Why 'Only Child' Comments Are The Most Hurtful Comments I Hear From Other Parents

by Sam Temsah-Deniskin
Originally Published: 
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Hi, I know we’ve just met. Yes, our two children are playing happily together on the playground and therefore we are obligated and somewhat yearning to connect as parents, so small-talk ensues. Oh, both our kids are in preschool? Awesome! He’s sleeping through the night? Well done, you! But only 5 minutes into the chit chat, you say one of the most hurtful statements to me.

“She’s an only child, isn’t she?”

It stabs me in the heart and I pray my daughter didn’t hear you. For the sake of motherly camaraderie, let’s backtrack and I’ll explain.

As I proudly watched my daughter approach your son, summoning all her courage to touch his hand and ask if he wanted to jump on the wiggly bridge with her, you ask how old she is. Without taking my eyes off her, I tell you she’s 3, with a gleaming, proud smile. She is my heart and soul. She is my everything. Then I dismally watch on as the sweet scene instantly dissolves.

Your son throws a rock at my daughter, yells that he doesn’t want to jump on the bridge, and runs away screaming. Typical toddler behavior, I note to myself. But my sweet, brave, empathetic daughter scrambles to make eye contact with me, tears in her eyes, seeking reassurance that she didn’t do anything wrong. I quickly put on a smile and tell her that sometimes kids just don’t want to play and she did a great job putting herself out there.

My heart breaks a little, for I know this is just one of many hard lessons she will have to endure in her life. My daughter processes that information, wipes her eyes, and moves on to an irresistible twisty slide, smile back on her face. The tension leaves my shoulders as I sigh with relief. I look on adoringly and then it happens. The dreaded comment.

You had watched the whole interaction as you kept an eye on your boy. Cradling your newborn to your chest, you smugly say, “She’s an only child, isn’t she? She’s so sensitive.” You say it to me in a superior tone, as if you think my daughter’s empathy and sensitivity is a flaw of her being a singleton. You also say it as if adding a new baby to your family has inexplicably imbued your eldest with infinite worldly knowledge. I instantly shut down. “Yes,” I reply with annoyance as I walk toward my daughter, ushering her to another corner of the playground.

You’re not the first to say that to me and surely won’t be the last. But my one word answer makes you knowingly nod your head in validation of your child’s grit and what you perceive as my child’s flawed sensitivity. Only an “only” child would lack the resilience to move on immediately from such an interaction, right? As I walk away, you smirk to yourself.

“She’s an only child, isn’t she?” is one of the most hurtful and reckless comments on the playground. If you don’t know why, then let me explain.

First, you don’t know why she’s an only child. Based on how flippantly you throw out that question, I would guess that you have never experienced tragedy. True tragedy, because if you had you would think twice before saying such a seemingly innocuous sentence. The tragedy of miscarriage. The tragedy of losing a child. The tragedy of being separated indefinitely from your baby. The tragedy of not wanting to be a mother, but society or circumstance demands it of you. Or in my case, the tragedy of 10 years of fertility struggles.

Yes, the heavens and tens of thousands of dollars of fertility treatments (not counting endless hormone injections and painful surgeries) have blessed me with this beautiful, sweet angel of a daughter. Infertility is my life’s tragedy. But one that has miraculously ended with a healthy child. I am luckier than many in my situation. I am eternally thankful and couldn’t ask for more. She is a miracle. I physically and economically cannot have another. That is a harsh reality which I don’t try to dwell on. But, with your “only child’ comment, I would like to thank you for the blunt and hurtful reminder.

Second, please don’t say that within earshot of my daughter. Your insensitive comment delegitimizes my daughter’s feelings. Yes she is only a toddler, but your condescending tone makes your meaning quite clear. Even a 3-year-old has enough experience to pick up its negative connotation. The world is hard enough to navigate as it is, don’t shoot down the legitimate feelings of this person. Because that is what she is. My daughter is a human being with feelings. In fact, how about recognize instead that she has an emotional intelligence beyond her years? Or maybe instead of patting yourself on the back for being able to procreate more than once, take this moment to teach your son its not nice to throw rocks at people? Just a thought.

Also did you consider that your comment might make my daughter feel like there is something wrong with our family as it is? Don’t disparage her justified feelings and our wonderful little family by reinforcing the antiquated nuclear family stereotype that society constantly thrusts upon all women of childbearing age. Is empathy, sensitivity, and awareness of others a flaw of “only” children? Does not having a sibling make her a lesser person, a second-rate citizen? Are we not a perfect, happy family as we are?

Instead, challenge yourself to be more empathetic and aware of those around you… like my child. Look upon my sweet, sensitive, caring daughter and see her for what she truly is: A beautiful miracle, just like your rambunctious son and adorable newborn baby. They are miraculous and we should revel in their wonderful individuality.

Do you realize how lucky we are to even have children to bring to the playground? Celebrate life as it exists and don’t denigrate its beauty by harping on what it could be. And also recognize that words can harm when thrown about mindlessly. That’s a lesson I’m already instilling in my 3-year-old and one you’d do well to heed.

So to answer your question: Yes, she is an only child… and isn’t she glorious?

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