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Single parent with single child guilt

Categories: Hoping for Love, Missing Parent


I watch my son from the window at the kitchen sink, he lines his cars up one after the other, a long multi-colored lineup of shiny toys, broken only by the pilfered dustbin, his ramshackle ramp.  He is wearing navy blue pajama bottoms with boats on them and his hair has a snarled, comical tangle at the back, his signature unruly bed head.  The birds are chirping and it’s barely dawn and he seems cognizant of this, whispering imaginary conversation between the red truck and the yellow car.

I’m going to the supermarket,”says the red truck.

“I‘m going to the beach,” says the yellow car.

He is so good at playing by himself, my son, and I am both proud and saddened by this.  He has to be good at it; I have even less time than most Moms to play with him; I’m on the computer firing off urgent emails or I’m cleaning the bathroom sink, or I’m wandering around trying to find his right flip flop.  In another life, I imagine that I might be pregnant again around this time, brewing a sibling for my golden sun.  Then he’d have an instant playmate: someone who would both infuriate and endear him, who would be the only other person who would understand what it’s like to have a Mom like me.

But I’m not about to become pregnant anytime soon, and as it stands, it looks like Nolan will be an only child.  I am 33, and even if I do get married in the next two years and get pregnant immediately (highly unlikely) - I am ambivalent about the thought of a half sibling.  And honestly, I don’t trust my instinct like I once did.  In order to decide to have another child, I would have to be certain.  I would have to be married and and confident it would not disintegrate, at any cost.  And a deep part of me believes that my heart has splintered in such a way that that kind of confidence is impossible for me to obtain ever again.

Having just one child allows me to have a career; a second child, I think, would force me in another direction and now I always think in terms of having to do it alone, by myself, just in case.  Even with one son, I rely on my family to facilitate my career.  Even with one son, my hands are so full.  As Mama of one, my life is rich enough.

But still.  I watch my only son in the dappled sunlight of this July summer morning, whispering softly to his trucks, contentedly solo.  I hope he won’t blame me for not being able to give him a sibling, I hope he will be fulfilled and content on his own.  I hope to learn this myself, too.

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22 comments so far...

  • Oh, man. I so get this. One of the WORST parts of getting a divorce, for me, is mourning the second child that we both wanted, and in fact were trying for right up until the bitter end.

    I haven’t given up on more kids, necessarily, but the stars would have to align JUUUUST right, and lately I’ve really been aware of how rare that is in this life.

    Also sucking: my sister has been so great, and given me so much support, and that makes me feel even WORSE when I think of Ava being an only child.

    Also, I think this is my first WIM comment, but I devour everything you write, and it all helps me so much.

    And, uh, since it’s my first comment, it’s a good thing it’s so CHEERY, eh?

    Tessie  |  July 14th, 2008 at 8:26 am

  • I completely understand. My boy’s 9. Unplanned and an only child. And even if I were to EVER get married, any child I have from here on out will be so much younger than him that it won’t change the fact that he grew up as an only child.

    Then I think that if i did get married I’d want more children and I wouldn’t put another child through the only child thing, so it would have to be at least two children. And that would just break my heart for my son who never had a sibling close enough in age to bond with :(

    There’s no easy answer is there! Let’s look on the bright side - our boys don’t share us with anyone else.

    I do my best to make sure Zac is the least lonely only child ever… always has at least one friend over for the weekend. Never alone except during the week.

    Don’t beat yourself up over it. You’re a great mother. He’s a lucky boy to have all your love!

    tash  |  July 14th, 2008 at 11:18 am

  • It’s entirely possible that my daughter may be an only child since my husband and I have significant infertility issues. And, you know what? That’s okay. There is nothing wrong with being an only child.

    For one thing, there’s no guarantee that she would like or get along with a sibling. Many, many siblings are NOT friends.

    For two, she has my attention in a way that she never would if she did have a sibling.

    Only children tend to be higher achieving and overall better adjusted than those with sibs. Silver lining…

    Robyn  |  July 14th, 2008 at 2:29 pm

  • My brother and I are 7 years apart and it was like being raised as a single child. He was out of the house at 17 so I was only 10 and when he did live at home we HATED each other. We fought like cats and dogs and never ever played together. Like Robyn said - another sibling does not equal a playmate or friend. I think Nolan will be fine and you are doing a great job - which rings especially true in the fact that unlike most kids he can entertain himself!

    Ashley  |  July 14th, 2008 at 2:53 pm

  • My father was an only child; I am an only child; my son is an only child. It is okay to be an only child! There are actually benefits!! ;->

    Virtual hugs,


    Judie Ashford  |  July 14th, 2008 at 7:59 pm

  • I was pregnant when my first son was just 7 months old and I mourned the time lost with him. He never got the chance to be the only kid to get Mom`s attention and his brother came along so quickly that neither of them was ever really babied . . . they always had someone else there. True, they are very close (except when they are trying to kill each other), but there are definite advantages to being able to give your one child all that attention!

    Genesis  |  July 14th, 2008 at 11:19 pm

  • If you REALLY want to give your child a sibling, there are ways to do it without getting married or pregnant. Yeah, that would be a LOT of work, and it would cost you money, and it would probably affect your career, and there is no guarantee that your son would benefit. But yeah, chances are it would benefit your son in many ways, and maybe it would benefit you, too.

    The thing you need to do is decide what you really want and be at peace with your decision.

    If you are wondering whether your son will find fault with you someday, I promise you: he will. The only question is, over what will he be angry? A sibling or lack thereof? Your single parenthood? Or the million parenting choices you make? Or something you couldn’t even help? Most likely, there will be a day when he will despise you for being human. Then he will grow up and love you for it. So, don’t lose any more sleep over that.

    There is no reason for guilt if you have made a reasoned decision consistent with your values. So, I’d ask myself, am I second-guessing my choices, and if so, why? It is OK to stand by your choices, but it is also OK to revisit them. When you really feel at peace is when you’ll know you have done the right thing.

    As you know, I’m a single working mom of two by choice. I say that only to testify that while it’s hard as hell, it can be done and it can be a good choice for some. That said, it is definitely not for everyone (full disclosure: my sore feet are soaking at this very minute). Just don’t assume a big life change is always a bad thing. Give it a moment’s breath in your imagination. Then do what you feel is right and don’t worry about your son.

    SKL  |  July 14th, 2008 at 11:30 pm

  • I have a half brother and sister who are 18 and 15 years older than me. They are far from half to me.

    My full sister is 8 years older than me. She spent a good part of her childhood solo because my other siblings lived with their mom most of the time. As close as the two of us are, she said she didn’t mind being an only child.

    My point is, your son will be fine either way. He won’t be robbed of anything. There are good points and bad points for either side and he will adjust accordingly. As long as he has a mother who loves him, he has everything he needs in this world.

    Cheryl  |  July 15th, 2008 at 10:18 am

  • I know exactly how you feel. I feel so guilty…not just because I know my daughter will probably be an only child…but mostly because I have plenty of time to have another child, and I honestly do not want one. I’m choosing to deprive her of that. What’s worse, I have a sister that’s 19 months younger than me and we’ve been best friends our whole life, so I know full well what I’ll be depriving my daughter of. Also, once you’ve waited so long (if I were to have another child it wouldn’t be for another 6-8 years) there will be no bond between the two kids b/c they’re too far apart in age. I also have a sister who is 10 years younger and we don’t have a very good relationship at all. It’s just one of those crappy things I guess. If it’s any better, I have lots of friends that were greatful to have been only children, so maybe it’s not that bad.

    Miranda  |  July 15th, 2008 at 11:28 am

  • I have two kids, 1 1/2 years apart, and my son (the younger one) does EXACTLY that thing with the trucks. He adores and is quite good at playing by himself.

    So while I can’t really empathize with the sadness you feel, I can instruct you not to let the playing-alone skill be a trigger for it.

    Miranda, I don’t think you can definitely say there’ll be no bond if the kids aren’t close in age. I have a brother 8 years younger and we’re quite close. So you never know.

    Jan  |  July 15th, 2008 at 4:16 pm

  • To me it sounds like your son is a very happy boy. I think sometimes as moms we worry about things that are not there. I know I do that a lot.
    I worry when my son and daughter are with their nanny and think that they are just wishing that mom/I was there instead. Then I watch my son and he is very happy playing with his nanny. He does not seem hurt at all. My daughter is happy too. Sometimes she chooses to go to her nanny over me.

    Vera Babayeva  |  July 15th, 2008 at 8:03 pm

  • Yea, but I am entitled to my opinion, as well as sharing my own personal experience. thanks. By bond I don’t mean once they’re both adults. I meant it in the sense of a sibling who is a ‘playmate’.

    Miranda  |  July 16th, 2008 at 10:14 am

  • Thank you for this, Kristin. We dads (at least me) have all the same thoughts, nearly everyday (and especially when I too watch our daughter excitedly play by herself in her own little world). Not only is your post beautifully written, but it really resonates, especially the last sentence: you, too, are part of the equation, and doubling the number of children you have changes the game, the ever-elusive balance we all seek, so all we can do is try to believe that we are making the best decisions we can as parents.

    Avi Spivack  |  July 16th, 2008 at 11:43 am

  • K-

    You could adopt me, if you want.


    Simon  |  July 16th, 2008 at 12:24 pm

  • That was a really touching post, Kristin.

    Diane  |  July 16th, 2008 at 9:25 pm

  • I wish N. had some cousins close by… suggest this to your bro… I am thankful that my three boys have each other, and they will look back in the future and hopefully laugh and cry at what they are putting me through. It is harder having more than one, being “single” - but, it is all I know.
    You are living in the now, things might change for you. People keep telling me this at 38, “you are young”.

    Cathy  |  July 17th, 2008 at 11:12 am

  • I totally identify with you; I go through those thoughts myself as I have an only daughter but I’m determined to let her associate with cousins and family friends as much as possible. After all, there are lots of normal ‘only’ children everywhere.

    Kenzo  |  July 18th, 2008 at 4:48 am

  • Hi Kristin,
    I brought up my boy, Zachary alone by choice. Just like you i too felt guilty, as i love kids and always imagined i’d have 3 or 4 when i got married one day….wondering am i meant to have one child…things don’t always work out that way. Zack has cousins who luckily stay close by and never short of friends. i’m now engaged for 6 months, at 38 yrs of age contemplating should i go for another one? my son is happy crazy friendly teenager and i so much want to prepare him for a wonderful future. so i’m content to do just that.when i think of the hard work and unselfish patience needed, i happily cuddle up to my niece amy who is 2, knowing i can indulge in this little girl whom i love to bits.

    marla  |  August 7th, 2008 at 8:12 am

  • You posted because you want opinions, here is mine…. I am an only child. I am 31 and yes, I had a child out wedlock at 18. My son is 13 now and he hates being an only child. His father and I seperated when he was 10. It was very hard on him. Now, I constantly feel like I am my sons playmate when no one is around. Although, he has cousins that spend the weekend, its never enough for him. He adores his cousins and they have full priveledges at our house but when his cousins have to go home, he gets depressed. He tells me he doesnt have anyone in the house to play with. I tell him that he has to realize that he is an only child and needs to embrace it. I encourage him to make more friends out of school from the neighborhood. I tried to have more children but I am unable due to in infertity. I spoiled him in always trying to please him for not having his father around or any siblings. It is very depressing because it brings tear to my eyes, knowing the loneliness he feels as I know since I am an only child. I have been able to manage life well in being a great mother and strong woman. I wish I had kids right away because all growing pains, trials and tribulations, my son could had shared with a brother or sister. I know siblings sometimes fight but thats part of having brothers and sisters and its up to the parent to establish that respect and love among siblings.I have thought of adopting but I dont know how it will really benefit all involved.

    I love my son to infinity and back and he adores me. We have a great healthy relantionship, although sometimes he test the waters by acting like his my boss. I quickly bring him back to reality. We also have a very open relationship since we can talk about girls, drugs and sex. None which is he into but once in while he asks for my “girl opinion”. His father is very involved in life. So I all I hope for is that he goes through his teenage years without being influenced in the wrong path and that one day he lives a productive life and gives me a whole bunch of grandbabies. :)

    I think if you have one child then you should give that child a sibling. A child needs the support of a brother or sister throughtout what we call life.

    wow, this felt like therapy. I should pay you. :)

    Brenda  |  May 28th, 2009 at 9:55 am

  • Hi Kristin,

    Your blog was poetic and inspiring. I am an only child myself, 21 years of age and my life is congested with friends that have dense families. Seeing their younger siblings play is both beautiful and sad for me. The closest I got to that type of relationship was with either going over to a friends or with cousins who I’d seldom see anyway since all my family are abroad.

    “He is so good at playing by himself, my son, and I am both proud and saddened by this.”

    That line touched me immensely, because even from a young age I’d always been conscious of how good I was playing by myself when other children would be so careless and whack their toys together.

    I’ve come across this page after research for my next short film. I am a young filmmaker and this story was so inspiring. I would love to talk to you more about this topic to help with my upcoming project, please send me an e-mail at ‘’ if you read this.

    Here’s a link to my previous short film:

    It’s an ambiguous story of a single mother and her attachment to her child.



    Mahmut  |  June 13th, 2009 at 7:24 am

  • Nothing wrong at all being a single child. I am, and I love it - !

    kenzo children  |  August 8th, 2010 at 12:29 pm

  • I am an only child, i am fifteen, and my mom is a single mom… i think she feels EXACTLY as you do! He’ll be fine, we Learn to be so much stronger, don’t worry, OTHERS Are theones who put in our minds that we should want siblings or a dad…. but i never once had a second thought about it.. it was perfectly normal to me (: its hard some times.. but as long as you love him 100%, never make him feel like the situation is his fault, then he wont ever want to change. It…. i wouldn’t change a thing if i could!(: <3 this was beautifly written by the way!!(:

    summer  |  January 14th, 2012 at 2:36 pm