We all know the stereotypes. An ‘only child’ is maladjusted. They’re selfish, spoiled brats. Only children are, quite simply, weird. And by not having more kids, you’re selfish, too, doing lifelong damage by depriving your child of the all-important Sibling Relationship.
These types of myths are misinformed and damaging, and it’s time to dispel them once and for all. If you have an only child, you want an only child or you can’t have more than one child, rest assured that your family is perfect as-is and you can ignore the side-eyes and the passive-aggressive, “Ahh, he’s an only, huh?” Here’s why:
They don’t live up to the negative stereotype
Since Granville Stanley Hall, the preeminent child psychology expert of the late 1800s, famously declared that being an only child was “a disease in itself,” the stereotype of the lonely only has persisted.
And that’s despite the fact that his decidedly unscientific survey of only children has been invalidated over and over, as Caitlin Gibson writes for The Washington Post:
Hall’s theories were ultimately debunked by an onslaught of credible research in the decades that followed. (In the mid-1980s, social psychologist Toni Falbo and researcher Denise Polit examined more than a hundred studies of only children conducted since 1925 and concluded that only children were virtually indistinguishable from other children in terms of personality. Like firstborn children or kids with one sibling, only children were found to have some intellectual and academic advantages.
One particularly thorough and wonderful book on the topic is One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child, and The Joy of Being One, written by journalist (and only child) Lauren Sandler. Sandler researches—and debunks—the myths of the only child and explores the unique ways in which so-called “singletons” might actually thrive.
And to throw in a little anecdotal evidence of my own: My kid is crazy friendly, he’d give you the shirt off his back and he’s really quite normal. I’m biased, I know, but it’s true.
It’s becoming more common
My son occasionally laments that he’s the only kid he knows who is an only. That’s when I start pointing out all the other one-kid families around us. Mia across the street is an only child.
One of my closest friends, and my son’s godmother, has an only child who comes over for sleepovers all the time. One of the kids my son became closest with in school this year? Only child. Logan, from soccer? Yep, only.
Sure, most of his friends have siblings. But he’s still far from the only only. And although that may be nothing more than personal observation on my part, Pew Research Center analysis of the structure of the American family backs it up. Since the mid-1970s, the number of women who had just one kid by the end of their child-bearing years doubled from 11 per cent to 22 per cent.
Only children are no longer an anomaly; they’re alllll around us.
It can be kinda nice
Having only one child can mean there’s more energy, more money and more flexibility within the family to go around. As Lydia, a member of our Offspring Facebook group says, “We like our lifestyle and feel like we can keep it with one child. We can travel, go to nice restaurants, explore museums and [put] all our focus on having her have the best experiences possible.”
Might an only child wish they had a sibling? Sure, they might. I think my son probably always will. But he has four cousins that I suspect he’ll be close to and not having a sibling has helped him—and us—put an extra emphasis on developing and maintaining his friendships. (My house is the playdate house, which is kind of nice in its own way—loud and lively when I feel like it; send ‘em all home when I don’t.)
And sometimes, it’s not for lack of trying
When my son was in that particularly rough toddler stage of 2-3 years old, I became fond of saying, “Hope he likes being an only child, cuz THAT’S WHERE THIS IS HEADED.” Deep down, though, I always wanted at least one more.
When my son turned four, we became foster parents with the intention of adopting a child who needed a permanent home. After two years—and two heart-breaking placements—we decided to try for another baby of our own. Two miscarriages later, we took a look around and said, “Yep, we’re good with one.” We’d had enough of the journey and wanted to arrive at the destination.
This sentiment was echoed in our Offspring Facebook group among parents whose secondary infertility, difficult pregnancies, traumatic birth experiences, divorces, miscarriage and infant loss led them (or forced them) to a conclusion of one-and-done.
But what I did notice even among the comments from parents who hadn’t necessarily chosen to have just one, was that many of them felt a sense of peace about it.
I especially related to something Presi said: “I don’t know that I have a feeling of ‘completeness,’ but I’m just happy with how our little family is.”