When an Only Child Raises Siblings: Uncharted Territory


raising siblingsI am an only child raising siblings, and I have no idea what I am doing.

Let’s be honest here. Do you really know what you’re doing on this journey called parenthood? Wisdom indeed comes with age. Since becoming pregnant with my first child five years ago, I have certainly acquired some wisdom. More than anything, however, I have learned that it’s okay that I don’t always know what I am doing, since there is no “right” way to parent.

Society saddles only children with an array of stereotypes. I think they’re all hogwash. To dispel a few:

  • Only children are selfish. To the contrary in my case. My parents are selfless people, and as I result, grew up understanding the importance of taking care of and giving back to others. If you model good behavior, your child will learn good behavior regardless of how many siblings he or she has. 
  • Only children are self-absorbed. Nope. At Christmas, I embarrassingly and awkwardly sat under the tree alone opening gifts while everyone stared at me. Am I thankful? You bet. Am I spoiled? Yes, probably. But do I think I deserved any of that? Not even a little. I grew up knowing that I was, literally, just a tiny speck on this planet Earth along with countless other tiny specks of all different kinds. If you teach your child values, including the importance of being thankful, he or she will have values in spades.
  • Only children are sheltered and over-protected. In my case, this is true, but only because of the nature of my family’s personality traits (you know, crossing the street, being out at night, etc.). But, when it came to important life lessons, my parents made sure I understood reality. Did I get a bad grade because I neglected to study? That was on me. No way were they advocating on my behalf for my own mistake. 
  • Only children are bored and lonely. In some ways, yes. Family vacations were often slightly boring during adolescence. Imagine being 12-years-old on a beach vacation with your mom and dad (awkward!). But in all other ways, I wasn’t ever lonely. I always had a lot of friends and joined many activities in school. I spent (and still do spend) much of my time with my mom and her sister (my aunt and essentially second mother), and I always felt like that was good enough. Additionally, I have always been extremely independent and self sufficient. Sure, I spent a lot of time alone at home, but I never knew any different. As a result, I spent my time reading books, doing art, playing pretend, and playing with my pets (of which I had many). This has frankly made my transition into life as a mom, which can be very isolating, much easier. I am very good at finding things to do that do not involve other people. 
  • Only children are awkward and anti-social. Am I awkward? Sure. But aren’t we all in some ways? I march to the beat of my own drummer, and I don’t consider that a problem. And who is to say I’m this way because of my lack of siblings? The world may never know. And frankly, I hope my kids march to the beats of their own drummers too.

Have I missed any stereotypes?

Here I am, a mom of two kids, and I have zero clue how to navigate their relationship as siblings. While I am confident that my upbringing as an only child did not hamper my development into adulthood, I am equally as confident that my lack of experience with sibling relations is one of the reasons why I question myself daily when parenting.

My inexperience with sibling relations shows in the following ways:

  • My kids are often having so much fun together that they (literally) spin in circles around the house and hear nothing of what I say. It’s hard to discipline them when they are doing exactly what I want them to do – get along.
  • When my daughter wants to play alone, and my son cries, it breaks my heart to tell him to leave her alone. The line between sharing and personal space is so blurry. Boundaries are hard. I never dealt with this problem, unless my dog sat on my homework.
  • If my daughter is home, my son will not nap because he wants to be with her, but she wants to be alone with me. I am in a Catch-22 (and mommy is mean, of course).
  • They often both want me at the same time, and I never know how to appease the one who has to wait. I always feel like I’m permanently scarring one of them.
  • I alternate who gets to choose the red bowl, spoon, or fork on a given day. That seems fair, right? Sometimes nobody gets a choice because, again, mommy is mean.
  • My daughter is a mini-me and my son is a mini-dad. As a result, my daughter’s interests align with mine, and my son’s interests align with my husband’s. I don’t want to unconsciously draw a male/female line down the middle of our house because our interests happen to align that way.
  • What if they don’t like each other when they’re adults? Will it be because of something I did or didn’t do? When they’re at each other’s throats at my funeral, will they be blaming their failed relationship on the “Cheerios incident?”
  • What if one of them thinks I love one of them more than the other? What if I spent too much time doing arts and crafts with my daughter? Or what if I spent too much time cuddling my son on the couch? 
  • Did my daughter get enough attention during toddlerhood? Was I too distracted to give her the attention she needed because I was consumed with the needs of my very cranky and very hungry infant?
  • Did my son get enough attention during infancy? Was I too distracted to give him the attention he needed because I was consumed with the needs of my chatty and whiny toddler? 

And, confession time: Sometimes, when my kids are loving on each other, my heart sinks just a little because I see what I missed out on.

After only two and a half years, their bond is so great, with neither one of them knowing life without the other. I am infinitely lucky to be their mom and to witness their relationship blossom. Though, I would be lying if I did not admit that I wonder what my life would have been like had I experienced that bond with someone else. 

It’s a bittersweet feeling – knowing that you gave to your children something that you did not have. And most days, when they are running around me in circles, snatching toys away from one another, pulling each other’s hair, or jumping on the beds despite my pleas not to, I will throw my hands up in the air and wave my white flag. Winging it is the name of my game.

As the years pass, I hope they continue to hold onto each other and realize how much I love them. And one day, they’ll read this post and realize that I basically had my fingers crossed behind my back their entire childhood praying that I wasn’t screwing them up. Fingers crossed.

Are you in uncharted territory as a mom? Comment below!


  1. I loved this post…I’m in an opposite position. Oldest of four kids myself, raising what is increasingly likely to be an only child. I’m constantly feeling guilty over those missed relationships and alternately grateful for all the opportunities my daughter won’t have to miss out on because of resource division. I think everyone has perceived gaps in their family life (I, as the oldest, always wished I had an older sister or brother), but we fill them through close friendships or cousins or any way we can. The number of people in a house is less important than the love they share with each other.

  2. I found this when I googled “only child raising siblings.” I am the child you described. I felt the the Christmas presents part so personally. All of the points. And I’m sitting here watching my 3 year old let my 11 month old pull her hair and crawl all over her. Then the tiny one pulls a little too hard and my oldest pushes her down. I’m sitting here wondering when parents are supposed to intervene. Lol it was not a hard push, but she just learned how to walk so she tips over easily. Sharing? I’m working that out too. I have always been an over sharing, generous person, but I never had a sibling to share with 24/7 so that’s new. I enjoyed this article and feel better knowing others are just winging it too. I hope your kids are still as close as when you wrote this. Thanks for sharing!


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