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Only, Not Lonely: Raising A Child Without Siblings

Posted: October 8, 2014

Raising a child without siblings may seem like an incomplete experience. Does an only child miss out on learning crucial life lessons? Do single children grow up to be lonely adults? This post investigates.

Growing up as an only child, I never felt any different from my peers with siblings. I remember a childhood filled with books, space, and silence. I’m now a parent of seven years, and know that my daughter will never have a sibling – a decision that sort of made itself while other things were happening. In her instance though, unlike I rarely did for myself, I have had to examine the ‘only’ status very carefully.

We moved away from our hometown and extended family a couple of years ago – and my daughter began to ask, in quick succession, for a sibling, a pet maybe, or if her grandparents could visit more often. None of these demands could be met– and we set about solving the problem in the usual manner – play dates and activities. All the while, I was dealing with two issues within myself:

  1. Why did she feel a lack I never did?
  2. What long-term implications would the ‘only’ status have, if any?

Number 1 was easy enough to figure out – my daughter spent her initial years surrounded by grandparents, felt their absence when we moved away – and looked around for ways to fill the lacuna. I grew up in a nuclear family – and never missed what I had never known.

Finding the answer to question 2 was far more challenging. Of course, I had a few opinions:

It is not how many children you have, but how well you raise them that makes them the adults they become; plus, I have numerous friends with siblings – and they seem to need me as much as I need them – which means, they are not very different from me.

Besides, aren’t there examples all around of single children who have grown up to build stable families and professional lives? But how right was I? – A single child, yet to see her own single child through Grade 1, let alone adulthood.

Growing up with siblings

I decided to look around. I first spoke to those in my immediate circle who had seen the issue from both sides: i.e. a single child now parenting two and someone with a sibling, currently parent to a single child.

Drishya*, 40, a working mom raising two girls, 12 and 8, is a single child. She told me it was conscious decision to have two children – “I believe the cons of being a single child come up when you step into adult life and have to grow out of the shadow of your parents. You realise that somewhere, it bred in you a sense of vanity and also a sense of dependence on the people around you. It was a big learning curve for me on little things that most people had gotten a grasp of earlier on – taking risks, handling criticism, being independent, learning to coexist in a broader sense. ”

I believe the cons of being a single child come up when you step into adult life and have to grow out of the shadow of your parents.

“I now see my kids interact with each other and see that every day they learn some of the character traits I am still struggling with – sharing, healthy competition, learning to coexist. They are so different in nature as well – one is quiet and shy and the other has an opinion on everything They are learning to experiment, stepping out of their character comfort zones right here at home, thanks to each other. I hope they’ll be there for each other, long after we (parents) are gone”.

Avani*, 40, has a brother, and is now mom to an interesting eleven-year old, besides pursuing a career and numerous hobbies. Here is what she had to say: “I have only one kid, though I would have loved and wanted to have at least three. I just didn’t get around to doing that because I’m almost a single parent with very little support from my spouse. So, I didn’t dare to have a second and third as I wanted to. I would definitely vote for having a sibling. You have richer experiences and memories – good and bad from the past. Holidays are much more fun and such distinct memories stand out, whereas as single kids, they invariably become loners. Sharing doesn’t come easily.”

“They have never had to share 24/7 like you have to when you have a sibling. Also, I have many cousins who are single children and are adults now, and they say they feel quite lonely as they grow up and lose one or both parents. So I worry about that for my son. My brother and I fought like cats and dogs as kids. We are nothing like each other, and have completely different points of view of life, but I really appreciate having had him as a child and also as an adult. Being bullied by an older brother made me stronger and helped me stand up for myself”.

Avani and Drishya had made the same observations, quite in line with popular wisdom: ‘Have at least two kids, so they learn to share, compete, and stand by each other after you are gone.’

Raising an only child

So, are we single children self-centred, non-assertive introverts doomed to a lifetime of loneliness? Apparently not.

Says child and adolescent psychiatrist, Dr. Pervin Dadachanji, M. D. (Psychological Medicine), “Don’t get pressurised by external influences to have more than one kid, if that’s not what you want! Make sure your single child interacts with his cousins and friends whenever possible, so he learns the art of negotiation and sharing. An only child can always be taught values, shown how to share, and be able to interact with peers as well as a child with siblings.”

What about loneliness later on? Gouri Dange, family counsellor and author of More ABCs Of Parenting , says “No doubt they (siblings) can be (a support system after parents are gone), but there are also plenty of examples of poor sibling relationships. And many people believe and experience this – that friends are the new family. However, I am not endorsing having one kid or having more”.

Right. The experts have spoken. It’s for you to decide how many kids you want to have. If it is a single child, he/she can be taught to share, care, and compete. And when it comes to later in life, most regular adults, with siblings or without, form happy and supportive relationships outside of immediate family, that sustain them for a long time.

Now that the matter is settled, I can move on to planning the next play date or group activity for a very argumentative seven-year-old.

*Names changed for privacy.

Pic credit: artchild (Used under a CC license)

Freelance writer and editor - avidly interested in food, books and people. Is there anything else

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  1. I am somewhat heartened reading your observations, Shilpa. I plan to remain a single-child mom but sometimes thoughts like ‘will he grow up to be a loner, introverted, selfish child?’ racks my mind. And then I remember coming across single-child-now-adults who are fiercely independent and witty, if a little aloof at times, and I think maybe it doesnt matter too much. Ultimately, as you rightly said, it comes down to how you raise your child.

    • Thanks for writing in, Sangeeta.
      As parents of single kids – we already know, both intuitively and rationally, what the experts tell us – that the choice (like every other) has pros and cons – but is definitely not ‘wrong’.
      The tough bit is dealing with that old enemy – ‘social pressure’ – “This is your only one?”, “You must have one more. She will be sooo lonely”, and so forth.
      Like in all unconventional scenarios, we shall simply ignore unsubstantiated inputs, and proceed with courage and common sense.

  2. Loved d article

  3. V interesting . Eye opener

  4. I sometimes wonder why being a loner or an introvert considered such a bad thing. Not that I believe that being a single child makes you a loner, but even if it does, what’s wrong with that? I have a sibling, but we are 10 years apart. So I had been a single child for 10 years, and after he was born, we never had a brother-sister chemistry. I was more like a mother to him. I consider myself a introvert. Yes, sort of loner too. I never had a lot of friends. Even today, my best friend is my husband. I do take some time to open. But I’m not ashamed of it. I believe I’m more reflective. I introspect a lot and never feel the need of too many people around myself as I’m constantly in touch with myself.

    And this aspect has never affected my career. I’m a people’s person and a good manager. My juniors respect me and I’m able to work with them as their friend. I can understand their problems. I don’t boss around, but am able to mentor them, whenever needed. It’s not right to say that introvert people can’t be good administrators.

    Now I’m a mother of a 2-year-old daughter. I’ve decided not to have another child as I want to spend all my time and energy on her alone. I’ll always be her best friend and think by the time her parents will be gone, she will have her own family to fall back on. And I’ll be happy if she turns out to be an introvert.

    • Bang on, Neha Guru Dutt – agree with you – absolutely nothing wrong with being introverted and preferring the company of one or two dear ones over that of many – extroversion is anyways over-valued and often mistaken for confidence.
      I should probably have used another word or phrase – what I meant was it is often feared that single children are unable to reach out and form lasting bonds – which of course, is not true.

    • Hi again, Neha Guru Dutt,

      Columnist and author Gouri Dange was taking a look at this piece, when she saw your comment – and thought you may like to read this:

    • Shweta Shweta -

      I so agree with you Neha…I have moved to Europe at the age of 40 and have a single child as well. Coming here, I have realized the importance of learning to enjoy your own company and to be able to live alone. We emphasise too much on being with people which at times increases our dependency and self esteem so much on others’. In terms of sharing and caring, I see my 15 year old more open to do so more than his peers as he has never learned to guard his territory; there is no insecurity – our mutual trust has given him a more sound base and confidence.

  5. This is a relevant article for me. I am a divorced working mother who lives with her parents and her 5 1/2 yr old daughter. I could not have done anything without my parents but see that my daughter interacts with children her age through various activities. Additionally I must mention that being a single child is something that she is quite content with as of now and there is a sense of maturity in her that I don’t find in other children who have siblings – I guess she has had to learn the realities of life early on and while this may seem harsh now, it will help her as she grows up.

    • Thanks for writing in, Jennifer.
      Yes – being a single child can be an opportunity to be self-reliant and emotionally sorted – provided he/she is not over-protected.
      I guess it is because a single child has more one-on-one time with care-giving adults, and also has to deal with most peer-to-peer situations independently – with no sibling to lean on – this came up when I was talking to people about this piece.
      Of course, this doesn’t mean kids with siblings don’t have these qualities. They definitely do 🙂

  6. Really felt nice after reading this article shilpa. Especially I used to feel so guilty of having a single child. (Couldn’t & decided not to have 2nd coz of health issues). Feeling little less guilty for the first time.

  7. Mrs. Shilpa, madam you have replied for everybody`s comments, why don`t you write something on my comments also.

    Very nice Article Shilpa relevant article for me, I like to give an answer based on my family

    40 years back big families was common in india, almost every parents used to have five or six childrens, but now cost of living is very high, it is expensive to have more childrens
    My wife has two brothers & three sisters & I have two brothers & three sisters, we have our differences, our similarities, different personalities & all are married staying separately, but if anything happens to me everybody will be there for me, most importantly I have family who will be there forever, siblings will provide support for each other till the end

    In this world family is first for every body, then comes all others, family means “ PARENTS & SIBLINGS” the kind of emotional support we get from family is not possible to get from cousins, friends & others, I know lot children who dont have a sibling & they are happy but child hood is much more fun when you have sibling, shilpa you never had the opportunity to experience as child you have missed out ,you may have a lot of friends but you can`t keep in touch with everybody all the time.

    My brothers & sisters are having two kids but I am a father of an only child my son is 13 years now, I need one more kid but my wife don’t want to have another child even though we are physically & financially capable. I am unable to convince my wife, some people don’t listen to anybody. I love kids I love my son more than anything in this world, I will always be best friend to him, he is not feeling lonely, he is surrounded by cousins, grand parents, other relatives & friends. Friends are friends only no matter how close, they can not become family end of the day they have to go to different houses. My son is very active, caring & got all the good qualities.


    shilpa your friends need you as much as you need them that is because haman “wants” are more, they need siblings and also more friends.

    Shiva Kumar

    • Small correction there is a spelling mistake “HUMAN” wants are more not “HAMAN”

    • Sir, I am a single child and also a mother of a single child. Let me reply you. First I agree that living with siblings is really a fun but unfortunately not all parents in today’s scenario can help their first child with this bliss. Too much pressure from family for the second brings in complicated delivery and financial pressure and discomfort which in turn only makes relationship drained. You’re suggestions is really valuable to those families who have the capacity and capability to bring two children with utmost care and attention. Or else grandparents can also make a single child’s life full of fun its not absolute necessity to have a sibling for making childhood interesting.

  8. A very insightful article. I have a single child, and am quite confused whether I should have another kid. I am not enthusiastic, in particular. However,relatives’ and even friends’ have started probing as to when are we thinking of extending our family. Your article does help in clearing my confusion to some extent.

  9. I have a sibling and I am still a loner!!! I grew up in a big family surrounded by cousins too. So is it really not having a sibling that makes one an introvert and a loner?

  10. It felt good reading your article and it raises important points on bringing up a single child.The advice from experts was also a great relief. This is an issue that haunts every parent I guess.

    • Thanks for writing in, Diana. Yes, the expert advice certainly does give one some clarity – as so many of us opt to have a single child – but conventional wisdom does not endorse this.

  11. I am a single chid and presently a single mother. Before I got married I always had a feeling that I must have two children this was felt mainly when I went to hostel for higher studies. Before that I never felt it because my parents were more like friends than a guide. I married on my own choice and I realised that my husband is more lonely than I am. He has a sister but due to some family troubles he was never given that importance in the family and slowly but steadily he drifted away from family. Some time later I realized that my mom in law always wanted a single child but due to external family pressure she had another. She somehow could never give a balanced attention to both. My point is, what ever may be the reasons the choice of having children should be absolutely a personal decision and not a social one. I really enjoyed reading your article. Thanks

  12. Good article, but you need to have two children to understand what it means..:)

  13. Hi Shilpa
    Wonderful article
    .i have grown up with my two elder brothers and they have a huge contribution in making the person i am today..i cant imagine how dull and less adventurous my childhood would have been without them..but more than that in my growing age as a teenager and an adult i always had my friends supporting me in facing a lot of situations. I hope that my only son gets friends like mine.
    Thanks a lot..i guess your writing and research is a reassurance for many parents with single kids..:)

  14. hi Shilpa!! greeting for you from Shanghai 🙂
    thank you for this great article! i think i have a lot to say about being a single child[i’m 13]. You see i was a result of the one-child policy in China. when i was a little girl nothing seems to matter. I even feel lucky having no siblings, i feel lucky to have my parent’s whole care and love. But there are problems as i grow up, having trouble making friends at new school,etc. I hoped for a brother or sister as a best friend—-but my parents are obviously not going have more childrenT^T[i have a cousin though and we love each other so much,but we only gets to see each other in summer:(]
    I’m easy to feel lonely, i guess that’s why i would love writing poems and i wish to become a christian(・ω・)ノ[which is werid in my society] i’m expriencing boths pros and cons of one-child policy.I am very satisfied with my family school and life, but i think i will have 2 children myself rather than one.

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