The Prevailing Prejudices and Misperceptions About Only Children
The Permitted Prejudice- Prejudice Against Only Children
The number of only children is rising, particularly in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Part of this is due to the advancements in contraceptive technologies while other influences are the increased education of the mothers in addition to more career opportunities for women. Another influence in the rise of the only child population is that women are elected to have their children later until they become quite established in their careers. Only children now comprise 20% of the American population.
In spite of this significant rise in the only child population. there is still an underlying prejudice against the only child. Only children are often viewed as incomplete children because they are "missing" a sibling. Because they have no siblings, they are viewed as bratty, selfish, spoiled, socially awkward, lonely, and other negative stereotypes. Only children are often held up to a higher societal standard than children who have siblings.
Only children are often blamed for whatever characteristics they have. If they are shy, it is because they are only children. People usually do not usually consider the other reasons why they are shy. If they are boisterous, it is again because they are only children, not because of their characteristics. Any charactertistic either extremely or less negative that an only child exhibits is blamed upon his/her onliness. If a person dares tries that e.g. with a child from a larger families, he/she is immediately and abruptly told that maybe it is the familial environment or the fault of the parents.
It is quite fine and dandy to attack only children for their supposed characteristics but do not DARE do the same with a child with siblings. You will be immediately chastised and/or worse. There is definitely a double standard regarding simliar behaviors when committed by only and non-only children. Non-only children will usually get a slap on the wrist while only children committing such behavior are usually condemned.
This negative perception of only children is not new. Psychologists including Alfred Adler and G. Stanley Hall vastly contributed to the negative opinions regarding only children. According to Dr. Adler, in order for children to fully develop, they must have siblings. Dr. Adler asserted that siblings help children to develop social skills. He further maintained that only children are socially incompetent and are timid and pessimistic.
Dr. Hall maintained that only children are diseases within themselves. He considered only children to be quite maladjusted social misfits. He further subscribe to the philosophy that children need siblings to be happy and well-adjusted. Until the mid-20th century with the advent of advancements in contraceptive technologies and advancements in the women's movement, the concept of the only children was quite an anathema in this society. The concensus of this society was the more children, the merrier! Women with multiple children were applauded, viewed as good mothers while women who elected to have one child were viewed as heartless and selfish.
Until quite recently, psychologists, sociologists, and social scientists subscribe to the view that children must have siblings in order to develop into normal adults. Only children were viewed as incomplete and half-people. This caused many parents who have one child to be quite apologetic about their choice. There was a saying that many people had two children in order that their child would not be an only child. Oh horrors of all horrors as if having and/or being an only child was akin to having leprosy.
Yes, the only child was viewed as "the other" in this sibling society. People who grew up with siblings find that the only child cannot be fathomed. Only children are one of a kind people with no definable birth order as people with siblings are. It is hard for the mulitchild person to understand how the only child is able to survive without having siblings.
Only children are often perceived as being lonely when this is the furthest from the truth. Yes, they say to the only child that he/she grew up alone. Alone? What planet are you on! We onlies grew up with our parents, thank you very much. It is hard to tell people with siblings that our parents were our closest friends and confidants. Only children have a relationship with their parents that those with siblings can only dream of.
Only children are often thought of as being unable to share. Oh, really, what about our parents. We share with our parents. Onlies do this on a constant basis. Now back to the issue of being alone. Yes, onlies grow up alone. Alone is not a bad thing, sibling culture. Alone time enables a child to indulge in his/her hobbies such as reading, writing, and sketching. Being alone also activate creativity and the imagination. Many celebrities and noted people who are onlies attributed their singleton status to their success e.g. Academy Award winners Charlize Theron, Natalie Portman, and Adrien Brody. Aloneness also results in having a strong sense of self-reliance and independence. Also you become quite comfortable being in your own skin. You know who you are and are not willing to settle for any type of relationship in the name of companionship.
Because onlies grow up with no siblings to constantly interrupt them, they have a strong sense of self and can entertain themselves for hours on end without difficulty. In this groupthink culture, being alone is viewed as something to be avoided at all costs. Many parents believe that the WORST thing a child can be is-A-L-O-N-E! So some parents of only children enroll them in as many activities as possible in order to prevent their child from being alone even though their child is often quite happy being alone.
Many parents who have only children often place their societal and/or sibling prejudice on their child. They subconsciously feel that their child is incomplete because they do not have a sibling. As a result of their misplaced guilt, they frantically socialize their child into having as many friends and associates as possible in order for him/her not to be "alone" and/or "lonely". Such onlies never have a free time to themselves.
There was an ex-coworker of mine who enrolled her only child, a son, into every activity that she could think of because she do not want him to grow up to be a "typical, lonely" only child. She even asserted to me that the MOST important thing in her son's life was to socialize. She maintained that she did not believe that he should be "alone."
Many non-onlies often ask onlies if they would like to have siblings. How invasive and preposterous this question is. New flash, not everyone has and/or want siblings. Onlies can survive well and nicely without siblings, thank you. When we want peers and companionship, we usually have friends and cousins to fit the bill, thank you kindly!
Onlies are further inundated that siblings are companions and provide a network backup, especially in old age. Really? Studies show that children in multichild families often are subjected to verbal abuse and bullying or worse by their siblings. In multichild households, children are routinely subjected to mindgames and other forms of manipulative games that onlies are not subjected to.
Besides the sibling gameplaying, there is also a groupthink consenus among siblings which strongly discourages individual thinking. Siblings? No thank you! Also siblings often have a negative effect upon each others' self-esteem because of the constant bantering and competition for parental attention. With siblings, you also received differential and/or preferential treatment from your parents based upon their preferences such as personality, beliefs, gender, talents, and birth order status. Who wants that? Not me and other onlies.
Siblings equal drama in more ways than one. Onlies are lucky because they will always be the center of their parents' attention as they are not dethroned as the oldest and middle children are. Onlies will always be their parents' favorites come hell or high water. Only child= no drama while siblings= drama, drama and more drama!
Then there is the unspoken word among siblings-sibling rivalry. In families where there is more than one child, there will always be sibling rivalry. Oftentimes, it is light while other times it is so virulent and intense that there are psychological and emotional scars which last for life. Many children in multichild families suffer from low self-esteem because of what they had to endure at the hands of siblings.
Many adult siblings are not even close to each other since they have nothing in common anymore. There are siblings who are estranged from each other because of childhood issues. One can find a support system through cousins, other relatives, and friends. Siblings are not the be all and end all to relationships. Oftentimes, siblings can be quite deleterious and harmful to a relationships. Thank of siblings who are hangers on and emotional/psychic vampire who constantly drain the relationship. Blood is not necessarily thicker than water and often familiarity often breeds contempt. There are people who believe and assert that just because they have a sibling or siblings, they are entitled to ride the coattails of that sibling/siblings especially if that sibling/sibllings are more affluent and successful than they are.
There are instances of only children who have close relationships with their friends, cousins, spouses, children, other relatives, and associates after their parents have passed on. We onlies are not lonely and wanting for companionship as people with siblings have always supposed. We are fine, thank you.
Then there is the misperception that only children are spoiled and selfish. Well, just because a child has more financial resources at his/her disposal does not mean that he/she is spoiled. Again, this is another atavistic perception of non-onlies. There are some onlies who grew up in less affluent circumstances and had to work for everything they had, beginning at a young age. On the other hand, there are quite spoilt children from multichild families, particularly if their parents are very affluent. Onlies selfish? Come on, let us get real. Selfish children come from varied family sizes. There are selfish and non-selfish onlies and selfish and non-selfish non-onlies. It all depends upon the characteristics of the individual child and how the parent raise their child/children. Jerry Lewis, one of the most philanthropic celebrities of all time who consistently work tirelessly on the muscular dystrophy telethon, is an only child.
Only children are no more socially awkward, shy, and timid than non-only children. Social awkwardness is related to what type of exposure and activities the child has. One of my maternal aunts, for example, is still quite socially awkward and withdrawn. She is the middle of ten children. My third maternal cousin, on the other hand, is quite gregarious and outgoing to the point of madness. She is an only child who has an only child. Michael Jackson, one of nine children, was quite shy when he was not performing. Charles Bronson, one of fourteen children, admitted that to being quite diffident and shy when he is not acting. Mr. Bronson reported that he was quite uncomfortable during interviews.
Another inane myth and misperception about only children that they grow up to be maladjusted adults. Let me laugh here! I am still laughing! Tell that to Betty White, Natalie Portman, Condoleeza Rice, Robin Williams, Alicia Keyes, Robert DeNiro, and Lauren Bacall. These are the most successful and well adjusted people around. Tell that to Charlize Theron so she can give you a swift and hard punch in the face! Onlies are the most achievement oriented people around. It begins in early childhood where the main source of influence are the parents.
Because only children mainly interact with their parents, adult mannerisms and vocabulary are imparted to them at an early age. This prodigious outlook in addition to indulging in solitary, intellectual hobbies gives only children an academic advantage which is not found in children in multichild families. Only children usually outachieve children from multichild families in every conceivable academic arena.
Furthermore, only children are more likely to obtain tertiary education and beyond than children from multichild families because there is more financial resources available in one child families than there is in multichild families. So this translates into the more advanced education a person has, usually the better the job he/she obtains. Only children are quite successful regarding their careers.
In relationships, only children are true and sincere person who value their relationships highly. Only children are not into the gameplaying and manipulative mindgames that people from mulitchild families routinely indulge in. Only children are quite comfortable in monogamous relationships because their intense relationships with their parents. To reiterate, only children usually have closer and more loving relationships with their parents than children from mulitchild families who are not as close with their parents.
In conclusion, even though there is a rise in the only child population due to advancements in contraception and the strides made by women educationally and careerwise, there is still an underlying prejudice against only children. Only children are often viewed as "the other" and ostracized in this sibling society. Only children are perceived as being incomplete people.
Only children are also thought of as being socially awkward and maladjusted, especially as they become adults. There is also a double standard regarding the behaviors of only and non-only child. Usually, the only child is derided for behaviors that non-onlies are not.
Despite the atavistic misperceptions that society has against only children, studies authenticate quite the opposite. Only children are often happier than those growing up in multichild families because there is no sibling drama such as mindgames, rivalry, and favoritism present. Onlies have no sibling competition and have the undivided love and attention of their parents.
Onlies are free of be themselves without the encumbrances of the sibling groupthink mentality. Only children are also high achievers because they were raised in an adult environment where they gained adult mannerisms and vocabulary. Besides that, there is more financial resources in only child households than there is in multichild household which makes tertiary education accessible to only children that are not to non-only children. Only children are more sincere in their relationships with people because they were not exposed to the gameplaying and manipulative behavior which is rife in children from multichild families. So onlies and parents of onlies rejoice in this uniqueness and do not listen to the negative, myopic naysayers!
© 2011 Grace Marguerite Williams
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