Thoughts on Parenting an Only Child

My baby is starting Kindergarten in the fall. 

My oldest goes to Kinder this year. 

My youngest is almost six. 

If you haven’t guessed from the article title, I’m talking about the same child in each of those statements. And That, explains the dichotomy of having an only child: said child is your first and last, oldest and youngest, the big kid, and the baby. 

Recently the phrase “one and done” has been showing up everywhere I look. Instagram accounts and podcasts dedicated to parents of only children. Articles talking about how more and more couples are preemptively deciding that they would like one and only one child. In 2020, Madison’s Channel 3000 News reported online that:

*“A recent Pew Research Center study found the number of women who reached the end of their child bearing years with only one child doubled in the last generation, from 11 percent in 1976 to 22 percent in 2015. Census data shows one-child families are the fastest growing family unit in the United States.”

Like everyone, our story is nuanced and there are multiple factors as to why we have one child. Infertility, post-partum anxiety, military deployments, moving cross country, failed IVF rounds… to name a few. Add in my age, the financial ramifications, the physical and emotional toil on my body, and life intervening, and at this point, we are 99% certain our family is complete.  

We’re entering a new phase of parenting as our daughter turns six soon, and starts full-time school. I’m far from an expert and have a long way to go still, but I’ve had some realizations, some a-ha moments, that might be worthwhile insight for other moms and dads of one.

Things I want to tell Other Parents of Only’s

… you are just as much a mom (or dad) as anyone who has multiple children. You have toys all over your house, a cupboard full of plastic dishware, the same parent-related to-do list, and all the fears, worries, concerns, challenges, and joy. Your brain is split between work, home, friends, and parenting regardless of how many kiddos need back to school forms completed. You research and agonize over carseats and discipline methods, crowd-source other parents for the going rate for the tooth fairy, and lie awake at night wondering if you are doing the right things. Even “just one kid” requires a ton of work, effort, sacrifice, and love.

… your child will not suffer that much for being an only. As a military family we lived thousands of miles from our blood relatives for many years. We spent holidays, took trips, and made memories with friends who became family (our “framily” as it were). Many of us idealize the sibling relationship, and there’s many people who do form life-long friendships with their siblings – but not always.  It isn’t a guarantee, and you can build a strong support community for your child beyond the kids living in your household.

… you may feel an extra pressure, a weight, of having only one child. There’s only one first day of school, only one round of childhood milestones. Once you are through a stage, it’s done. Passing along toddler clothes to friends, or donating Little People sets that my daughter has outgrown brings me satisfaction, but also sadness. For some parents this isn’t an issue, but I noticed it early on. Acknowledge it, and realize you can combat it by remembering that you are more than just “so-and-so’s mom.” Or simply enjoy each step, each phase, and revel in the fact that once you’re through the potty training phase, you are DONE! 

You have the best of both worlds in some ways. You get all the wonder and joy of parenting, but you also get more breaks. Travel is easier. You have more time. You only have one child draining your bank account! You get to experience the magic of guiding a small person and helping them grow into an adult. And that’s usually a big part of why anyone becomes a parent… regardless of the number of carseats they’re struggling to install (and then uninstall and remove ground-in goldfish cracker crumbs from). 

*(https://www.channel3000.com/the-rise-of-the-only-child-whats-behind-the-rising-number-of-single-child-families/#:~:text=A%20recent%20Pew%20Research%20Center,unit%20in%20the%20United%20States.)

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