Don't Assume An Only Child Is A Lonely Child

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I didn’t set out to be the parent of an only child; it just sort of worked out that way. And because my husband, son and I were a foster family for a couple of years, my son’s only-child status might seem a little more pronounced to me than it would to most parents. For my son, it’s not a matter of not knowing what he’s missing—he has had “brothers,” he misses them and he very much wants a sibling.

But he’s not getting a sibling, so I’ve looked for ways to satisfy his craving for the companionship of other kids. He plays sports, he goes to after-school care to hang out with his best friend, and our house has basically become The Playdate House. As I prepared for this week’s themed “Loner Week” at Lifehacker, I asked our Offspring Facebook Group what else I could or should be doing to keep him from feeling lonely.

The parents of only children in the group echoed a lot of what I already do—after-school activities, lots of trips to the playground or library, playdates, FaceTime dates with relatives who live far away, and family time on the weekends. And then those fine folks reminded me of something very important: Just because he’s an only child doesn’t mean he’s a lonely child.

Being bored is a good thing

Being bored is not the same as being lonely. No one can be entertained 24/7, and kids have to learn that boredom is a part of life and how be comfortable with it. In fact, it’s often true that right before kids do something really creative, they experienced some good old-fashioned boredom.

Group member John puts it best:

As an only child of a single-parent family, I have to say that allowing your only child to experience time alone will create a child who is creative and imaginative and resilient. I don’t think I would have been so blessed to have the many incredible experiences my life has offered to me, if my mum hadn’t allowed me time to read and play and build stories by myself. I ended up becoming a writer and storyteller and I love my life. It’s not always been easy, but I feel blessed to have been an only child.

Alone ≠ lonely

I’m not an only child, but I know this well myself. As an introvert who works from home, I spend—and enjoy—loads of time alone. And I am far from lonely.

W. Stuart in our group says:

My wife is an only child and she says she was rarely lonely. She participated in theatre from an early age, read constantly and had a very imaginative inner life. As an adult, she is very social and extroverted but also outstanding at being alone—she is never bored and craves her alone time.

And giving your kids a couple of siblings doesn’t immunize them against loneliness anyway. You can very easily be lonely in a crowd.

They still have a village

One’s childhood “village” does not begin and end with siblings. Beyond their immediate family, kids also have a mix of cousins, neighbours, classmates, teammates and friends. All of those relationships can be deep and meaningful and fulfilling.

As group member Jill pointed out, “the village isn’t always waiting for you; sometimes you have to build it.” And that’s ok, too.


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