Only Children as Parents

When I typed “only children as parents” into Google, I found very little that discussed only children and their children.  Here’s what I found instead (among other things):

“9 Reasons Why Dating An Only Child is Difficult.”  (Ha, only 9?  My husband would love to add to that list!)

“What Being an Only Child Says About You.”  (with a title like that it can’t be good…)

Various sites regarding support groups for the parents of only children.

and finally (I almost peed a little when I saw it.):

“Only Child Adult Blog:  Are You an Only-Child and a Parent?” which I immediately clicked on, only to find the most recent of a handful of comments was in 2010.  

I guess we only-children parents aren’t as interesting as I had hoped (insert obvious joke about self-centeredness here).  But on the bright side, I guess we aren’t screwed up enough (or screwing up enough of our own kids) to warrant being studied.  I consider that a definite win.

Expressing my independence at age 2. Even the ducks are impressed.

Expressing my independence at age 2. Even the ducks are impressed.

As the only child of an only child, I find it ironic that I am the mother of three, the total number of people in the household I grew up in.  And my husband is practically an only child himself as he is four years older than his sister.  We often wonder how in the world fate thought he and I could handle a “zone defense.”  (I’m not even sure what a zone defense is, other than it’s a basketball thing.)  But parenting has been a rewarding adventure, one we wouldn’t change for the world, and one fueled by advice from loads of parenting books.

So I have been fascinated by the idea of only children having multiple kids of their own…why they do and how they may parent differently from parents who grew up with siblings.  When I found the “Only Child Adult Blog”  not only was my mind blown that someone else had the same curiosity, but that someone wanted to write a book (a book!) about it.  Unfortunately, she received only a handful of responses to requests for anecdotal information, and that was years ago.  And disappointingly, there was no followup from her about a published book, or even a rough draft of one.

No published research.  No compilation of only-children parenting experience.

So I will write from my own personal experience, with a little help from a different Google search: “characteristics of an only child.”  And there it was, hard to miss, from

“However, experts do report that only children do have some very positive personality traits.”


We can all speculate what comes before the however (more on that later), but what comes after is more interesting (and maybe surprising to some).  What about only children and our unique and singular upbringing could make us good parents?  According to the article one of those “positive personality traits” is confidence.  Another is a tendency to be private.  As a group our academic success is “better” (good test scores and a higher rate of college admission).  We are independent and organized.

Of course, these are not the exclusive traits of only children, but simply a pattern regularly seen in this group of people.  I hope I speak for my tribe when I say this is good stuff, and reassuring when it comes to our parenting potential.  So let me elaborate:

Confidence:  An I-can-handle-this attitude is imperative at dinnertime when the dog pees on the floor and the kids now need a bath because they were delighted to find a warm puddle to splash around in… and it’s inside the house. (I can’t make this stuff up…really, I am not creative like that.)

Private:  As in when you tell your son (looking over your shoulder while you shop online):

Close your eyes so you don’t see me type in the credit card number because you have a photographic memory and will use that number to buy up all the 5 pound gummy bears on Vat19.  Because you did it before and it took an hour to cancel shipment.  (For more on that story, click here.)

If what the experts mean by “private” is actually “slightly paranoid” then I’m good.

Better academic success:  Yes, I got into college.  But others laughed at my ACT score (which I’ve been reassured was fine, really).  I suppose as my degree relates to parenting, I’m able to read parenting advice critically and handle stats on the effectiveness of vaccines.  But I don’t think my taking organic chemistry in college makes me a better parent.  Nor does having worked in medicine.  In fact, I think that works against me…because I assume the worst when my kids get sick.  For example:  He has a stomachache?  It must be his appendix!  No?  Well, maybe it’s the 5 peaches he ate after the three hamburgers at supper…

Independent:  I do like my “alone” time, to do with as I please:  get stuff done, go for a run.  Carving out that niche of time to recharge is not my strong suit, though.  My “independence” suffers during weekends and school breaks and it’s not pretty.  I need to just give myself permission to take some “me” time.  Because it’s obviously better for my entire family for me to embrace independence sometimes and later play legos or Farkle.  It’s just the healthy mental move.

Organized:  Good trait for planning a week full of school field trips and extracurriculars, bad for dealing with the chronic state of our art closet or my son’s inability to get ready for school every. stinking. morning.

And the addendum, a nod to the “before the however” unpalatable traits of the only child:  an inability to share.  No other kids with whom to share toys, a bedroom or parents makes the concept of sharing trickier to teach only children.  But that said, I have an argument in favor of this disadvantage being a good parenting trait.   I will confess I’m not so good at sharing my pen.  Or my carrot cake.  In fact, I’m kinda weird about both.  My pen I’ve had for a couple decades.  Yes.  Decades.  (Can I credit this to being organized?)  I got it from a drug rep.  The drug name has since worn off, so it looks pretty classy (no offense, kind drug rep)…burgundy and gold.  No way in heck am I going to let anyone else use my pen.  As for the cake, well, it’s my version of Mommy crack, so there.  How can this behavior be good for my parenting skills?  Well, as for the pen thing, I have to somehow make it look like I’m not not sharing…even though I’m not sharing.  As in, I need to be creative:  Why don’t you find a pen you love to use…you’ll want to do your homework if you have a cool pen of your own!  The cake is easy:  Oh, this may have vegetables in it but it’s terrible for you…too much sugar and wheat.  Just have some carrots for dessert.  See?  I’m promoting healthy eating for my kids and scarfing the junk food while sitting in a closet.

Ok, weak argument.  I’ll give you that.

But in all seriousness, what else can only children can bring to their parenting style?  I reflect on my own upbringing and was lucky to have a devoted dad and mom who did not always give me what I wanted but always gave me what I needed.  They helped me with math and reading comprehension, came to all my music concerts (even the ones that sounded like a barnyard massacre), and travelled across the state when my theatre group had competitions.  My parents set a high standard for parenting and now I can only hope to give my kids the same kind of love and support I had from them.

And still do.

[Did you know there is a National Only Child Day?  There really is.  The last National Only Child Day was April 12, 2016.  And I can’t believe I missed it!  Next year’s is already on the calendar:  April 12, 2017.]


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