Are only children happier?

DQ and the Taz sharing earbuds, proof that even these siblings can be happy least some of the time.

As adults, my sisters and I are pretty close. There are things we know about each other that our parents will never know about us. They were my allies, and I was theirs. School calling because one of us cut class? No prob, one of us would cover for the truant sis, pretending to be mom on the phone. Need a note to get out of school early, or to make up for that assignment that was never done? One of us became an expert artist, able to forge both parent’s signatures at the drop of a hat (I am so not saying who). Crushed on cute boy like the wrong sister? They became strictly off limits.

Yup, we were friends growing up, in it for life. And as adults, I know I can count on my sisters for anything, and they can rely on me for the same. When our parents are gone, we will still have each other as our family. And that will never change.

I wanted to give the same thing to my daughter as my parents gave to me, offering her the happiness of growing up with a younger sibling. Except, as a recent study showed, kids with siblings are actually less happy than those who are only children.

The study cited bullying done by older children, the torment that goes on when the older child picks on the younger. And the more children in the house, the less privacy a child has. It is common for children with siblings to be forced into sharing a room. And ever try to compete for the bathroom in a multiple kid house?

As for only children, they don’t have to compete with anyone for their parent’s attention. They aren’t forced to share anything. And there is no one to fight with. Not only that, think about the influence older children have on their younger siblings. Who is the influence of an only child? The parent.  And interestingly enough, the study could not find proof that an only child was lonelier than those who had siblings.

And as I think back, yeah, I can admit that the study makes some sense – because in between all that gushy “we are sisters, linked forever”, we were also extremely rotten to each other.

My youngest sister was a pain in the butt. Sorry, Heather, but you were. I do believe that she went out of her way to tease me and my middle sister, Melissa. And it didn’t help that my mom forced us to play with Heather, because seriously, who wants to play with a kid 5 whole years younger than you are when you’d rather be hanging out with kids your own age? And my middle sister? She was super popular, extremely pretty, and everyone loved her. Try living in the shadows of that. Not only was this the case, but she was the master manipulator. Rather than asking permission for anything, she just went ahead and did it, counting on my parents to decide it was too much energy to fight her on it once she had already gone for it. And 100% of the time, she was right. Because of this, Melissa was the cheerleader, a member of the track team, and participated in an ice skating competition or two. And because my mom was running ragged from all these activities, those of us who asked to join something extra were left sorely disappointed.

And me? I was no angel. I fully admit to being the bully of the three, perfecting the art of leaving half moon-shaped nail marks in the skin of their arms with impressive force to convince them that my way was right. And I was the ringleader whose team either sister wanted to be on when it came to ganging up on the other. So I never lost.

But beyond all that, I still stand by my first assessment, that having sisters made us happier. Sure, we were all out mean to each other at times. But first and foremost, we were friends. And while there were plenty of times that I swore out loud that I’d rather be an only child, the truth is, I don’t think I ever truly wished my sisters away. When I think back to the days when we’d stay up long after our parents put us to bed as we entertained each other with stories and games, or when we utilized each other’s clothing to multiply the amount of clothes available for each other, or when we confided in each other or sought advice about things that we could never share with our mother…I’d never take that away. And now, as adults, that bond is even deeper. We are creating our separate lives of marriage, family, and jobs. And yet, the bond is still there.

Besides, all my friends who were only children were spoiled rotten.  Who would want that?

As for giving my daughter a friend in the shape of her brother, I’m still trying to convince each of them that they are happier with each other than without.  It might work…when they’re adults.

What do you think? Are only children happier than those with siblings?


11 thoughts on “Are only children happier?

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  1. I was an only child. Okay…I’m still an only child, if you want to get technical about it…and here’s the thing:

    Some aspects were nice. I got mom all to myself, didn’t have to share anything, and was spoiled as much as I could be considering our rather limited financial situation. I even got a horse (though to be fair, the horse thing happened ’cause mom had always wanted one when SHE was growing up…) …but there were downsides too.

    First of all, I don’t care if some study says that onlys aren’t lonely — I kind of was. I spent a lot of time alone, reading, or playing make-believe in my room. Despite the fact that I had friends and my mom tried to ensure I spent time with kids my own age, I was around my parents and parents’ friends a lot more, and was able to interact with adults far better than with those my own age…and the difficulty interacting with my peers has followed me into adulthood.

    When I was in high school, we had close friends with two girls about my age (good friends of mine) sharing our house for a few months. Lemme tell you — we fought. We totally did. We ganged up on each other and left each other out. We each had our own room, but we had to share the bathroom. We made noise that interfered with each other’s studying. We did all those mean things that sisters do. But we also helped each other get ready in the morning and loaned each other clothes. We talked about boys, and supported each other. We were silly and hung out in each other’s rooms talking. We just HAD each other, and for that few months, I had sisters. And not only was my home life more…complete, I suppose…but I became more comfortable and better able to interact with my classmates as well…I came out of my shell a bit and gained a certain amount of confidence.

    Over the course of my life, i have adopted my own siblings. This has the benefit that I get to choose who my sisters and brothers are, and if they bug me I could make them go home…but as close as we are, we don’t share blood, or an upbringing or very many family stories.

    As an adult, I still miss having siblings. The majority of my friends do, and they may fight and snipe at each other, but in general, they love the heck out of each other too…they call each other to share events in their lives and get advice…they are just a part of each other, in a way that only children can never truly experience.

    If I ever decide to reproduce, my children will have siblings.

  2. Bullying? Privacy issues? Competing for a parent’s affection? These three things are rather trivial considering they can be nipped in the bud by active, hands-on and loving parenting. The benefits of having a sibling (Which you so wonderfully outlined above), far outweigh any of the possible hardships. My brother has been my closest ally, my tormentor and protector, but most of all, he’s a part of who I am and has always made me be the best possible version of me. Sometimes, that was because I had to outrun him so that he wouldn’t use me for karate practice, but hey…I learned how to run fast.

  3. Let me assure you, no amount of hands-on parenting will completely cease the torment a brother or sister can inflict on their sibling. But aren’t those the very things that make us stronger and more successful in life? I’d like to think that I actually contributed to many of the successes my sisters had in their adult years by any bullying I may have inflicted on them in their youth.
    You’re welcome sisters!

  4. My wife and I have been discussing this a lot lately. Our main question is “how long is too long?” Isn’t the optimum age difference around 2 – 3 years? After that aren’t you defeating the whole purpose if they aren’t going to get along or play together anyway?

  5. I am an only child. I am divorced with no biological children. I would give anything to have a sister or brother or both. I feel I am facing old age alone and that is not a good thing. As a child I spent a lot of time alone and I learned to entertain myself and I also became rather self relient. But, I have often wondered what it would be like to have siblings. I’ll never know.

  6. I grew up in a large family, the 2nd to the youngest. It was war the moment my parents stepped out of the house. Because there were so many kids, there wasnt money for swim or piano lessons. I rarely got attention from my parents when i needed them, and would hide to get time alone – mostly to be relived from all the bossing and teasing. When I grew up, I purposely had an only child. I have the money for private schools, music lessons, whatever she needs. My daughter is self sufficient, confident and has many friends. She also knows how to be alone. If you ask her, she will say she wishes she had a sister, but after spending a day at her friends house who has 2 siblings, she will report she is happy to be an only. She has cousins and lots of friends her age – she wont be alone in her old age. I think having a 2nd child for the sole reason to keep your first company is a weak reason, and can backfire. Ive known several people who never liked their siblings growing up, or as adults. So its no guarantee they will like each other, let alone be close.

  7. I don’t believe this. Only children are spoiled rotten? I see lots of kids with siblings who are spoiled rotten and have bad manners. I came from a family of 4, I was the oldest girl. Not close to my sisters now and we fought almost all of the time growing up. I just remember my parents being tired all of the time. I would have given anything some days for fifteen minutes of peace and quiet. I have one child, and this kid is kind, smart, funny and gets wonderful grades. We’re a happy family.

    1. Oops, sorry Vero, forgot to put my sarcasm icon in the text. What I meant was that only children have more, since they don’t have brothers and sisters to share with, or taking away from the finances, and sarcastically I quipped “who would want that”? Don’t worry, I have lots of friends who are only children, as well as know of many kids nowadays without siblings, who are the farthest thing from brats.

  8. Argh- I guess typed too much and timed out..
    Great question and a tough one.
    I had two younger brothers and am grateful for it. The one problem though, was that growing up we always had other families living with us and each with their own kids. It was great for games of hide and seek but difficult when I wanted privacy or the attention of just my parents.
    That all quickly changed at 12 and I was forced to watch my youngest brother- me 12 him 6.
    I grew up fast. My son is an only child and is spoiled but balanced.I naturally want for him what I didn’t have.
    Recently he got to spend the weekend with his cousin who came to visit last weekend. After a quick run to the ER for an emergency appendectomy ( my nephew’s) and a chance for me to spend some time with mymiddle brother, it made me appreciate family even more. We all, including WC mom and her kids, my Mom and step dad, shared a great meal together and spend some quality time visiting.
    It was a joy to watch my son come out of his shell and just be teen while he and his cousin played video games.
    It’s a sliver of what the future may hold as he eventually will have “siblings” Oh the stories/blogs that can come from that 🙂 to be continued….

  9. Haha! After reading these comments, I suddenly recall how I would bemoan to my besties growing up that I wished that I had a sibling…to which they emphatically reply ‘NO you DON’T’ and go on to enumerate every aggravation and irritation their sisters or brothers had heaped up on them in recent days.

    They still never convinced me all the way.

  10. I’m an only child and I like it! I’m 36 and I still like it that I don’t have to share my parents attention or other resources. With a husband, two small kids of my own, and a demanding job in social services, my day-to-day life is never about ME. But with my parents, it’s ALL about me. I love that. I’m glad I’m an only and I’ve never wished for a sibling. Maybe because I don’t know anything different? I honestly never recall feeling lonley as a child.

    I think the only downsides are that I never learned to share (and I’m still not good at it) and that when my parents can no longer care for themselves, I have no siblings help me with them. The upsides, for me, are too numerous to mention.

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