parent opinion

'Will she grow up feeling lonely?' What it's like raising an only child as a single mum.

Having an only child, for whatever reason, may sound like an easy gig compared with someone who has three children. 

However, it comes with its own stresses, so much so that there are numerous Facebook groups dedicated to mothers of only children to discuss these challenges and groups supporting adults that were raised as an only child. 

I have one daughter aged four, and I have been a single mother to her since she was 18 months old.

Watch: Angela Bishop never thought she would be a single mum. Post continues after video.

Video via No Filter.

It has broken me to see her feel such loneliness of not having a sibling or another parent at home with us. 

When she was three years old, as I was driving us home one day after a playdate with her little friend, she started to sob and say, 'I want a family too.'

I knew it was because her little friend we met with was with his two parents and older sister. All I could do was remind her that she does have a family, of her dad, cousins and grandparents, but they just live somewhere else. What more could I say? 

She was also complaining for a brief while, "I want a baby sister." Once again my heart broke as sadly, I had given up on finding another partner after separating from her father.

When I was later talking to a friend who’d just had a baby, she made a comment that led me to worry even more. 

She told me that growing up as an only child, she found it lonely and that friendships were challenging as she tried to "latch on to" and get closer to people than they really wanted. She said this is why she’ll aim to have another baby so her son isn’t an only child too. 

Will she grow up feeling lonely without siblings?

Since that comment, I’ve really wanted to know what it will be like for my daughter growing up as an only child. 

There are many posts from those Facebook support groups that resonate with what my friend said. One woman commented how lonely she was growing up, not having anyone to talk to or play with when she got home from school every day. 

Now an adult, she also has had to deal with the repercussions of the death of her parents, alone. She said she was now at pains to give her child a sibling, having gone through what she has. 

There are many more posts like this, asking other "adult onlies" for support on how to deal with such loneliness. 

Growing up with three sisters, I’ve learnt how helpful it has been to draw upon them during challenging times. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to not have that support. 


However, it is also known that siblings aren’t always so helpful and can cause a lot of stress. There are even situations where siblings have major fallouts due to disputes over family estates.

A few of my friends and work colleagues who were only children say they have just drawn on their friends a lot for support in times of need. As one told me, "Family really are the friends you choose." This sentiment is also reflected in many other similar comments in the Facebook support groups.

What it's like raising an only child as a single mum.

The implications of her being an only child to a single mum have also concerned me. Without another adult in the home, she watches me do everything for us alone, sometimes struggling and not having a source of emotional support at home. I don’t want her to worry about me. 

There’s no other adult in the home, for instance, to help button up her jacket or help her when she’s stuck with a toy. I pull myself away from the housework to help her, which means it then takes longer to do it and the more time she spends playing on her own. In the end, I feel like she loses. 

Her father sees her a couple of times a week, but the day to day is all on me. No one else does the pickups or drop offs or helps to look after her a few hours a week - the help I hear many other families have. 

I try to remind myself that her seeing me be a strong independent woman, coping financially and emotionally, will be beneficial so she can see that she doesn’t ever have to depend on a man for the wrong reasons.

Listen to No Filter and join Mia Freedman as she chats to Ally Collier about what it's like raising a baby alone. Post continues after podcast.

Will she grow up spoilt?

Then there is the misconception and stigma around only children, that they will grow up to be spoilt. I realise I have control over this. 

Nowadays, I have access to so many parenting resources to educate myself on how to ensure she won’t be. My friends and other only children I know don’t seem to be spoilt and are quite generous.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that famous and successful only children include former United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Leonardo da Vinci. The stories of these only children give me hope, that though my daughter may need to rely more on some trusted support outside of the family, she should be fine. 

The other positive I am learning to embrace is the quality time I get one on one with her. I know we share a special bond having spent so much time together, particularly in the first few years of her life during the pandemic, and with me having time to focus only on her.

I know there are many other single parents who can only have one child, whatever the reason may be. What I’ve learnt is there are positives and negatives to each situation and all I can do is give her all my love and provide her the most supportive environment I can.

The author of this story is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons.

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