Tuesday Newsday – “Only Child Syndrome” Debunked?

July 27th, 2010

My One & Only

If you don’t know me, know that we have one child. If you do know me, then you know that’s how it will stay.

This is a choice. Not something thrust upon us unwillingly due to unforeseen issues. I got pregnant in a month (can you say honeymoon baby?), had a great pregnancy (not nauseous more than once, but did gain 70 lbs.), a great birth (OK, 17 hours is a tad long, but it was complication-free). We have an amazingly well-behaved, brilliant daughter (her teenage years will bite us in the ass, mark my words), and if we wanted to, we could afford another child. But as I said, we have made our choice. As my husband likes to say, “We like our family the way it is.”

I was thrilled to read last week’s cover story of Time magazine, debunking myths and misgivings associated with having an only child. As this is becoming a more popular U.S. familial future (larger broods are certainly not passé, as I have several friends with two-plus beautiful kids), it was nice to see it finally get a little positive air time. In my experience, it has almost seemed like the parents of the only child are the “bastard stepchildren” of baby-making couples…acknowledged but then talked about behind their backs–how selfish they are, robbing their child of a sibling; how their only child will be spoiled, blah, blah, blah. Let’s face it, at least someone who has decided to have no children isn’t damaging a child the way we are by only having one. Quel parenting nightmare, my husband and me.

Now that recent sociological studies have shown actual positive notions behind being an only child (gasp!), maybe now the Stop & Shop bagger, the passenger next to me, the friend of my friend, the shoe store saleswoman will stop judging me, will stop belittling me, will stop telling me, “Oh, just you wait, you’ll have another one.” No, I won’t.

And who are we kidding, no they won’t. But I really don’t care. Just as I don’t care if you have chosen to have no children. Or you have chosen to have 12 children. “Care” isn’t the right word…More like I respect your decision because it’s just that…your decision. It’s not my business.

Truth be told, from this mom’s vantage point, I don’t think that my daughter’s being an only child is a disease that will cause her to be a permanent misfit or an oddball (no thanks, Granville Stanley Hall). I’m assuming she won’t be overprivileged, asocial, royally autonomous…self-centered, aloof and overly intellectual (whatever, Judith Blake). Or lonelyselfishmaladjusted. Sure, she might be indulged and highly protected, but what child shouldn’t be on some level?

The point is this: I love my child. If I had five, I would love my childREN. There are pros/cons to having one or having 5. But no matter how many you have, it’s your job to help them be amazing people–whether they have sisters and brothers, or a puppy and tons of friends. Just love them. Keep them safe. Give them some things, but not every thing. Teach them to work for what they want, but understand they might not get it. Let them experience happiness and sadness (tears of joy look the same as tears of heartache, and they are both profound). Every child is their own little person. Treat them as such.

It’s a conversation I have most weeks — if not most days. This time, it happens when my 2-year-old daughter and I are buying milk at the supermarket. The cashiers fawn over her pink cheeks and applaud when she twirls for them, and then I endure the usual dialogue.

“Your first?”


“Another one coming soon?”

“Nope — it might be just this one.”

“You’ll have more. You’ll see.”

“At the moment, I’m not planning on it.”

“You wouldn’t do that to your child. You’ll see.” Read more…

What do you think of the only-child topic, from myths to recent research to your own experiences? Tell me about your family. What was your reasoning behind your chosen number of kids?

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10 Responses to “Tuesday Newsday – “Only Child Syndrome” Debunked?”

  1. Joe Kennedy says:

    My view is this and it spans a lot more than Family size…

    Every one of us are 100% unique. We were sold a bunch of stories when we were young about princes and princesses, poor and success and in those stories people and there personalities were depicted in certain ways and as a youth we believed. We believed that wealth was happiness. We set goals of 2 children, a dog a cat and a fish. We thought there was someplace to get something to realize… a finish line. We established concepts like what is cool and what is right… when in truth there is nothing… There was no truth to what we were given… The truth is life is whatever works for you… Maybe that means marriage, maybe not, maybe kids, maybe not… Maybe you are happier in a cabin on a mountain top than in a city working every day. Maybe life in a 3rd world country on a beach fishing all day is not so bad after all….

    Point is there is no “Right” or “Correct”…. It’s what ever works for you ad the people in your life. You can have 1 child – you can have 10. The measure of success of you and your children should be simple. How much of your life and their life are they happy and smiling. That is a measure of success… The concept that there is a perfect or even a preferred only makes us compromise what is truly right for us as an individual. Have your one child and make them smile and you have provided all you need on your terms… you can not provide nearly as well on someone ideals – because they are not you – and you, your husband and your family are unique….

  2. Whitney says:

    As an only child, I have absolutely no problem with this decision. I was never lonely and think my parents did a great job not spoiling me with things. I was, however, completely spoiled with love (yeah, goofy, I know, but there’s no other way to say it) without being totally indulged and becoming a brat. It can be done.

  3. anita says:

    Very important article and concept with much to think about.

    I guess the only problem for me is the person who does have 12 or the octomoms with their 8 sized brood. Will they be well adjusted and loved children… perhaps just as much as the single child, but when does reason and concern for more than one’s personal heritage take over. When does a person/a couple take responsibility for more than their own loving “tribe”. There is a big world out there and we all bear some responsibility for not overcrowding it with all the pollution, extreme humger, extreme consumerism, etc. that follows. Yes, one has personal freedom and choice in many countries of the world, but with that choice has to come a sense of connect to the entire world and what it can reasonably tolerate. You can’t, or at least shouldn’t, leave your sense of a vulnerable future humanity at the bedroom door.

  4. hmmm….great topic!

    as one of 8, I have always “felt” for only children because I am sad they don’t have siblings. On 2nd thought, maybe they “felt” sad for me b/c I had to so many siblings! It is all about choice and what is best for you and your family.

    I get annoyed when people ask if I am going to have another one to “try for a girl”. As if my family is not perfect with 3 boys?

    I think sometimes people are just making conversation with you and don’t mean to be hurtful or rude in their comments. I know I’ve said it many times to friends who have all girls/boys—even though I don’t like when someone says it to me!

    great topic! i’m curious to see what others have to say. :)

  5. It’s your choice – YOUR choice. You shouldn’t have to explain to anyone WHY you like your family the way it is – anymore than I should have to explain to my MIL why so many of her friends have 4 grandchildren and she only has 2. I like my family the way it is. I’m HAPPY with two. I have friends who are happy with 6. Some who were happy with two and are now happy with three.

    Your daughter is divine because you are raising her, you are guiding her, you are loving her – and yet, she is still her own person.

    Good for you for addressing this and standing up proud to say you are HAPPY. And so is your daughter.


  6. Serge says:

    As an only child born a few days into the 70’s I did notice some of the attitude toward single children families, but really thought it was just that “old-timey” attitude left over from the 50’s and 60’s.

    Now that I’m the father of one little girl and plan on keeping it that way, I am so surprised at the attitudes toward our decision to stay with one child, or maybe I’m surprised at how many people feel free to be so vocal about it to my face! If there is a little anger from parents of one child that bubbles out every once in a while, for me it comes from people openly giving me a face like they smell something bad when I say I don’t plan on having another child. So it makes me happy to see someone taking “my side” for once.

    If you decide to have a child there is no guarantee having 1, 2, 3, or 8 will make their lives better or worse. Most of the time I really liked being an only child. I found the friends I needed to learn, be happy and be as normal/crazy as the next person. Except that issue I have of people touching my stuff.

  7. I’m an only child and I could not be more thankful. I see my friends with siblings and I don’t feel left out. My parents made a decision as a kid that I would be the only one. They wanted to provide for me the best life they could, which could only be done if there was just one of me. Our relationship is amazing as an adult and I cherish having all the attention. I wasn’t spoiled as a kid, but feel more than blessed as an adult. People always ask if I was lonely as a kid. I wasn’t. I had friends. My parents taught me to talk to adults early on in life.

    Your daughter is a lucky girl to have all the love she has!

  8. Leslie says:

    You know me and you know that I will NEVER EVER have kids. I don’t want kids, don’t like most kids…Just like some people “aren’t dog people”, well I am not a kid person. I can’t stand screaming kids in stores, restaurants, planes, etc. Most of the time when other people are ooo-ing and ahh-ing over them, I see nothing there except that something that will take up the rest of my life and money to sustain. I have no patience for them and that is one of the many reasons why I will never have them.

    You think you are treated like a mutant for only having one child? Try not wanting ANY!!!! If I hear “oh you will someday just wait” or “when you meet the right man you will” Guess what people? That train isn’t coming. You can wait if you want but you won’t get to your destination.

  9. Elisabeth (Girard) Olivera says:

    It’s great to see positive words about parenting an only child. I love being a mom of ‘one’ and it is completely by choice! As a parent, you are always observing them to see what lessons they need.Then, you try to give that support to them through conversations, rules, structure, activity… Being an only child, middle child, youngest child etc…are just some of the factors that influence the development of a human being. Being observant and honest to yourself about your own reality as a family and individual are the keys to success!

  10. Jenny says:

    well I’m sick of people asking me when we are going to “start” our family. My husband and I are a family and if we never “start” one does that mean we shouldn’t be acknowledged. Ridiculous. People should really mind their own business.

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