenty of opportunities to inflate their sense of self-importance if they’re always the priority.

But I have to assume that parenting is more complex than simple maths. There are more ways to impact a child’s understanding of empathy, self-awareness, gratitude and kindness than just expecting them to fight for attention from their siblings and learn the hard lessons of life that way.

As to their socialisation, siblings don’t automatically equate to friends. One child is arguably easier to support to have hobbies, social outings with friends, and relationships with their extended family and other kids than multiple. Many a child with siblings feels lonely and struggles to socialise, just as many an only child is a well-adjusted social butterfly. Individuals have different personalities, regardless of how many kids they share their home with.

A more compelling argument for me against having an only child is that we’ll be lumping them with the care of two ageing parents on their own one day. Putting aside the many unknowns that could impact this scenario, I do genuinely worry about this. I have three siblings and am always relieved that we’ll be able to navigate our parents’ older years together when they come.

But I do think that we could counteract some of those pressures by planning for our own retirement, aged care and eventual death, and making sure we don’t lay the whole burden on our child to coordinate.

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I still feel that focussing our resources and time on one child and our own wellbeing and happiness as individuals sounds like a more achievable and healthy plan than trying to stretch ourselves to multiple children and risking doing a more slapdash job at parenting them all. But I also don’t want to raise a lonely, maladjusted kid who will resent me when I’m reliant on them for my weekly outing from the retirement home I’ve picked out for myself.

All of this worrying assumes no fertility issues will pose a challenge to having one child, let alone more than one, so it may all be a moot point in the end. But the questions still plague me.

Is an only child destined to being spoilt or lonely, or is that just the scaremongering of parents with multiple bundles of joy?

What's Your Opinion?

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28 Responses to Are only children destined to be spoilt or lonely?
Belinda Meekin Belinda Meekin 5:08 pm 10 Jul 21

Tayla Meekin you are definitely spoilt. Are you lonely?

Fiona Louise Fiona Louise 3:29 pm 10 Jul 21

Jess Chalker am I spoilt or lonely

Acton Acton 8:28 am 09 Jul 21

The whole village raises a child.

Peony Lim Peony Lim 10:27 pm 08 Jul 21

Anna Lee why not both 🤪🤪

Mim Green Mim Green 8:37 pm 08 Jul 21

I have a single child and they aren't spoilt, I regularly say no to them and they don't sulk about it either.

Lucy Armstrong Lucy Armstrong 7:01 pm 08 Jul 21

I am an only child and I’m not lonely or selfish. It’s important to note that a number of factors heavily influence a child’s upbringing. Parenting style being number one.

I am a people person and very extroverted. Yes I had some downtime as a child that you may not get with siblings but I used that time to develop my creativity. I learnt how to draw and make things. This didn’t stop me making friends at school.

As a child my parents taught me to appreciate the small things in life. Gratitude that there is always someone out there doing it tougher. I can see how some only children could become selfish, but if you raise them to appreciate others than you are on the right track.

I do have a real concern for how I will manage when my parents need more health support, both financially and mentally. It’s a scary thought that I try to avoid. One day I won’t be able to hide from that.

The only other thing I could mention is watching people argue or be confrontational is uncomfortable for me, possibly that would be easier had I grown up with siblings, possibly not.

All the best with what ever approach you take.

    Maya123 Maya123 10:28 pm 08 Jul 21

    Your worries about how you will manage when your parents need support is not limited to only children. That burden can fall on mainly, or all on one child, even when there are siblings. It could be because only one child cares, or as in my case (I am caring for my mother) because I’m the only child who lives in Canberra. So almost all of the care falls on me.

Cathy Sorrentino Cathy Sorrentino 6:37 pm 08 Jul 21

Very spoilt, and definitely hard when their parents are elderly

    Nada Krstin Nada Krstin 9:44 pm 09 Jul 21

    Cathy Sorrentino very blanket & generalised comment to make :(Many parents don't have a choice to ha

    Nada Krstin Nada Krstin 9:52 pm 09 Jul 21

    Cathy Sorrentino very blanket & generalised comment to make :(

    Many parents don't have a choice to have more children due to medical issues etc etc (not always choice)

    Either way, if a child is 'spoilt' it's because of the parent's upbringing, not because they are an only child (many 'spoilt' children are from multiple sibling households where the parents singled out that child as their 'favourite') etc

    And having more than one child does not guarantee that all the other siblings will help when their parents are elderly sad but very true, as I have witnessed time and again...

    Once siblings become adults, their self entitlement or care factor are very subjective...

Catalina Banksworth Catalina Banksworth 4:10 pm 08 Jul 21

Life will make sure they will have brothers and sister through 'another mother/father' is good like that 😍

Bek Clark Bek Clark 2:42 pm 08 Jul 21

S/s is an only child. It really shows. The kid can’t “share” for longer than 30 seconds, and just yesterday got pushed into an immobile object by a peer for his “sharing” style. And then lied about it. He’s 8. There’s still hope.

old canberran old canberran 1:51 pm 08 Jul 21

To answer the question, the way an only child turns out is directly the result of how the parents treat him or her. I am an only child and was never lonely in my early days simply because as kids we played together after school and at weekends. I also played a lot of team sport in my teens. My parents fed me and clothed me and gave me a roof over my head. Things today however are vastly different due mainly to social media.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 10:15 am 08 Jul 21

One does not have to be alone to be lonely.

Deirdre Russack Deirdre Russack 9:27 am 08 Jul 21

Being one amongst several siblings does not protect against loneliness.

    Timothy Bailey Timothy Bailey 12:47 pm 09 Jul 21

    You are bang on the money there!

    I'm no. four, of five and didn't quite fit in. ADHD? Bookish? Later on I managed to make Sgt/ A'g Wo2 - of Infantry.

    And, I've been told I'm a bit too out-going!

    Started the ACT's Community Fire Units idea. I love bushwalking.

    One wife & two adult sons ;-) and :-)!

Keith Alderson Keith Alderson 9:21 am 08 Jul 21

It is definitely both. No matter how many friends you have or cousins you have or how close you are to them relationship wise or geographically, it is still completely different to having a sibling under the same roof as you, experiencing the same things on a daily basis as you. Yes they can be your biggest rival or your biggest ally or sometimes both at once. But they are there in this with you which is something an only child misses out on.

Angela Thomas Angela Thomas 8:48 am 08 Jul 21

Both, actually. I am an only, sure I was spoiled, only grandchild for quite a long time but that didnt make me any less sociable or more selfish. Sure I had friends but nobody knew exactly what life was like for me. As my parents aged, it got worse - I was the one making decisions for them and farewelling them into a new beginning and I was the only one who knew what life was like for me - this last decade has been tough. I vowed never to have an only child my self because I was the typical lonely only despite friends and extended family. I am aware, because people have told me whilst caring for my parents for a decade, how lucky I am that I dont have siblings because they had fallen out with their sibs but then I look at my DH and he has siblings and they all shared their parents' deaths, they all knew what the other was going through. Due to circumstances beyond their control, I fear my grandson will be an only and my heart breaks for him. Both my niece and nephew are onlies and though (as was I) they are quite sanguine about it, they will feel it later on.

    Rhiannon Pickup Rhiannon Pickup 3:37 pm 10 Jul 21

    You've summed it up perfectly.

    My parent relies on me for most things and it's difficult to have no immediate family to help share that responsibility with.

    Just me.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 6:07 pm 10 Jul 21

    Rhiannon Pickup That happens to people who have siblings if they are the only local one. It doesn’t matter how many brothers and sisters you have, if you are the only one living nearby you are the one most if not all of the care falls onto. Nothing ‘special’ there about being an only child.

    Rhiannon Pickup Rhiannon Pickup 6:08 pm 10 Jul 21

    It's not about being special - I'm simply relaying my experience.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 10:07 pm 10 Jul 21

    Rhiannon Pickup I was relaying my experience too, being my mother’s carer.

Jenni Zimoch Jenni Zimoch 8:29 am 08 Jul 21

Just because you have siblings it doesn't mean you'll get along and it certainly doesn't mean you'll all share the care of aged parents!

I have one child, she's not spoilt, she shares better than most kids I know with siblings and we'll make sure to make arrangements for our later years before the time comes.

Sue McIntosh Sue McIntosh 8:08 am 08 Jul 21

Regardless of one child or 10 children in a family, if they are nurtured by loving parents (or one loving parent) who listens, sets boundaries, gives them experiences in life that helps them to socialize and enjoy indoor and outdoor activities it will support their self esteem and their feeling of connectedness. We're so lucky to live in the ACT where everyone has access to children's social groups and activities.

Lori J Tas Lori J Tas 7:48 am 08 Jul 21

Many adult only children a fine. No different from the usual population spread.

Diana Zdenka Diana Zdenka 7:46 am 08 Jul 21

Just a child perhaps?

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