Kelly Flannigan Bos: The Relationship Rescuer


Why Your Only Child Is Going To Be Just Fine

Debunking the seven most common stereotypes of only children

I am an only child.

I remember an acquaintance once asking me if we would have another child, I sort of vaguely answered that maybe when the time was right, etc. She rather smugly replied “Oh, you would be having a child for you then. I would be having a second for my son.” I have just had a second child but never felt that having him was for the sake of my daughter. I felt my daughter would be fine and happy as an only as I was a very happy only child, never craving siblings. It was a blessed childhood full of good memories, further enriched by spending time with my parents friends' children and enjoying friendships in my neighbourhood growing up.

In a University class discussion we were grouped into birth order and the last little group consisted of the only's. Our exercise was to talk about the stereotypes. We determined that the eldest were helpers, rule followers and enforcers; the middle siblings feel ignored, misbehave, and comfortable with having others around; the youngest were low maintenance, helpless, and get away with everything.

The only child was practically given the negatives of all of them.

Being an only was equated with being a disease in the opinion of American researcher Granville Stanley Hall; in his (slightly?!) prejudicially named 1896 study, “Of Peculiar and Exceptional Children.” Bill McKibben in his book Maybe One says the study was anecdotal and meaningless but was the only study on only children at the time, so held for that reason. Susan Newman, a social psychologist that authored the book Parenting an Only Child says the myths have passed through generations.

Here are seven widely believed stereotypes of only children...

1. They miss out:

People often assume that only children are sad that they don't have brothers and sisters. I don't miss my fictional siblings; I never had them. It would be a bit like one grieving a non-existent third brother. We have all seen beautiful relationships between siblings and those that are frightful.

2. They are anti-social:

In my experience I have not found this is accurate. There were actually three of us of about eight on our counselling team, which given our professional interest seems a pretty socially conscious bunch.

3. They are spoiled:

Being spoiled is not particular to family make up, we all know spoiled big sisters, catered to little brothers, and placated middles. But I agree there is no division of resources, time, and attention that happens between multiple children that can affect some families.

4. They feel lonely:

One is the loneliest number? I wouldn't describe my childhood as lonely yet I know some friends, those with and without siblings that would.

5. They spend more time with adults:

Again this depends on the family. But one thing is true, one kid is kind of portable. You can likely travel or attend social events a bit more with only one. In larger families finances and logistics would likely dictate a different plan.

6. They get their own way:

I think again this isn't specific to only children. I can see those with a bossy older siblings and those siblings to a youngest, where you always had to let them get their way to circumvent a tantrum, nodding their heads in agreement.

7. They are Independent:

Like all of the above some only kids are and some aren't. Only children might have to play more on their own which they may or may not prefer.

Lauren Sandler's book One and Only also challenges this image and fear around only children being—lonelyselfishmaladjusted—a description used by Toni Falbo, the leading researcher dedicated to only child studies to describe the angst around and view of only children. Sandler's research shows that there is little evidence to support the stereotypes, many studies that don't. She says “On loneliness: as kids, we’re usually fine...As adults, we face the logistical and existential nightmare of our parents’ aging and death alone. But the good news is we develop the strongest primary relationships with ourselves. On selfishness: as long as we go to school, we’re plenty socialized to play well with others. On maladjustment: we’re fine. In fact, we’re pretty fantastic. “

As it turns out one-child families are on the rise with the number of only children homes doubling since the 1960s to 1 in 5 families. So if you are an only or you have decided to stop at one child everything is going to be okay. Don't worry about the people who fear for your child, judge you as selfish or think you are depriving your child. The research says we only's are largely undistinguishable from other groups, growing in numbers, and doing just fine!

If you enjoyed this article, check out: The Gwyneth Wars and Why Do Moms Feel the Need to be PERFECT?