Raising an Only Child Is Harder Than I Ever Imagined

mom helping daughter with project
Here's something I learned, over the years as a parent, that came as a total surprise: Raising an only child is harder in some key ways than raising multiple kids.


Yes, I only have only one kid's sports games, sick days, school lunches, homework help, transportation, camp registrations, and playdates to juggle. But my daughter requires way more scheduled activities and attention than a child with siblings, especially on "days off," like weekends, vacation, and holidays.

Around the time she turned 2, I realized that she was quickly losing interest in playing, reading, cuddling, strolling, and going to and from toddler classes with me and me alone. Turns out that like every other human, she's a social being, and needed peers.

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Luckily, at that time, we lived in an apartment building with lots of kids, including a boy named Charlie who was a year younger than our daughter. He was always eager to follow her around, marveling at her "advanced" skills, like being able to push her doll in a stroller, steal snacks from a cupboard, and open and slam bedroom doors. My daughter adored Charlie, and lovingly bossed him around, day in and day out. In winter, they sometimes napped together in her toddler bed or played in her tent in our living room when we were housebound by howling blizzards. It was the perfect companionship for her, and since I got along really well with Charlie's mom, a win-win situation.

But as our daughter grew, we decided to move to a larger home. Having a yard and more living space was a huge treat for all of us, but the distance from her best friend became an immediate scheduling headache for me. She could no longer just climb up the stairs and bang on Charlie's door on Saturday mornings or pop out to the back deck that we shared with his family, enjoying a dip in his giant kiddie pool on hot summer days. How could I make sure my little one was not lonely, stuck playing by herself all the time? How could I give her plenty of opportunities to develop the social skills that are so crucial to lifelong happiness?

Somehow, I needed to give her ample time to play with peers, every day. The problem was, most people we knew were busy popping out more babies. They had their hands full and didn't have the same urgent need to find another child for their kid to play with, so scheduling playdates and group classes until she could start preschool started taking up a huge amount of time and effort.

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Because I freelance from home, I found myself increasingly cramming in work at night and on weekends, when my husband could take over the kiddie entertainment, and this was a total drag in itself. We even contemplated having another kid, just so she would have a sibling to play with.

"But we can't have another kid just to entertain the first one," my husband pointed out, and I had to agree. The truth was, we didn't really want a second child. We didn't feel we had the resources or energy to care for another child the way we would want to or hope to, and this didn't seem fair.

I'm sure once our daughter is a little older and can finally schedule her own free time --  meet-ups or even sleepovers (!!) with friends -- things may feel different for all of us, but there are many days I've felt that if only she had a sibling close in age, like many of her friends and neighbors do, I could take several steps back and we'd all be better off for it. Holidays, family vacations, even long car rides and weekend getaways to Grandma and Grandpa's feel like they're an increasingly lonely chore for our kid. She's stuck being the only child among adults, with no one to play with or relate to, and it's heartbreaking to me at times. Some days, I feel like I've monumentally failed her by not producing a sibling.

On the flip side, in addition to being able to offer her so many things we could not offer two kids, her dad and I do so much together with our daughter that we've all formed a really close bond -- one that I never shared with my own parents, probably because I was always busy playing with my siblings. That's something important, lasting, and meaningful I hang on to. And I hope our daughter will, too.

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