by Colleen Davis
Source: Island Parent Magazine
Originally Published: April 2017
Study after study has shown that only children are just as likely to grow up to be happy, successful, socially adept adults as kids from larger families. This is why I find the archaic but surprisingly prevalent “only child” stigma a bit puzzling. I’ve received looks of pity when I tell people our daughter is going to be our only kid. When I clear up the confusion and tell them it’s by choice, the expression turns slowly to dismay. There are a lot of misconceptions about what it’s like to be or raise an only child.
If you’re a fulfilled parent of one child, that’s great! Welcome to the club. Let’s bust some myths:
Only children are lonely. Let’s face it: loneliness isn’t about being physically alone. Loneliness is the result of not feeling connected to others, specifically your peers. I know plenty of people with multiple siblings who experienced extreme loneliness as a child. And the kind of loneliness you feel when you are surrounded by others is by far the worst kind.
My parents must have felt like they had a litter, because my friends never left. Okay, this is an exaggeration, but my point is that my parents welcomed friend after friend into our home for sometimes totally insane lengths of time, because they were allowing me to take the time to build meaningful connections with my peers. I was even allowed to take a friend on a road trip to California during the summer between the ninth and tenth grades. Mum and Dad got from point A to point Z and everywhere in between, safely, and calmly, with two star-struck, boy-crazy, Cheeto-dust-covered 14-year-old girls in the backseat. Let that sink in for a minute. Yeah.
Only children are spoiled. Being spoiled is an attitude, not a circumstance. It’s true that only-children don’t need to share attention or resources with anyone, but that does not mean they are getting everything they ask for. Many families have one child because they can’t afford more. If there isn’t any money for the new toy, the only child is going to hear “not today” just as often as the kid with three siblings.
Only children are not spoiled, but they do sometimes have access to more opportunities. If parents want their child to go to private school, there is only one tuition fee. Same with summer camps, field trips and extracurricular activities. Engagement in these activities just goes further in fostering self-esteem and healthy relationships with others.
Only children are selfish. Because only children don’t have siblings to cling to or torment when they’re bored, they must put in the effort of making close friends early. Kids have an extraordinary sense of justice and fairness—being selfish isn’t going to fly! Making friends during childhood—as in adulthood—relies on kindness and loyalty. The only child knows that to make and keep a friend, she has to share her things and not blab secrets. She learns selflessness from an early age because she has to. Siblings can’t leave, but friends can.
Only children are too dependent. Parents with only one kid are busy people too. They simply don’t have time to do everything for their special snowflake. With parental guidance and support, the only child learns new skills and completes tasks on their own. This results in early independence and self-reliance.
Only children are burdened with looking after aging parents all alone. Yep, it’s hard to think about. But you know what? Chances are the only child will be an adult at this point, one with a supportive partner and a kid or two of their own. I know it’s not the same as having a sibling to lean on. But there is a reason we call our partner’s parents “father-in-law” and/or “mother-in-law”: they are family. This is going to be a hard time for practically everyone, regardless of family size or marital status.
The up-side? There will be no bickering between siblings to get in the way of choosing the best care for parents.
Only children don’t grow up to be “successful” adults. What do Anthony Hopkins, Charlize Theron, Natalie Portman, Chelsea Clinton, Eleanor Roosevelt, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, John Lennon, John the Baptist, Leonardo da Vinci and Mahatma Gandhi all have in common? You guessed it: each one is an only child. Now, I suppose it depends on your definition of successful, but I would venture to say that all these people align with pretty much everyone’s idea of success in one way or another.
Numerous birth-order studies covering the topic of only children have found that their parents’ undivided attention and a lack of sibling rivalry gives “onlies” the confidence to freely explore their natural aptitudes.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. Parents of one experience many of the same struggles as parents of more. Some nights I get so little sleep that I look for the cereal in the fridge and the milk in the cupboard and get angry that they’re not where they’re supposed to be. My toddler heckles and throws food at me like I’m the worst stand up comedian she’s ever seen. My husband and I only have two functioning ears between us because of that weird pterodactyl noise she makes. Knowing we’ll only go through these little phases once puts everything in perspective, and somehow makes us a little more patient when we’re wiping snot off our shoulders at 2 a.m.
If you’re currently of the “one and done” mindset and feeling societal pressure to have another baby, keep the above mentioned points in mind. I prefer to call our choice “one and fun,” because it is. Our family feels complete and happy and cozy. Our hearts are full. It’s a one-derful life.
Don’t worry, your only child will be okay. I mean, I turned out just fine. Just ask my imaginary friend.
Colleen Davis is a mother and only child who is still learning how to share pie.
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