7 July 2021

Are only children destined to be spoilt or lonely?

| Zoya Patel
Join the conversation
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.”

READ ALSO ‘Failed to prioritise aged care workers’: Health Minister takes aim at Commonwealth

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.

READ ALSO The Institutions: Charcoal Restaurant has been grilling steaks in the heart of Canberra since 1962

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?

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

The whole village raises a child.

Lucy Armstrong7:01 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.

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.

old canberran1:51 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 Retro10:15 am 08 Jul 21

One does not have to be alone to be lonely.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.