There is a misconception that parents of an only child have it easier than those with many but the truth is, parents of only children definitely have similar challenges and maybe a bit more.
As a parent to only an only child, there are definitely challenges and pressures that are heightened by the fact that there is only this one child that I have to focus on. I often feel that I only have this one chance to raise this child, and raise him right.
As much as it is a lot of pressure on me, it is a lot of pressure for my son too, as an only child.
I'm the eldest of five siblings and I have lived through years of observing how my parents' way of parenting changed with each sibling and I guessed that it came from the experience that they had accumulated over the years with each child. My younger siblings seemed to have had it easier. I know now that this change not only stems from experience in parenting, but also from changes in our family's socio-economic situation being one of the underlying factors.
Traits and Characteristics of An Only Child
Only children have often gotten a bad rap for being selfish, self-centred to being spoilt.
Not only do I have an only child, but three of my siblings and some friends also have only children. Here I share some traits of an only child according to my own personal observation.
These traits include, and are not limited to:-
1 - They are highly independent
As an only child, they develop independence at a very early age.
2 - They are incredibly ambitious
Their ambitiousness stems from having parents whose focus and support are solely on them whether it's in their academic achievements or other interests, like sports and music.
3 - They are intelligent and creative
Having a lot of time spent alone, they learn a lot on their own by reading (now learning on YouTube) and have a knack for creativity in entertaining themselves. I know my 8-year-old nephew is the most creative kid I know who is constantly creating something out of nothing and coming up with great self-made gifts for everybody's birthday.
Their creativity and intelligence are also fuelled by their parent's constant support and encouragement.
4 - They are loyal to those close to them
With no siblings, my only child resorted to making friends to fill that aloneness all only children feel at times. He has been fortunate enough to have found his group of friends whom he has had for many years now and to whom he is fiercely loyal to.
These friends have not only filled in the void of not having any siblings but they have become like an extended family for him.
5 - They have a very close bond with their parents
No surprise here. Parents of only children involve the child in their lives every step of the way as much as they are involved in the child's life. The openness that parents practice in their relationship with their children fosters this close bond.
6 - They have a mature mindset
Mostly being surrounded by only grown-ups whilst very young, they tend to take after the maturity of adults, in the way they think and how they speak.
7 - They are not afraid to take risks
Children are risk-takers by nature but I find parents to only children tend to allow and push their children to try as many things as possible rather than stifling their need to take risks. But of course, all within a safe limit. Not being afraid to take risks allows children to be excited about trying new things without the fear of making mistakes.
8 - They have a high level of self-confidence
Having parents who dote on them and are constantly cheering them on everything they do and praising them for every achievement, it's natural for only children to have a high level of self-confidence in their abilities, as well as healthy self-esteem.
Pros of Having an Only Child
Personally, looking at how I've raised my son from childhood up until now, he has had a lot of advantages compared to others.
1 - Opportunities & privileges
Only children are lucky in the sense that as the only child in the family, they are given opportunities and privileges that are unlike children with many siblings where these privileges need to be shared equally.
2 - They are spoilt for space & privacy
Not having any siblings means they don't have to fight for space and privacy. They'll have all of that without any effort.
3 - Undivided attention
Being the only child, they have all their parents' attention. Whether they've done something good or bad, their parents' senses are heightened to focus on one child so the spotlight is definitely on them, at all times.
4 - No sibling rivalry
It's easy for parents to compare their children with one another and sometimes this can impact negatively on the children. Having siblings can also promote jealousy and sibling rivalry which is normal in most families but can also be a bit of a downer especially if you're that sibling that can't seem to do anything right.
An only child is free from all the sibling rivalry that may occur in a family with more than one child.
5 - Financial advantages
It might seem cheaper to raise just one child but with all that savings, some if not most will be funnelled back to the child to support anything they want or need, whether it is material possessions or getting additional help to support them and encourage any interests they may have.
6 - Close relationship with parents
Parents want nothing more than to have a close relationship with their children. Only children naturally develop a very close bond with their parents that they take from childhood right up to adulthood. They tend to share more of their life with their parents than other children with siblings.
7 - They value the extended family
Not having any siblings pushes them to appreciate their cousins and the rest of the family more. I have always noticed this especially when there is a family gathering.
8 - Maturity beyond their age
From when they are babies, they grow up surrounded by adults, they listen and observe their parents and grandparents and tend to emulate the way adults speak and think the way adults think. As they grow older, they are able to hold conversations with adults with much ease. I know when my son was very much younger he used to blow my mind with his confidence and maturity when talking to adults.
9 - Most likely to have an amazing childhood!
Being the centre of attention and given the opportunities that are extended to only children, they tend to most likely have an amazing childhood. This can include an array of activities, opportunities to interact with other kids in different settings, holidays and being included in most of their parents' own activities.
Cons of Having An Only Child
My son and I both have these concerns coming from the perspective of an only child and the parent of one.
1 - Loneliness
I've been in situations where I could only turn to my sisters about any issue with my parents or on matters that I knew only they would understand - we've all been there.
My son, however, has on many occasions told me that he would sometimes feel terribly alone, especially whenever he was going through some family issues and needed to talk to someone who could possibly understand his perspective. It might have been a matter that was too private to be shared with friends and in those instances, he would end up feeling lonely.
Not having a choice, it would often end up with him having an open and honest conversation with me. But I know it's not the same, especially if he just wants to vent and say whatever he wants to say without caring about how I would feel.
2 - Overprotectiveness
Having an only child has made me overprotective to a level that can be a bit ridiculous, but you learn to let go little by little because having that one child also allows you to know your child and his or her limits. But there is still the constant struggle within yourself as a parent between being overprotective and letting them experience the world on their own.
3 - Pressure to Succeed
Parents of an only child tend to put a lot of pressure to succeed on the child and can often project their own dreams and expectations onto the child.
4 - One and done!
Arrghh! This is difficult for me as the parent of an only child. You have this one chance at raising this child and sometimes, I just want to hold on longer than I should, but I can't so I don't and it's sad.
5 - Pressure as the sole caregiver for parents
There is no doubt pressure on only children once their parents are older or fall sick knowing that they are the sole caregiver. They basically have no help and can't turn to anybody else.
On the other hand, there is pressure on the parents to not let themselves be the reason their child doesn't - go away to that school they really want to go to or take that job out of state or out of the country. Only children might want to forego all that for the sake of their parents.
6 - Empty nesting for parents can be hard
Having that one child for 18 years into whom you poured your heart and soul and time then having them leave you is not for the faint-hearted. The emptiness a parent feels when their only child leaves for college is something that needs to be prepared for mentally and emotionally, and even then it doesn't really prepare you for when they leave.
Tips For Parents of an Only Child
Should you be planning on having a single child or if you're currently raising one, here are some of my tips that might help:-
1 - Encourage play-dates when young
This is important to encourage and build social interaction with other kids.
2 - Support their friendships
As they grow older, support their friendships. Get to know their friends and always welcome them into your home. Remember their friends are an extension of your family. They too play an important role in your child's life.
3 - Encourage an honest and open relationship
Encouraging an honest and open relationship with your only child means that parents need to be honest and open with their only child. Open means keeping an open mind and not being quick to comment or pass judgement.
4 - Ease up on the pressure
Having an only child is actually tremendous pressure on the child. Parents expect the world of them and sometimes they take on the dreams, ambitions and aspirations of their parents without really knowing it. My advice is to support and encourage them in finding their own interests and aspirations. Allow them to follow their own dreams instead of them following what we think is right for them.
5 - Maintain rules and boundaries
It's easy to want to bend the rules or look the other way when it comes to your only child but it's important to stick to your guns and maintain the rules and boundaries that you have set for them. Being consistent with these rules and limits will provide them with a foundation of what's to come as they grow older and prepare them for real-world rules and limits and how they can navigate them.
6 - Encourage time with extended family
It's important to help foster close relationships with your extended family in order to let your only child know that he has family other than just his parents that will support and be there for him. I've always made it a point to always have get-togethers with my son's grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins to make sure that the relationship stays close.
There is so much research that has been done in the past that put only children in a bad light, but now there is much more research that has come out to debunk some of them.
I have enjoyed every single bit of having an only child. Would I have had another child? I would! But would I be able to give them the same opportunities that my son has had, probably not!
I'm glad that I was able to fully focus on raising my one child and to provide for him and support him in the way I have.
I'm pleased to say he has turned out more than just fine and I could not be more proud of him. He is compassionate, kind, gracious, respectful, very intelligent, selfless and has a big, big heart.
And I think many only children are.
Do you have an only child? What are your tips?