Time magazine recently ran and interesting article on “Onlies” or “Only Children” also known as children without siblings. The point of the article was to debunk the long-standing myths of “single children [being] perceived as spoiled, selfish, solitary misfits”. The article caught my attention because I was raised an only child and my son is being raised in an interesting situation where he can be the “only” child 80% of the time.
Here is an interesting trend of note:
“The recession has dramatically reshaped women’s childbearing desires,” says Larry Finer, the director of domestic policy at the Guttmacher Institute, a leading reproductive-health-research organization. The institute found that 64% of women polled said that with the economy the way it is, they couldn’t afford to have a baby now. Forty-four percent said they plan to reduce or delay their childbearing — again, because of the economy. This happens during financial meltdowns: the Great Depression saw single-child families spike at 23%. Since the early ’60s, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, single-child families have almost doubled in number, to about 1 in 5 — and that’s from before the markets crashed.
I admit that finances are a major part of why I have no interest in having another child. I can’t imagine taking on the added responsibility of having another being to feed, clothe, entertain, educate, etc. right now. And I’m not poor! I can’t imagine being working class or living in poverty and having multiple children. I know many rely on government assistance, but even that does not make for a comfortable life. Some feel the benefits of having more children outweigh the downside of financial struggle. I’m not one of them.
The interesting thing is that the information about only children that so many people have sighted come from the flawed work of Granville Stanley Hall in the late 1800s. His studies have since been proven to be based on flawed data collection and other issues. His work has also been debunked several times over throughout the years by newer, more accurate research, but for whatever reason, people still hold onto this idea that being an only child is a fate worse than death.
“Generally, those studies showed that singletons aren’t measurably different from other kids — except that they, along with firstborns and people who have only one sibling, score higher in measures of intelligence and achievement. Of course, part of the reason we assume only children are spoiled is that whatever parents have to give, the only child gets it all. The argument Judith Blake makes in Family Size and Achievement as to why onlies are higher achievers across socioeconomic lines can be stated simply: there’s no “dilution of resources,” as she terms it, between siblings. No matter their income or occupation, parents of only children have more time, energy and money to invest in their kid.”
I was often called “spoiled”, though I disgareed then AND now. I was always smarter than those around me and I often was involved in more activities, given more opportunities, and received more parental attention than others. My parents had no other focus, so it was all on me. Sure there were various times of struggle, but as life progressed, everything, the good and the bad, came to me. I’m not sure I would have been able to attend the private schools, summer camps, have the latest toys and clothes, etc. had I a sibling. My parents were by no means rich or close to it, but as the article says, socioeconomic status is irrelevant; undivided resources benefit only children.
The only time I felt like I needed siblings was when my mother died and I was left with the responsibility of tending to her affairs. I would have loved to have a sibling to help assist financially, emotionally, etc. (For full disclosure, my father had a son when I was 13, but we never had any real relationship with him, so that’s why he is referred to as my father’s son. By age 13, the characteristics of being an only child are more than likely set in anyway, so it didn’t really matter one way or the other.)
Being an only child made me more creative, more independent. I started writing stories at a young age, I had imaginary friends, and I wanted to do everything by myself. The article (extended version in the magazine) made a point about how only children are more used to engaging in conversations with adults, so their vocabulary is more expansive and their thought process and conversation skills mature earlier. I would agree with this, at least it was my experience, and one I’m witnessing in my son. That is a good and bad thing. He doesn’t understand that when adults are having a conversation, it isn’t for him to jump in. He does anyway, though, because he doesn’t make any distinction; he thinks we’re ALL just talking. He also has a more expansive vocabulary than other children his age, from what I’ve witnessed. He is often complimented for “speaking well” and he uses words other kids generally do not. I love this (I’m a nerdmom) but I can see how it might lead to playground issues lol
I was able to put my son in gymnastics classes at 2 and not have to worry about enrolling another child. My step-daughter did not factor into the equation because she spends the majority of her time with her own mother. As I said, my son is in a unique situation. He has a sister who is the youngest of 4, so she has the experience of sharing resources and attention every day. He only sees her maybe 2-3 weekends a month and while he enjoys that time with her, she is not really much of a threat to the attention and resources focused on him. He can still take expensive classes, get new clothes and shoes regularly, eat out at his favorite restaurants, get new toys, go to the bookstore for new books weekly, etc. We would not be doing these things if I had another child after him.
Is this the best choice for him? I don’t know, maybe. It’s certainly the best choice for me… and others.
“Most people are saying, I can’t divide myself anymore,” says social psychologist Susan Newman. Before technology made the office a 24-hour presence, we actually spent less time actively parenting, she explains. “We no longer send a child out to play for three hours and have those three hours to ourselves,” she says. “Now you take them to the next practice, the next class. We’ve been consumed by our children. But we’re moving back slowly to parents wanting to have a life too. And people are realizing that’s simply easier with one.”
So, if you’ve read any of my previous blog entries, you know that it is really important to me that being a mother doesn’t consume every single inch of my life. I enjoy it, wouldn’t trade it for anything, but being ME is important too. Other people are feeling similarly it seems. I’m not alone.
People need to get past this idea that children MUST have siblings to turn out “OK”. Some of the most famous successful people in history were only children. These negative ideas need to stop so that parents don’t feel pressured into having more children that 1) they can’t afford and 2) they really don’t want. Only children are not being doomed to some social purgatory by not having siblings. Family planning is a private choice, from every perspective.
What are your thoughts? Have you had to weigh this in your own mind or discuss with your family? How does your partner feel? Do finances impact your thoughts on this?