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Does my daughter need a sibling?
Q: Should I have another child? I am a single mother with a 3½-year-old daughter. I know it will be much additional stress for me, but I don't want her to be lonely now while playing nor later in life. She does not have any friends her age and spends most of her time with me. She is always looking for children to play with. She will be starting pre-k this September if she gets potty trained. I am also worried about losing the closeness that the two of us share if I have another child. What is your advice?
A: Your question is very similar to one I received from a mother named “Amy,” and I urge you to check out my answer to her. I think most of the things I wrote to Amy are also appropriate for your situation. However, yours has an added dimension: you are a single mother. This means that all the expense, the work, the never-ending need for time and attention and, most importantly, the need for love will fall primarily on you.

I could have stopped with the word “expense,” because the financial burden associated with being a single mother generally means chronic stress and a never-ending struggle to make ends meet. Just as two cannot live as cheaply as one, three cannot live as cheaply as two. Even though you might be able to use hand-me-down clothing with another child, there will be more food, additional health care costs, school supplies and fees, etc. Furthermore, by the time you have another baby, your daughter will be so old that it will be difficult for them to become true playmates for many years. In other words, give serious thought to all that is involved in having another child; it is far more than producing a playmate for your daughter.

It is normal and desirable for a 3½-year-old to want to play with other children. I would say that finding a way to meet that need is a far more pressing problem than the fact that she is an only child who spends time with few people other than you. I don’t, however, mean to minimize the importance of the time you spend with her, for she needs a great deal of that. Not getting to spend much time with their parents is, for preschool children, more likely to be a problem than a lack of opportunity to play with other children.

To help her make friends, try to get her involved in some sort of playgroup two to three times a week. Many church groups and other organizations like the YWCA offer Mother’s Day Out programs that give children an opportunity to play with each other and use toys that stimulate development. Being in such a program on a part-time basis might also help with her toilet training. If she sees other children use the potty it may stimulate her to do so herself. Then you wouldn’t have to worry about whether she will be able to attend the pre-kindergarten program in the fall.

So I urge you to look at the big picture before you make your decision. As long as she has your love and support, your daughter should be able to do just fine. Because of the family situation, hers might not be an easy life, anyway. But not having a brother or sister will in no way handicap her.

Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education