Are only-children selfish?

There’s a lot to be said for having siblings. They are built-in playmates, occasional scapegoats and late-night confidants.

But what about those children who grow up sans siblings? One dad made the case this week in the blogosphere that these only children are inherently obnoxious and selfish. He traces that selfishness back to equally selfish parents who are “doing a huge disservice” to their children by not giving them a sibling.”

“These kids also don’t seem to know how to play well with other kids. Yes, they can get along, but there’s always something a bit off with them,” he writes here.

I have two children, but I was offended for the parents of only children everywhere­­­—the ones who simply could not have more and the ones who did not want more children.

There are definite advantages to having siblings, and not just for the kids. As a mom, having two children has been so much easier than one. They can play together. They teach each other lessons about sharing, kindness and competition that are more valuable than anything I could say. And they love each other immensely.

But, that is not why I had a second child. I had a second child because I felt it was best for my family—including me.

So if a parent decides having one child is best for the family as a whole, then that is the best decision. An only child whose parents are sane because they knew their child-rearing limits is far better off than a child whose parents are basket-cases because they felt pressured to birth a playmate for their firstborn. I say good for any parents who are realistic about who they are.

I always wanted five children back in the days when I slept through the night and all my body parts pointed in the right direction. But after my first daughter was born, I trimmed my baby-making expectations back to three. Tops. No on can judge that decision because no one is me. And I won’t judge any parent who stops at one child—or none, for that matter.

There are also many better solutions for an egocentric child than to produce a sibling to steal some of the limelight. That has way more to do with parenting and family values than anything else.

One of my favorite families, for example,  is a couple who have an only child, a daughter who is now in college. These three are the tightest-knit family I have ever met. The daughter doesn’t have an ounce of selfishness in her. There may have been times when she wished for a sibling, but she has things other children don’t. She has two parents who are also her best friends.

The goal isn’t numbers—it is a loving family, whether that means a house full of eight children or just one.

Do you think only children are selfish? What about their parents?


  1. Momof7

    I’ve had this conversation several times with other parents including those with only one child. It has been my observation that a single child usually is more selfish in part because they tend to get what they want. Having said that, it really comes down to how the child is raised. I have two couples in mind. One couple was only able to have one child, the other chose to have just one. The parents of the first family are very generous and their daughter is too. The other parents are very selfish individuals and the reason they chose to only have one was so their daughter would get everything they were not able to get (having grown up with multiple siblings). As far as the parenting capabilities are concerned. For most people–yes there are exceptions–our capacity to take care of more than one or two or three grows as long as we are willing to try. I know that when I had number 4, I thought there was no way I could have more. I was wrong. I often hear “How do you do it?” My response is “They came one at a time.”

  2. Danny Chipman

    At first I thought this post was in reference to the recent article about China’s single-child policy crisis. Chinese researchers have found that single children there grow up spoiled and dependent and are unable to function cohesively in society as adults.

    The blogger dad is painting with a pretty broad brush. I’m sure there are a lot of spoiled only-children. And I’m sure there are a lot who are sweet as pie. It depends on how the parents raise them, like in any family, regardless of the number of children.

    I agree, though, there are a lot of valuable lessons that children learn best when they have to live with siblings. I think the reality of adult life doesn’t end up being such a harsh wake-up call for them.

  3. John Charity Spring

    Momof7 is absolutely and irrefutably correct. An only child who is an only child by choice is invariably selfish, mean, and obnoxious. In essence, the child imitates the selfishness of his parents.

    Parents who purposefully chose to have only one child commit an incredibly selfish act. Unfortunately, far too many are doing so. Once they have a child, they realize that raising a child takes a great deal of time and takes away opportunities to use Facebook and play video games.

    With this sort of deliberate selfishness on the part of the parents, is it any surprise that the only child is selfish as well? No

  4. citygrrl

    Being an only child can be really hard. I know, because I was an only until I was almost 7. For me, I struggled socially — not because I was selfish but because I didn’t learn how to insert myself into playing with other kids. I was, and remain, exceedingly good at entertaining myself. I don’t see how anyone could think that people are selfish simply because they were an only child; if anything, kids from big families have to scramble to get what they want and are probably far pushier than the only kids. It’s hard to have so much parental attention focused on you — believe me, it’s no luxury. As for whether or not parents who stop at one are selfish themselves, how many kids people have is very personal. And JCS, let me remind you that life existed before Facebook.

  5. Erin R.

    My husband is an only child and he’s fine. He never missed having siblings and actually sometimes wished his mom would let him do more things on his own instead of joining him. His mind works a little differently on certain things, having grown up not ever having to accommodate anyone else (don’t eat the last piece of pie because someone else might want some, etc.). But he is the kindest, best person I know. He looks out for me, wants me to be happy and does favors and unselfish things for me all the time. I think he was a pretty easy and well behaved child who grew into a wonderful man. Each family and each individual is different. Many larger families end up with several “good” children and one who gives the parents a real run for their money. So it’s no use making judgments about people and their choices because there is not one right way, there are many right ways.

    I have great respect for the author and her understanding and compassion.

  6. Rick

    Every family situation has pros and cons, so it’s not worth worrying about it too much or having more children to fix a supposed problem. Best just to try and make of your life the best you can, whatever the situation. That being said, I think there’s no question that selfishness is a challenge for only children, because they didn’t have as many opportunities to learn tolerance and sharing growing up. They can definitely still learn it, but that’s their particular challenge to overcome. We all have challenges of some sort.

    Along those lines, we still have our children share a bedroom, and will forever, even though we have enough rooms that in our home that they wouldn’t necessarily need to. Why? Because we feel that it is particularly important to learn how to share a room with someone else you are not always happy with. Good marriage prep :-). And definitely good prep for college living.

Leave a comment encourages a civil dialogue among its readers. We welcome your thoughtful comments.