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.”
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.
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?