The Only Child Decision
Having children is an immensely personal and private decision. If you have decided to have only one child, or are considering stopping at one child, you may be facing some push back from family, friends, and strangers. Here are some facts that may help you feel better about deciding to have an only child, as well as some tips on how to deal with busy bodies and well-meaning family members who can’t fathom why you would make the decision not to have any more children.
Often enough, an only child is thought of as a social misfit who is selfish, spoiled, and not fun to be around. This idea seems to have come to the forefront from the words of child psychologist G. Stanley Hall. He has been credited as saying, “Being an only child is a disease in itself.” While we can’t go back in time to find out why Hall thought the way he did, looking at the culture surrounding him at the time may help. Over 100 years ago, children were a vital part of a family and were tasked with chores and responsibilities that helped the family survive. To Hall, an only child may have meant that the family would suffer without as many hands to tend to the farm, or help in the family business.
Children in China were thought to become “Little Emperors” because of the only child policy in place. However, research conducted on Chinese children for over 30 years has shown that “only children are not particularly spoiled,” and they found no difference in only children’s relationships with friends when studied with children who had siblings.
The myth that only children are bossy and aggressive has no real evidence behind it. According to Susan Newman, Ph.D., “Only children learn quickly that attempting to run the show, a ploy that they may get away with at home, doesn’t work with friends; and a bossy, aggressive attitude is a quick ticket to ostracism from the group. Lacking siblings, only children want to be included and well liked.”
It seems that there are many benefits to being an only child. Parents who have only one child are often able to provide that child with more than if their resources were spread out among many children. According to Dr. Toni Falbo, a professor of Educational Psychology in the College of Education and a faculty research associate in the Population Research Center at The University of Texas,
- “Some of the ‘perks' to being an only child are logical and simply have to do with physical resources and the amount of time parents have to devote to child-rearing. When a college education, for example, has to be provided for one child as opposed to four, it’s more likely that the one child not only will get to go to college but also may be sent to a more prestigious, more expensive school. Everything from family trips to parental participation in the child’s school life may be enhanced because more resources and time are available.”
Only children also have a slight advantage in maturity, according to Newman,
“Children with siblings relate and talk to their siblings rather than their parents. The only child’s primary role models are parents. The result is that only children copy adult behavior as well as adult speech patterns and develop good reasoning skills early on, making them better equipped to handle the ups and downs of growing up.”
You Aren’t Alone
There are many reasons families choose to stop at one child. Age, career choice, and economical situations all have helped shape the growing population of the only child. In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1972 there were between 8 and 9 million only children. By 1985, the number had grown to 13 million, and by the beginning of the new millennium it approached the 16-million mark.
Some families are also single child families not by choice, but by circumstance. With the growing divorce rate (most marriages peaking at seven years), couples have had one child, but the marriage deteriorates before a second child comes along. Secondary infertility also plays a role in one-child families.
Stand Up For Your Choice
For some reason, children are subjects many people just don’t have a filter for. It is inevitable that someone will disagree with your choice to only have one child. If you are confronted with a busy-body, don’t feel the need to defend your choice with them, just tell them that your choice works for your family and your child will not be worse off; in fact some research shows they will have a slight advantage over children with siblings.
In the end, it might be hard for someone to understand your choice, but it is a choice only you can make. Be proud and cherish your only child!