From Tracie: Raising An Only Child And Mom-Guilt

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Raising An Only Child And Mom-Guilt

My grandma died this summer. In very real ways I'm still processing that loss. There is this drive to check my facebook messages for a note from my family, until I remember, yet again, that she is gone, and those message strings are no longer being used.

I was nearly glued to my computer during the weeks she was in the hospital; refreshing facebook every few seconds, hoping for an update to appear. That is what it is like when you are on the other side of the country.

The thing that was so beautiful and comforting in my grandma's last days, was all of the family surrounding her. She had four children and what can sometimes seem like hundreds of grandchildren and great grandchildren, and all of us were there with her in some way, even if just on the phone for late night prayers and singing.

All this family meant she didn't have to be at the hospital or hospice alone.
All this family meant no one was left grieving alone.

It is a particular type of community, family. I have it. I have a family in my husband and daughter. And I have my mom. And I have all those extended relatives who live on the other side of the country. But I am, in very real ways, alone.

I am an only child. I can't help but think that if my mom landed in the hospital, there would be no siblings or adult grandchildren to carry that load with me. I'm it.

And my daughter, one day, she will be it.

I didn't set out to be the mom of an only child. Life just happened that way. She is eleven years old, and in many ways the sibling train has passed. As much as she asks for a little sister or brother, and as much as her father and I would love to giver her one, I don't know that there could be any real closeness with that eleven year age difference. It isn't like there would be late nights snuggled under the covers with a flashlight, whispering while your parents think you are sleeping. Or teaming up to convince mom and dad to buy a trampoline for the back yard.

Is that even what siblings do? I don't know. It is probably an idealized dream born from years of asking my own parents for a little sister. But it doesn't really matter, because a sibling is something my daughter doesn't have right now, and very possibly never will.

This is where the mom guilt comes in.

I see myself as the one who has relegated her to a life lived mostly alone. Of course, I dismiss the fact that she is not alone now, in our family of three, and the fact she will most likely build a family of her own one day. That she will have friends and lots of love in her life. Those rational thoughts have no place in the mom-guilt world. No, in mom-guilt world, she is eating cold soup out of a can and mumbling about the next word search in her puzzle book. All because she doesn't have a sibling. Never mind the fact I've never eaten cold soup out of a can in my sibling-less world.

These thoughts about family are nearer to the front of my mind now. When my mom tells me she had a rough week at work or isn't feeling well, I'm keenly aware of the distance between us in a way I wasn't before. I know that in her world, I'm it. I'm the kid she has (even though I'm not a kid anymore).

I now realize how much my grandma was the one who held all of our extended family together. Without her here, I see those connections slowly slipping. It makes me sad. I want to nurture those relationships, to make an effort to be close and share our lives with each other. I want all of us to be on each other's must-call lists for big and small moments in our lives. I want conversations, and laughter, and memories. Not just for me, but also for my daughter; who is an only child, but doesn't have to be alone.

*NaBloPoMo - Day 5.


  1. Traci, my mom is an only child and I have heard I say much of what you said above after my own grandmother passed away a few years ago. Thankfully she had very close cousins, but still when my grandmother was indeed sick towards the end of her life, my mom was her only caregiver and she did it gladly as she loved her mother, but still I know how hard it was on her. I am not an only child, so can truly only imagine, but still you bring up all valid points as a mom to an only child, too. My mom also would say that being an only child has some perks, too like not having to share certain things and getting to enjoy some quality alone time, as well. Only her opinion and her two cents, but always loved how my mom could find the positive in this and just about anything.

    1. I'm so glad your mom had cousins to support her. Even though she was still the only caretaker, I know it made a difference to know that love was there.

      There are definitely perks to the only child thing. I don't know if my mom and I would be as close if as we are if her attention had been dived towards other children. It is hard to say. Although I'm sure there is love for all of your kids when you have more than one - my grandma was always good at showing love and spreading out her time to all of her offspring.

      Finding the positive is always a good thing!

  2. Came across your blog from NaBloPoMo. I'm an only child, and my mother was my only parent until she passed away last year. And all that you've said in your post - about wanting to share the burden and the weight and the grieving when your parent finally passes from this world to the next - all true. As the only child, we are It. But as the only child, we're also built to be quite resilient because we've always been The Only One. So I think it can work both ways. :-)

    1. I think you are right - there is some benefits to the side of being the only one and having learned that resiliency. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. My grandmother passed this summer too and I'm still reeling in it on some days. She loved November and it was her birth month too. She would have been 101.

    I come from five kids and Cassidy was an only child. We decided we only wanted one, until we decided on two and then Des came along. We would have been happy with one. Seeing them together is indescribable. However, Cassidy was raised an only child (had two half brothers but not in the same house and that was years later) and he learned such wonderful things on his own. He's strong. I think there are benefits to everything.

    1. I know we have talked about this before, but it can't be said enough that I'm sorry for your loss. It is so very hard.

      I love that you see that strength in Cassidy, and surely some of that does come from being an only child.

      It is a good thing to remember the benefits that come with being the only one. Most days, I'm better at that, so I'm thankful for all the reminders here in the comments on this day when my mind is focused elsewhere.

  4. I, my dear am the baby by 11 years. I have 3 older sisters and one of the three became like a second mom to me. Until she moved out on her own. Then things changed. I think it can work but it has to have work if that makes sense. With that gap the baby becomes more of a mini baby for her, without actually having one. It was probably one of the best things for my sister and one of the worst. There are days I felt like an only child because of the huge age gap and the vast chasm that still exists between many of us....

  5. I was an only for ten years, so I was moving on and out by the time my sisters were big enough to walk and talk. Now that they are adults, I finally know something of that sibling bond because we can finally relate. My husband is an only and his family is plagued by a long line of dysfunctional relationships so I doubt a sibling would have helped in his case. Together we wanted a big family and we are blessed with 8 living children. It is a blessing and a challenge to raise 8 different personalities and to try to teach them to love each other always. My grandmother had 6 and she really managed to teach all of them to stay close and support one another. I was actually the only one to fly far away and I occasionally feel guilty worrying that my own kids will want to get away from each other or me. I think as moms it is easy to find something to feel guilty or worried about, but that in and of itself is probably not a bad thing because it means we are trying to do our best. In the end, we can't control everything. Siblings are an awesome gift for children, but not every couple is so blessed and not all siblings end up being there for one another. My great-aunt had seven, two died young, one died later and in her final days there was only one daughter who bothered to be there and assume all of her care.

  6. So beautifully expressed, Tracie. I am a big believer that you were perfectly chosen for your precious daughter and her for you. There are blessings that come from being an only child- and there is strength and insight that comes from each on of our journeys in this world.

    Nothing is better than the other. No guilt needed my friend. Your girl, and you- and your mom? Intended. On purpose. Chosen.

  7. Oh goodness Tracie, I raised an only daughter too and was divorced when she was 14. I also worked full time and couldn't always be home. Tons of guilt, but she's grown now with 4 boys and happy. Calls me twice a week and we adore each other. I still dwell on the guilt a little, but I'm so thankful that I have her. God bless you and yours

  8. Beautifully written Tracie. I am an only child as well and I fear being alone on my side of the family. I am not close anymore with the cousins I have. I am fortunate to have an amazing inlaw family and God knows there are PLENTY of them to help me feel loved and supported. I have 3 sons and my middle one thanked me the other day for his brothers because he understood how lonely he"d be being an only child. As for mom guilt, we haveit no matter whatever decision we make. If you had more than one, you'd feel guilty as I often do of not being able to focus equal attention on all your kids. Great post though!

  9. I am from a big family (t have 8 siblings) but all my family and my husband's family are thousands of miles away. This weekend my husband and I were able to go and visit my family which was so wonderful and sad for me... as I watched my siblings with their children my thoughts were that it is so wonderful that they are able to have children to be with them and help them as they age ~ we were unable to have children. And as we left I felt sad as I go back to my own small little world and then back to my own home, leaving my husband miles away (he is working in another state).. Families are wonderful but even having one is a blessing and you should enjoy your child and not be guilty.

  10. My daughter is an only child. Right now it's all she knows because she's only 3 but I do worry about when she's older. I hope she doesn't resent my husband and I. Some days the guilt I have is really strong. She has no one but us to play with at home. I think about the day she asks why she doesn't have siblings. I have a brother and sister and I can't imagine life without my sister. The only thing that makes me feel a little better is that she has a lot of cousins around her age. I hope she can always have a tight bond with them. I have to admit that she is a little spoiled since it's just her. But I do notice she is so much more social than kids I know her age. I think that's pretty cool! Thanks so much for posting this. I can relate to a lot of it.
    Book Delight

  11. I have held off on reading this for a while - because I don't always quite feel that I am done with "just" my only child - or I sometimes feel I shouldn't be. And so I never know which side of things I fall on. And it hurts sometimes. Thank you for sharing this. <3 you, my friend.

  12. Thank you for sharing this. I don't have children, but as the time passes and my options narrow, I wonder about having one child. I have siblings so I don't know what it's like to be the only one. I appreciate your experience on this.

    I have a sibling who is almost 14 years younger than I. Growing up I was part parent / part sibling to her. Now that we are adults, there's still some of that, but we're also great friends. She keeps me younger, having older siblings helps her advance faster. It's definitely possible to have that close bond despite the age gap.

  13. I'm so sorry you lost your grandmother. My boys are 6 years apart and sometimes I wish they had less of a gap between them. Thanks to homeschooling, I think they've been able to form a much closer bond than they would have had with each other otherwise.

    Your family is perfect just they way you are. God knows exactly what Katarina! It still hard to picture the future free of some of our mom worries though, isn't it?