Does My Only Child Need A Sibling?

When it comes down to it, should I have another child so that my kid isn't on her own?

I’ve written before about wanting another baby. If we’ve ever spoken in real life, you’ve likely also heard me say that I want a baby much, much more than I want a toddler. A lot of this, admittedly, is about me. It’s about my need or want to have another and secondarily it’s about my daughter having a sibling. Of course, her age is a factor in this: given my daughter is already five-and-a-half, and I’m not pregnant or close to being, there would already be a large age gap.

I was a little slow to think of my daughter as an only child versus what her life might be like with siblings. I have brothers who were born when I was 6 and 7, respectively, and because I moved out at 16, there was only about 10 years that we lived together. As a kid, coming from a severely dysfunctional family, I’m not sure what role having siblings played. There were different (higher) expectations of me because I was a girl, but then I was spared a lot of the violent threats my brothers endured. In ways, I had more individual attention paid to me, but it was largely unwanted and negative attention. Once my brothers were old enough to play hockey, my parents definitely didn’t maintain any kind of balance in terms of the time and space each of us got for our interests.

As adults, we continue to find our ground together as siblings. I had a lot of guilt about leaving home when they were still young and I think one or both of them resented me for it. We haven’t always been supportive of each other’s decisions and we haven’t always come together in any sort of conventional sense. But the one big, undeniable factor that needs to be acknowledged is they were there. My brothers, while they experienced things differently and from a different perspective, are the only people who grew up in exactly what I did. Who witnessed much of the same and have memories of those occasions. As an adult, there is great value in that (for me, at least).

So how does this relate to my life as a mom now? Over the winter another mom to one daughter posted this essay on how her daughter doesn’t “need” a sibling, and where this idea of need stems from. She—and the essay she’s responding to—go over some of what parents of only children hear: that the kids will be lonely, that siblings are essential to child development, that only children will be selfish and spoiled (and, if you read the original post, that it’s in our best interest to have multiple children to care for us in old age and support each other once we’re gone).

Like the mom writing, I don’t think my daughter is lonely: I think she has many opportunities to engage with other children, older, younger and her own age. I think there are times she’d like a playmate at home, and that there are times that an age gap or differing interests may make that the case even if she had siblings. She is developing just fine and that includes learning about empathy and sharing. She is getting her true needs met; she is not any more self-centered than any other kid her age and maybe even less so than some. Who knows if or how my daughter will be around in my old age, or how a sibling would be—I can only say that if my daughter continues on the path she’s on, that I have no doubt she’ll have people who love and care for her when she is an adult, familial or not.

I will say, though, that there is one thing that sticks out as something she might be missing out on. Having someone who was there. My daughter is not growing up in the chaos and uncertainty that my brothers did. And I don’t know any different; I have no idea if having someone who experienced what you did feels as essential when you’ve grown up with a supportive family. I don’t think my daughter needs a witness in the same way that I’ve found so validating, but I do wonder what strength can come from having someone who’s memories align with yours, who can remind you of things you’ve forgotten, who can commiserate and celebrate things you’ve shared.

If my daughter does remain an only child, I’ll be in this role for her as much as possible, and the people we’ve gathered along our way will too. I’m not convinced having someone who was there is a “need,” but I do think it’s a perk and serves a function, and while it won’t be my deciding factor in having another child, it will be something I’ll admit as a loss for her, and I think that’s an okay thing to do.  

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