Cat is an only child, and now and again we get comments.
“Lucky kid.” folks sometimes comment. “She gets her parents’ attention all to herself.” And they’re right. Cat definitely enjoys having both of us to herself most of the time. “Poor kid.” they say. “No brothers or sisters to play with.” And they’re right. Loneliness is a constant part of Cat’s life, and she is developing a variety of ways to cope with it. “Lucky mom” I hear sometimes. “Only one kid to worry about! How easy would that be!” And they’re absolutely right. My life is far, far easier in many ways than it would be if I had more than one child. And of course, at other times I get condolences. “Poor mom. It must be so hard to be your child’s only playmate all the time!” Absolutely. It is hard. Meeting her social and play needs is a constant challenge. Those comments don’t bother me. Because they are all true. It is hard, and it is easy. Cat is lucky, and unlucky. There are upsides to having, and being, an only child. And there are most definitely downsides.
And then of course, there’s the rare but serious disapproval. “She’s four now? You’d better have another child soon. You don’t want to have just one. She’ll be spoiled. Selfish. Only child syndrome. Tiny tyrant. Little emperor. I have no use for such comments. They seem to presume that I am unaware of that particular prejudice in our society. I am very aware of those concerns. And I have done as I always do when decisions like this arise. I’ve looked at the research. And the research shows, unsurprisingly, that only children tend to be a bit weaker in some social skills than kids with siblings. And some only children express regret as adults that they never had the camaraderie of siblings that they see all around them. So, downsides? Yes, there are some. But most of the concerns about ‘only child syndrome’ have proven to be completely groundless.
And we can’t look at the downsides without also looking at the upsides. The research shows those too. Only children tend to be more intelligent, flexible and creative. They are less strong socially in some ways, but they’re actually stronger socially in other ways. Since they have no built-in playmates, they tend to learn how to get along with a more diverse range of different types of people. They also tend to have better relationships with their parents, throughout childhood and well into adulthood.
So, like in many areas of life, there is not a right answer to the choice of how many children families should have. There are pros and cons to every choice. We have chosen to have one child, and have no current plans to increase that number. This choice is the result of a great many serious conversations about who we are, what we’re capable of and what we want our lives to look like. Decisions like this one are part of how we go about ensuring that we’re in the best position to meet everybody’s needs, Cat included. And Cat will be just fine. She’ll be fine if she’s an only child, and she’ll be fine if our plans change at some point down the line. The number of families selecting to have just one child in our society is on the rise, and that trend is predicted to continue. It’s time for us to let go of the only child social stigma. It’s a relic of prejudice and disinformation. Let’s support and encourage every family, regardless of shape or size.