Being 'only' nowadays isn't such a bad thing


My husband and I are undecided about having a second child. My husband is very concerned about our daughter being an only child. Is there any new information on raising an only child? What are the pitfalls?

Melanie Rogers


Put this question ahead of all the others, readers and experts say: Are you considering what you want, or what you think is best for your only child?

"The absence of siblings is not harmful," says Toni Falbo, professor of educational psychology and sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. "Have a second child because you want to, not for your first child."

Many readers agree.

"If you and your husband want a child for yourself, then I say go for it," says Mary Nadeau of Swansea, Mass. "But don't do it just for your child."

The stigma attached to onlies is fast fading, and there are more one-child families in the United States than families with two children, Census Bureau figures show.

Many parents called Child Life to say their onlies are well-adjusted and learn sharing and other social skills at day-care centers, for example.

"Only children are often wrongly accused of being selfish, spoiled and pampered," says Susie Wheeler, a parent from Borger, Texas. "There are just as many children with siblings who have these qualities."

She says cousins and grandparents help her only child have a sense of a bigger family.

It has been proven that an only child has a good outlook for success, says Susan Newman, author of "Parenting an Only Child," (Doubleday, Main Street, $12.95).

"My research shows that time alone enhances creativity, independence and ability to be with one's self," says Newman, who herself is the mother of one.

Cultural changes have affected the way we raise only children and the way society views them, says Falbo, who has studied the single-child family extensively.

"About 100 years ago, only children were considered to be defective," she says.

No time to get lonely

In those days, the only child had no opportunity to interact with children his or her own age and tended to get too much attention from his stay-at-home mother, Falbo says.

But life in the 1990s means that most kids have lots of children to play with and little unoccupied time to be lonely or to look to parents as playmates.

Readers' comments reflect this trend.

"The world is so busy today," says Joni of Scottsdale, Ariz. "Children have enough activity that there is nothing wrong with being an only child."

Studies of only children show their long-term prospects in areas such as marriage and divorce are the same as children from large families, Falbo says.

Several older Child Life readers recall times of loneliness and wish they had siblings, but their main concern now is how to care for their aging parents alone.

"With no siblings, I will be forced to make all necessary decisions," says Ruth E. Souto of Rhode Island.

In situations like these, it's vital for the only child to develop a network of friends and relatives, Newman says.

Limiting the family to one child can mean that money, time and energy aren't stretched to the max. Reader Lavern Waskielis of Huntersville, N.C., whose only child is 34, says she could afford to travel with her daughter and send her to camp, for example.

"I can't imagine sharing my time with another child," says Suzanne Wahl, a reader from Atlanta whose husband was reluctant to have a second child.

Are there pitfalls?

Sure. Any family can have a spoiled child, Newman points out.

Perfection can be a problem for couples who focus on having only one shot at parenting, Newman says.

"Act as if you have three or four or more kids," Newman suggests. "Don't be so demanding about perfection, but don't let him get away with a lack of chores."

Only child G.A. of Pearsall, Texas, offers this approach: "Do not treat them as if they are fragile. Love them, but don't spoil them."

Like raising children in any family configuration, a lot depends on the parenting style.

"If you have a good attitude and are content with one child, that child will turn out as well as a child with siblings," Newman says

Pub Date: 12/29/96

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