Raising Kids as an Only Child

I am an only child. I grew up in a house with my parents and I never had to share their love, never had to share my things, never had to compete for my parents’ attention. When I needed them, they were there.

I am now the parent of two little boys. Two. It seems like such a small number, but it is so much greater than one. And I’m still trying to figure out how it works.

That's the Brugh Family Band a few years ago. See how there's two kids there? And only one of me? THAT'S TWICE AS MANY CHILDREN AS I GREW UP WITH. (Photo Credit: Katy Tuttle Photography)

Growing up, I felt lucky to have my parents all to myself. There were times I was envious of a friend’s big sister – times it would have been nice to have someone just a bit older to talk to and look up to – but I never really felt like I was lacking. Where some friends struggled to keep things for themselves, I willingly gave things away. Where some friends longed for time and space to be alone, I had plenty of both. While some friends bickered and screamed and fought with siblings, I never had to do any of that. It was just me.

A lot of people felt bad for me as an only child. They thought I must be lonely, that I must have longed for a sibling to play with. But I never knew any different. My life was rich and satisfying. I learned to talk comfortably with adults early on. I was perfectly content to spend an evening among my parents and their friends. I enjoyed the company of adults. And I enjoyed getting their full attention. I was happy as an only.

My husband, also an only child, had a similar experience. He had plenty of kids around, spent plenty of time with adults, and never longed for it to be any other way. Because of this, we were both rather baffled about what to do after we had our first child. Did we want another only? Did we want him to have a sibling? It was a difficult choice, honestly, and one we never quite managed to make. Our youngest son made the choice for us, surprising us with a tiny little line on a pregnancy test on Mother’s Day, his tiny little heartbeat sneaking into our lives.

We hadn’t exactly planned for him yet, but we were happy about him. Happy, and thoroughly confused. “Oh god,” we realized, “we’re going to have TWO.”

For people who’ve never experienced two, two is a huge number. It introduces so many more variables. What would they be like together? Would we be able to handle them both? Would they get along? Would we have enough time and energy to balance two?

We’re five years into having two kids, and we’re still asking those same questions. It’s a completely astonishing reality for both of us. They fight, and we don’t understand why they’re fighting. One smacks the other – completely out of nowhere – and we don’t understand why it happened. They scream and bicker one minute, then laugh and play the next, and we watch it all unfold with our mouths agape, staring at each other. The whole thing is a complete mystery to us both.

The confusion stems from a total lack of understanding. We don’t understand why they fight the way they do. We don’t understand why they seek out confrontation with each other. We don’t understand why they insist on stealing each other’s toys and destroying each other’s creations. And we don’t understand how, through it all, they continue to play together and love each other without bitterness. They don’t hold grudges against each other. They understand each other in a way I will never understand another person.

This understanding is why they’ve had a bond from the start. They’ve loved each other fiercely from the beginning, and as much as they fight and argue and steal each other’s stuff, they really do accept and adore each other. They miss each other when they’re apart all day. They spontaneously share treasured toys and treats when I least expect it. They make each other laugh more than I ever thought possible. And that part makes me endlessly thankful that they have each other. No matter how tumultuous their relationship might seem, they will always have each other. They will always have one person who understands. One person that gets how annoying their parents can be. One person, apart from their parents, who will support them and love them, even when they don’t want to. One person, apart from their parents, who will be there. No matter what.

The love between my children is unique and stronger than I ever could have anticipated. Having children, two children, has shown me that there are so many different kinds of love – so many different forms and expressions of it. And I am so deeply, wonderfully grateful that my kids will get to experience so much of it.

I loved being an only child. I truly believe there’s so much to be said for never having to wonder if your parents love you best. And yet, I’m so thankful to split my love between these two brothers. And I’m so deeply grateful for the love they share between them.

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