Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Only Child Syndrome- Fact or Fiction?

Photo courtesy of Amanda Dixon Leung.
I had always intended to have two, if not three, children.   The thought of raising a self-centered, overly indulged, only child repulsed me.  I wanted siblings, ones who played together and formed tactical alliances against the parents.  And, that is just what my husband and I accomplished.

However, it seems that I may have prematurely judged the only-child. 

For centuries only children have been perceived as weird, lonely, unhappy, and as a "disease in itself" (according to researcher and leading child expert of his day, G. Stanley Hall).  Research he conducted in the late 19th century asserted that only children were "peculiar", more unruly, and less teachable than children from large families.  He found these children to be odd and in danger of being permanent outcasts. 

This stereotype has held fast through the decades, with few people actually questioning it's validity.  Even so, with the economy depressed, couples are not only delaying childbirth and investing in birth control, but deciding to stay after one.  Whether these couples want the freedom to travel, the possibility of exploring career options, or not to be financially strained, they are adopting China's "one couple, one child" mantra. 

Many of my friends fall into this category, and even though they are steadfast in their decision, guilt always finds a way of making itself heard.  Are they setting their child up for failure?  Will she be lonely?  Will he have social difficulties?  Will she be selfish and spoiled?  Luckily, the answer is probably not.

In the 1980's, Toni Falbo, an educational psychology professor at the University of Texas (also an only child and mother of one) analyzed hundreds of studies and deduced that ''only children scored significantly better than other groups in achievement motivation and personal adjustment.'' She found no evidence, in any published report, that only children are "lonely, selfish, and maladjusted."

In the past three decades, numerous other studies have found that only children have more extensive vocabularies, more years of schooling, higher income potential, and slightly higher IQs than their counterparts with siblings.  This is presumably because these children do not have to share the limited resources of the parents.  In addition, only children do not have the social problems we presume that they will exhibit.  They have as many friends as other children, a normal level of self-esteem, and may even be better sharers, firmly believing that their time will come.   


The fact that these children have unlimited access to their parents allows these children to have a leg up on their peers, both emotionally and monetarily.  With more time and money to spend on just one child, parents also tend to be less stressed, more satisfied personally, and happier as a couple.  In fact the addition of each subsequent child has proven to make families less and less content.

So, why even bother birthing two?  With the infant death rate declining, and the demise of the family farm, the need for large families has fallen.  (I don't know about your family, but my two girls rarely help with the hoeing, plowing, and wood cutting.)  The reason most parents give for doubling down, is to provide a sibling to their first, but after reading the research findings, this seems to be futile, since the addition of another child provides little benefits to the family.  

For me, after my first, I wasn't ready to be done with babies, and wanted that second time around.  I've never regretted adding Maisy into our mix, but when our family gets together with single child families, I certainly understand the case for the distribution of limited resources.  Yet, then again, no sound is quite as sweet as hearing Maisy tell Elana, "I love you, sista," right before she sits on her face.

For those that want to read more, check out Time Magazine's The Only Child- Debunking the Myths.

2 comments:

  1. I'm an only child, and I've been told by my inlaws that they were shocked to find that I was an "only." That they thought all onlies were brats, stuck-up, etc. Honestly, the stereotype has always made me sad. Now I have one child and I am raising her the way I was raised: to think about others, be helpful, and not care about always being the best or material things. I hope that people won't judge her.

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