for release Friday April 15, 2005
by Melodie Davis
The One-child Family
After my recent articles celebrating the bonds of sisters and brothers and basically saying the benefits of sibling relationships far outweigh the drawbacks, one reader, Rebecca (name changed) challenged me.
“I am an only child. Gasp. What a stigma. People repeat the phrase, ‘an only child’ inferring ‘what is wrong with you?’ I cannot help my parents chose to have but one child, for one reason or the other,” Rebecca goes on. “I could not create for myself a brother or sister.”
Couples have only one child for a variety of reasons, and frequently not of their own choosing, and often a very private reason. There may be health issues with another pregnancy or child birth, or actual infertility (not unheard of, even after having a child). The mother may feel like she is too old to have another, and not want the additional risks associated with older motherhood. Mother or father may feel too stressed with one child, and feel like they cannot handle the additional responsibilities, financial issues, and complications of raising more than one child.
Rebecca talks about how people are unthinkingly cruel to comment on an “only child” status. “To big families, I don’t comment about over population or how they should keep their pants zipped. I accept people for their family whether it be an only child or 15 children. I have even been introduced as an ‘only child.’ What are people thinking?”
She goes on, “My parents are gone, my husband is gone, and I am ill at 57. I have friends and children who care about me but I still miss the closeness of family ties. I am glad to get this off my chest. Thanks for listening.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself and so I used her words. Perhaps we could start by not referring to an “only child.” The word “only” almost infers a diminished or inferior status, someone to pity. Now, I know that growing up in a family of four, we tended to envy one-child families, because the children tended to have more toys, better clothes, and all of their parents’ attention; so sometimes “only” also conferred an elevated or more privileged status.
This hints at some of the advantages of having one child: parents are more able to afford everything, from child care, special classes and clubs, to a college education. They have more time to spend, also, on running just one child to activities, or going on excursions that help to nurture and educate the child. A small child who only has adults in the household frequently develops a very advanced vocabulary and interacts with the adults on a more intellectual level.
Kid Source website notes, “Popular thinking often paints an unflattering picture of only children, portraying them as self-centered, attention-seeking, dependent, and temperamental. Despite these negative stereotypes, smaller families in general—and the one-child option—are growing in popularity.”
Kid Source also notes, “Although report findings conflict, only children, like first-borns, generally have been found to score slightly higher on measures of intelligence than younger siblings. Diverging results of intelligence research may be explained by focusing on factors within the family unit that affect intellectual development. Such experiences might include, for example, parents’ provision of an ‘enriched’ intellectual environment.”
Children in a one-child family have freedom from sibling rivalry, and the result can be a more close family unit. Interestingly, research is now showing that children in China who grew up under the one-child per family policy, and who may have functioned as spoiled “little emperors” for some years, don’t turn out too badly as adults!
I appreciated Rebecca’s challenge: it made me stop and think about my own attitudes. It also reminds us of the need to try and stand in the other person’s shoes for a minute, and appreciate that the decision about family size (or no children at all) is always a very personal, private thing. We shouldn’t judge each other for or by the size of our families. Where related family members are lacking, the surrounding community of friends, church or co-workers, need to be especially alert when special needs or crises arrive.
For the complete set of columns on sibling relationships, write to me at Another Way, Box 22, Harrisonburg Va., 22802, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org (Please include your paper's name in your response.)
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 727 words; end material = 105 words
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