Am I Evil If I Only Have One Child?
This question has been playing on my mind rather a lot recently.
Our daughter is three and a half, and all sorts of people have been asking whether we're planning on having another child.
Family, friends, colleagues, neighbours and people that we don't know at all are becoming increasingly concerned with our continuing reproduction.
You see, most people seem to start on their second child when the first child is approaching two, so that you get that "two-year gap". I don't know why the two-year gap is so desirable; maybe history has proved this to be the ideal. All but one of our friends with children have stuck to this formula. But for us this "ideal" has passed and it's clearly making people nervous.
On a recent trip with my husband's friends a young guy, (single and without kids), asked us if we are going to have any more children. When we replied that we're not sure, he said that it would be cruel of us not to have any more, for our daughter's sake. We don't know him too well, and were shocked that he could judge us like this.
And I have a family member who always greets us not with a "hello", but with "so when are you having another baby?" That's beginning to wear very thin, I can tell you. And he's even taken to asking our daughter if she'd prefer a baby brother or sister!
The worst thing is that our daughter does occasionally ask if we can have a baby. This is usually after she's been playing with a friend who has a younger sibling. While other people's comments may rattle us they are easy to dismiss. It's not so easy to ignore your little child's plaintive request, it really pulls on the heartstrings..
Myths About The Only Child
Only Child Research Findings
- The Only Child - Some encouraging research findings.
Research that looks at the intelligence, achievement, affiliation, popularity, and self-esteem of only children, compared to their peers.
Only Child Natalie Portman
Only Child Franklin Delano Roosevelt
But is it so bad to be an only child?
Not being one myself I don't really know, and information that I find on the internet is mixed. Some, (for whom being an only child had been a positive experience), tell of how lucky they'd felt to have their parents' undivided attention, and not having had to worry about sibling rivalry. They were glad to have had their own bedroom and their own space, and none of the hassle that went with having a small baby in the house.
Others spoke of the loneliness and boredom, of feeling jealous of friends with siblings, always being surrounded by people much older than themselves, and the frustration of not having had anyone of a similar age to talk to. Something that really struck me was the person who said that they'd constantly felt the need to prove that they were not spoilt.
To me, the downsides of being an only child sound sadder and more significant than the upsides. Who wants their child to grow up lonely?
But did these people have close friends of their age I wonder, and does this fill the hole in some way? Our daughter has lots of friends her age who we see a lot, and I'd like to think (whether or not she gets a sibling), that she'll grow up with them and that they'll always be close, as well as the other friends that she'll make on the way.
Amongst the people that I know there are plenty who grew up as only children, and they've turned out okay. They are well-balanced and have close friendships and healthy relationships. There are a few for which this cannot be said - but who's to say that this is because they were only children?
According to Susan Newman, author of Parenting an Only Child and a social psychologist at Rutgers University, although the stereotype of the only child is somebody who's bossy, aggressive, spoilt, lonely and mal-adjusted,
"There have been hundreds and hundreds of research studies that show that only children are no different from their peers."(1)
So maybe it's not so bad. And how a child turns out surely depends on a lot more than whether or not they have brothers or sisters. I would guess that how you parent your child has a big effect - if you cater to their every whim and treat them like the stereotypical, "spoilt-brat" only-child then they are probably more likely to turn out that way. But if you set them boundaries, teach them to respect other people, and are sensible when it comes to buying them things, then there's surely no reason why you should end up with a monster on your hands!
The question of happiness
But even so, I can see how having another child as a constant companion could have a sort of levelling effect for both children; to a certain extent they would be forced to learn about sharing and co-operation, something which you wouldn't get so much with no other children living in your house. I often wonder how much my own daughter's lack of generosity and stubborn possessiveness over her toys is due to her lack of siblings - and how much is due to her being three and a half!
I can also see that the presence of a sibling might have a positive effect on social skills and language development - although if the only child sees a lot of their friends this might not make a huge difference. I certainly know plenty of only children who have an extremely impressive grasp of language, some of whom (my own daughter included) never seem to stop talking! But there is probably also something positive to be said about the language development - (and perhaps the maturity) - of a child who spends a certain amount of time talking (and listening) to adults.
I suppose what I'd really like to know is whether an only child can be as happy as a child with siblings. The research results that I've flicked through online suggest that only children generally score well on the things that make up a happy person; things like achievement, intelligence, popularity and self-esteem. Beyond this and other people's (subjective) experiences it is an impossible question. Every family and every individual is different. And testing whether somebody growing up as an only child would be happier with a sibling, would of course require a parallel universe!
Raising an Only Child.
Reasons to maybe stop at one child
But enough about the child, what about the welfare of the poor parents?
I'm joking of course. Having children is a real blessing and a privilege, and their welfare and happiness are paramount. But when you're considering adding to your family there are some other things to consider.
Friends who have had more than one child tell me that at first it's very difficult to adjust to looking after two children. Having to get used to sleepless nights once more - especially if it's been a battle to achieve the nirvana that is "sleeping through the night" with child number one. The whole nappy changing thing which psychologically, you feel as if you're over if your first child is already potty-trained. And the difficulty of having to look after a demanding newborn while simultaneously running after a mischievous, adventurous and energetic toddler or pre-schooler. (And I'm sure that a larger gap between children comes with its own special problems!)
I can understand people who say that although multiple children might be a struggle in the early days, it all comes good in the future because having close family is so important during one's adult years. And I do appreciate this fact, as I am close to my sister and I'm extremely grateful for having her. But not everyone is close to their siblings, and some people are closer to their friends.
Another important consideration when you're thinking of whether or not to add to your family, is that children don't come cheap! Okay, maybe babies can do - at least when you're onto your second or more. (I discovered this in my hub investigating whether second babies are cost-free). But babies quickly grow into children, who eat food and need stuff, and may eventually go to college! Not to mention other really big expenses that you might incur by having another child. Maybe you'll need to buy a bigger car, or even a bigger house.
Then there are the non-material considerations. When you just have one child you can give them your undivided attention. You don't have to worry about showing favouritism or about sibling rivalry. And could you handle another child? One can be tough enough sometimes! And then there's my own personal worry about whether I'd be able to love another child as much as my first (- and how could another child be as lovable?) Do I have enough love to go around?
I know I'm not the first parent to have this worry, and I've been assured that the amount of love you have grows in proportion to the number of kids you have (which is clever..). But your whole relationship with the first child must have to change quite a bit.
And looking at the bigger picture, isn't the world full enough without adding more people? With the earth's resources depleting at such a worrying rate, even if you should decide that another child might be good for your family, would it really be good for the world? After all, each new child comes with their own carbon footprint. What's more, is it fair to bring a child into a world that is not doing so great these days; we're in the midst of a recession, terrorism is never out of the news and crime rates seem to always be on the up.
So, am I evil?
I don't think I am. I feel immensely privileged to have one child, and I'm sure that I'd feel completely overjoyed to have another one should we decide that that's what right for us (and if we're lucky enough to be able to have any more).
But if we decide not to, then that will be fine too. There are some darned good reasons for not having more than one child. And a lot of the reasons that people give for why you must immediately have another one don't necessarily stand up to the evidence. These are probably the same people who pestered you about when you were going to get a boyfriend, or get married or start your family (or any other landmark event that's none of their business whatsoever). They just make you feel guilty. But there's no reason to.
Some Only Children Do Okay. (Yes, the Gilmore Girls is fictional, but Rory is a great role-model for only children!)
If you're an only child...
How did it affect your childhood?
The results of this poll are really encouraging so far.
Thank you for voting!