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The Pros of Having an Only Child

My daughter will turn 4 in a few months, and I've already lost count of the number of times we've had family members ask “When is she going to get a sister or brother to play with?”

At this point, I'm 99.9 percent sure that I don't want to have another child. But my wife, you see, is undecided, which technically makes me undecided. Surprisingly, it appears that many parents in the U.S. have decided, and they're increasingly coming down on the side of “one and done.” Single-child families have almost doubled since the 1960s, to about one in five, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

The economic climate is a factor: It costs $235,000 to raise a child to 17.

Statistics are fun, but they don't necessarily help us make decisions. After all, those commonly referenced only-child stereotypes (spoiled, self-centered, introverted, etc.) don't show up in pie charts or percentages. So I decided to gather a few expert opinions.

“We are quick to label the very spoiled child who does not have siblings as having ‘only-child syndrome,’” says Jennifer Hilligus, a licensed professional counselor in East Brunswick, NJ. “But I've seen children in a wide range of birth orders who are very spoiled. We don't call that ‘third-born syndrome.’ The common denominator is parenting.”

Jaime Mahoney is a 29-year-old teacher from Milltown, NJ, who grew up an only child. She's now pregnant with her second child. “My parents and I are extremely close, which I believe is a direct result of my being an only,” she says. “But I often wished for a sibling.”

Mahoney admits that the economic climate definitely influenced her decision to stop at two, and rightly so. A middle-income family can expect to pay out $235,000 to raise a child to 17, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Calculate the cost for your family at cnpp.usda.gov/calculatorintro.htm.)

At the home of Gretchen Ushakova, a 37-year-old communications expert in Boulder, CO, it's Only-palooza. She and her husband (who was an only child) have one 5-year-old daughter and plan to keep it that way. (“One and fun” is how she describes it.) “We always thought we wanted to have more than one,” says Ushakova, “but when [my husband and I] really thought about it, our lifestyle and careers weighed more heavily than how we grew up.”

All this research hasn't helped my wife and me definitively say we're “one and done.” But it has pushed us further in that direction. Personally, I've changed to 99.95 percent sure.

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