An only is lonely…. and other myths


Today’s guest post from An Imperfect Life is one close to my heart as I am only child and a happy one at that. I wasn’t lonely, I had friends and family, I’m not selfish (I don’t think?) my Mum brought me up to be considerate to others and as An Imperfect Life says in number three, perhaps I did grow up quite quickly? I think I’ve always had an old head on young shoulders although I certainly enjoyed my childhood – this is definitely a post to give you food for thought . . .

I have an only child. We didn’t plan it that way, but as sometimes happens, life chucked us a bit of a curve ball and we ended up a family of three rather than the four (or five) that we had originally planned. Having an only child somehow makes our family “different”. We don’t fit neatly into the family stereotype and other people slightly struggle to pigeon hole us. Perhaps the only thing we experience in common with a really large family is that people seem to feel they have a licence to question us about it. For a long time we had, “So when are you having another one?”. Now we are several years into parenthood, that’s morphed into, “So didn’t you want any more then?” or “Don’t you worry he’ll be lonely?”. This used to really bother me – I would have loved to have a bigger family, but didn’t really fancy dissecting my obstetric history with someone I barely knew. Now I just smile and say that one is plenty. And it is. But over the years I’ve heard all the warnings:

An only is lonely. Hmm. Well it depends. Some children, even in a family of 14, will happily play on their own for hours. And some children are miserable even if they have to occupy themselves for 15 minutes. My son needs regular, measured doses of small person time. And then time on his own. He loves going to stay with a bigger family but after a while will find it overwhelming and will take himself off for some quiet time. Lonely? Occasionally, maybe. But not for long. And actually I think it does him good to find ways to entertain himself from time to time.

An only is selfish. Down to the parents, this one, I think. If you wait on them hand, foot and finger there’s no doubt you are storing up problems for the future. And it’s very easy to fall into that trap. There is only one person asking for stuff, it’s often easier for you to just do it than get them to do it (slowly and messily), and you love them, after all. But it’s something we keep at the back of our minds and we try to make sure it’s not always “him first”.

An only grows up too soon / stays a baby for too long. Ah – this is the one where I reckon there might be some mileage. In larger families I think there is a definite division between parents and children. I think that division can be less clear with an only child. We definitely feel like a team of three on occasion. It’s also true that my son hears a lot of grown up conversation because he is around adults a lot, and also that he has never been bumped from the “baby” position by another child. But then every family has to have an “oldest” and every family has to have a “baby”. In our family the oldest and the baby are the same person, and maybe that does create issues. As with the first two, it’s something that parents of an only have to be aware of – whilst recognising they can’t magic a sibling out of thin air to “correct” matters.

At the end of the day we’re still a family. We’re just a small one. Perfectly formed? I doubt it, and besides that I stopped aiming for perfection a long time ago. I’ll keep on smiling at those that ask the impertinent questions and doing the best job of parenting that I can.

Guest post by @animperfectlife. The Imperfectionist provides a safe haven from the world of perfect parenting at

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