As an only child, I was surprised to read a recent Seattle Times article in which the writer urges parents who have only one child not to panic. Apparently the prevailing fear in this era of hyper-parenting is that the single child will have no friends, and without siblings he or she will be messed up for life. I’m thankful to the writer for reporting recent research that shows it’s possible for only children to turn out O.K. Otherwise I might never have known.
When I was growing up, I remember one common criticism about only children from my friends: “You must be spoiled.” Was I? I don’t know.
What most people don’t understand is that only children have no basis for comparison. My husband and I traveled to China with a couple who’d been divorced, but through a second marriage had added many grandchildren, nieces and nephews. They bemoaned the fact that in a country with a mostly one-child policy, children would not have the pleasure of siblings and they’d also miss out on cousins. They needn’t have felt sorry for the Chinese children. These children will not feel bad. Everyone they know has the same history.
I checked in with a friend, another only child, who, like me, was surprised to learn that finding friends was a challenge for only children, and surprised that parents needed reassurance. Neither of us has ever felt a shortage of companions.
Most of my friends have siblings, and some have formed close-knit families. Some siblings’ lives take them in different directions and they find they don’t have much in common as adults. Rarely do friends ever talk about their brothers and sisters, so I don’t have a sense about who’s happily related and who’s not. Those who do talk don’t always have nice things to say. Sibling rivalry doesn’t end at age twenty-one. And, as I’ve written before, comparing yourself to others, especially making financial comparisons, almost guarantees the blossoming of resentment. Fights over what “Mom and Dad” really intended the kids to inherit even though they didn’t specify it in their wills are not uncommon. I was thankful I could handle my parents affairs without family squabbles.
But these are only stories I hear. I really wouldn’t know. I only know I loved being an only child and don’t miss any brothers or sisters I might have had. And I’m glad my parents never seemed troubled by raising only me. My dad was thirty-seven when I was born. He was probably relieved to stop at one.