Thursday, June 5, 2014

Pros and cons of being an only child

An Only Raising an Only

This post has a picture of my daughter as the main picture, but really this is a post about me. Many people assume that our daughter is an only due to my “advanced maternal age” when she was born (I was 38 at the time). However, my daughter is an only child by choice, and this choice is largely formed by my own experiences as a single child and my husband’s experiences as a younger child separated from his brother by almost 8 years.

Social Myths of Single Child Families

When I was growing in the former Soviet Union, about half of my classmates were only children. I never thought myself “deprived” or “different” when growing up, but then I moved to US at 24 and found that “normal” family size expectation is at least 2 children. There is a perception that families with a single child have something “wrong” happening with them – infertility, divorce or marriage troubles, money troubles. Or perhaps they are simply too selfish to have another child and got the first one as the “last toy for adults”.
Similarly, there are perceptions about single children – mostly that they are lonely, selfish, and will do anything for attention. Sometimes these perceptions are driven by infamous singletons with poor judgment like, say, Octomom.

Good Parts About Being an Only Child

Me and my parents - 1975
Parental Attention. Parental love is unlimited and can stretch to many kids, but time limits are the same for everyone. Even with two parents working full time I was getting plenty of individual attention, sometimes too much.
Positive Feedback. All children thrive on positive feedback. Unless parents are “detached”, single children have more positive interactions with parents (after all, parents don’t need to stop sibling fights and discipline the offenders). The danger here is for positive feedback becoming an indiscriminate praise, but I think my parents were quite realistic in their expectations, and we are working hard to have the same in our family.
Developing Competence. Positive feedback lead to developing competence – both in academic subjects and in life skills. My parents expected me to take some responsibility for family chores, and we do the same with our 7 year old.
Enjoying Solitude. I always liked having time to myself and still crave it as an adult. It’s really a flip side of “loneliness” – being on my own never bothered me when I was a child – I had a lot going on in my imagination, including a story line about me having multiple brothers and sisters of about the same age as I was. Just as my daughter, I was a voracious reader, and you can’t be lonely when you have friends in books.
Confidence. In my mind, confidence is a flip side of “bossiness” and “selfishness”. I am not afraid to speak up my mind even when my opinion is not popular, and I recognize the same trait in my daughter. Both of us need to work on whether expressing our opinion is always necessary or important.

Bad Parts About Being an Only Child

Selfishness. I think I agree that the only children are “selfish”, but selfishness can take different forms. Yes, I consider myself selfish, because I put my own needs high while considering any sort of change or proposal on my plate. When we were discussing the number of children for our family, I considered my own desire to have time to myself, to spend time as a couple, the fact that my husband and I are raising our daughter at least 3,000 miles away from the nearest relative. I considered my career, the cost of raising children in US, and, yes, I considered my age and increased chances of pregnancy complications. So this is why I am an only raising an only, and I am comfortable with my choice.

A beautiful quote about the love for an only child

Resources About Only Children

Your Turn

How many siblings do you have? Did it affect your decision on the number of children in your family?

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Phyllis said...

You know, reading through your list of benefits of being an only child made me think that all of those things can be easily obtained in a large family...just in a different way. I think maybe that might be hard for you to see because you have only had the "only" experience. I had the unique experience of being one of three children, but my older brothers were so much older than me that it was somewhat like being an only child for me growing up.

Terri Thompson said...

Love this Natalie. I'm an only and I can't tell you how many times someone has said to me, "I would have never know you were an only child. You don't act like one." The misconceptions get old really fast. Despite enjoying my childhood, we don't have an only child. We chose to have 2 kids, but I can assure you that my experience as an only was not a factor in this decision.

Mary Catherine said...

Thank you for sharing your thought process with us! I know it's a hard decision for all parents to make, and we all have our own points to consider. :)

Ticia said...

I think there is no right answer for family size. There are some families that are complete with 1 child and some that just grow and grow and grow and have many children.

I refigure out each week when the boys are away at camp that I am not built to be a parent of an only child. When Princess is an only child she is so unbelievably clingy and NEEDS me to entertain her. This may be because she's always had brothers to play with, but it's a tiring week as compared to my weeks with all 3 kids.

Ticia said...

Oh, and I have a couple of friends who are homeschooling their only and their comments are "You wouldn't believe the comments I get for homeschooling my only."

min said...

Appreciate this. I'm thankful that my only does not possess the stereotypical only traits. I do see benefits of having more than one and vice versa. Not one is better or worse. It just is what it is. I consider having a child is a gift and feel immense joy to experience motherhood.

Ozymandiaz said...

I am an only child, but I grew up in a different culture/different country where extended families and neighbors were much more close knit. The kids in the neighborhood roved together in packs all evening and I remember spending whole weeks with my cousins during vacations. I certainly didnt lack for company

I fear that a single child in the US now has a much more isolated life. I have two kids, and unless I organize a playdate for them (which is harder than it seems with most parents working fulltime), they lead a pretty isolated life. Yes, they interact with other children at school and classes and camps, but it is much more organized and adult supervised. It is getting harder and harder to give the kids unsupervised, unstructured free time preferably with children of all ages.

Mama P said...

Both my husband grew up in families with three children. We have four. =) But hubby grew up with extended family so a lot more than four children living in a very tiny home.

For awhile, we thought we would only have one due to infertility and hadn't come up to final decision if adoption was right for our family. I was heartbroken over this but not because I thought being an only was a bad thing but because I wanted a larger family.

You are so right that there is far less individual attention when you have a larger family. I wish I had more of it to give. But then I try to weigh the benefits gained by not getting so much adult attention.

And yes, my oldest who was an only for five years, really loves alone time. I am not sure it is due to being an only but she is the classic introvert who is just highly sensitive.

Great article!

Cara said...

I am an only child. I had a happy childhood. However, it had it drawbacks...whenever we went on vacation, it was lonely. It would have been nice to have a sibling to do things with, like ride rides with at a Disney a know the ones adults don't like to ride. As an adult, there are more drawbacks. What are the odds are for another only child marrying another only child? Most likely not very big, but this is what happened. My husband is an only child too. My 3 children have no 1st cousins or aunts or uncles...just 2 nd cousins and great aunts and great uncles. The other drawback is when our parents get older and need assistance the responsibility falls only on us. We have no siblings to help us shoulder the burden.

Just some things to think about...

maryanne @ mama smiles said...

Interestingly, I think all of your benefits of being an only apply to being one of a larger family (I would say, at least three kids). Mike is one of two children, and I think he would have happily had one or two children. I am one of ten, and wanted to have at least three, and would have liked five. We settled on four. Once you get three or more children, siblings play while a parent interacts with the third child - not very easy with only one child. Siblings also offer a lot of positive feedback, and having extra responsibility since parents are busy develops competence and, by extension, confidence (older siblings can be a bit "bossy", though). If you have only two children, there is a lot of pressure to play, but as soon as you have three there is room for one to go off and enjoy solitude (Emma does this a LOT) while the others play.

Selfishness is not such a big problem with multiple children, but resources and opportunities do become scarcer - so that is a big difference.

I am grateful to live in a world where families can choose how many children they have, and feel very grateful to have been able to have my four healthy children.

And, I think you are doing a wonderful job of raising Smarty. I expect her to grow up into quite an incredible adult :)

Debbie said...

I think the thing I find with raising an only child, but keep in mind that I had two kids my first time around parenting is that it is harder parenting only one. I miss the days when my two children played together while I was cleaning or doing yard work. From my own experience, I was the youngest of 5 with a 8 year age span between us, and I often felt very alone. I see that in Selena many times. It seems like it takes more energy raising an only child. I don't believe my older children would say that they did not receive enough of my personal attention or that there was a lot of competition for that attention.

An Almost Unschooling Mom said...

Doug is from a family of two - one boy and one girl. I'm the youngest of 7, but six years behind the nearest of my siblings, so a lot like an only child too. Our own family experiences influenced us some - Doug did not want to have 2 because everybody has 2. I think I've mentioned before that we debated whether to even have children - waiting six year to have the first, and then really considering stopping after each one. American culture is set up for families with two children, so I suppose there are issues with having more as well as with just having one. I know Doug finally said enough, because he couldn't handle the teasing at work anymore. In the end, as much as I like/need quiet and alone times, I like the swirl and chaos of the kids, too...but there are days...:)

min said...

Love all the comments! Parenting an only is harder and easier. I've learned that when we travel, traveling with friends with kids is like getting the day off. It's pure joy because they entertain each other AND there is no sibling! Oftentimes, I have K befriend a child her age who has much younger siblings. This allows her to get a sense of what it's like to have siblings but she also gets plenty of time with the oldest child. The parent loves it and so do I! I used to worry about having an only but no longer. I love how my child can be social with so many people and yet play well independently.

Erica Loop said...

I'm an only too. And also have an only myself. My parents chose to just have one child, as my husband and I did. I love how you put so many positives. It seems like a lot of people view onlys as selfish or sad (because we don't have the constant companionship that siblings have).

Carrie said...

What a great post! I have an only for several reasons and have felt guilty about it at times--especially watching my husband (an only) have to deal with his mother's issues on his own (and she is an only as well). However I also felt having another child just so she was not an only was not a good enough reason to do it.

Thanks for sharing at Sharing Saturday!

Theresa A said...

It was interesting to read the stereotypes vs. reality that you discussed in terms of only children. I have seen those at play, especially the assumptions about parents and the empathy for the child who is assumed to be lonely. I think many people decide how many children they would like to have based on their own feelings about childhood experiences. Your experience was positive and you wanted to create a similar family dynamic. I grew up with a sibling and knew I wanted at least two children. We have four the same age which was a fortunate surprise.