independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Why do we regard an only child as lonely, demanding, spoilt and selfish?

U.S. President Barack Obama
U.S. President Barack Obama is an only child

WHAT do Franklin D Roosevelt, Barack Obama, John Lennon, Mahatma Gandhi, Maria Sharapova and Natalie Portman have in common – apart from being successful, famous and stars in their fields? They are all only children.

Before we all go and blame our siblings for stunting our achievements and holding us back in life, rest assured that there are many only children who did not crown themselves in glory – Stalin, for example.

However, instead of being awed by the accomplishments of only children, we have been giving them a very hard time. Throughout history, only children have often been the victims of gratuitous stereotypes and misconceptions.

Only children have been stuck with labels claiming that they are lonely, selfish, spoilt and demanding.

Well, of course they are. With two doting parents and a lifetime of undivided attention, how could an only child not turn out to be selfish and self-centred?

Hang on a minute – wasn't Gandhi an only child? You can hardly call him selfish.

Which brings us to another point: the assumption of outsiders that an only child is an only child by choice. Many parents have one child because they were unable to have more. The reasons for this are far-reaching, from starting families when they are older, facing infertility problems, changing adoption regulations, work-related issues and the cost of raising children to name a few.

It is insensitive and tactless to presume to know why someone makes a decision to have an only child. Fate often makes that choice for them.

An informal poll recently conducted on Magic-Mum.com revealed that 37pc of respondents would prefer siblings for their children, and only 5pc had an only child by choice.

"The pressure to have more children definitely exists," says Mary Bouchez of Magic-Mum.com, "but asking 'When are you going to give him/her a brother or sister?' can be tactless and hurtful, especially when you do not know why a family has one child and whether it is by choice or not."

According to Joanna Fortune, founder of the Solamh Parent-Child Relationship Clinic, parents often admit that their only-child status makes them feel like a failure in the eyes of others.

But who are we to judge what the 'correct' number of children is? Where is the hard proof that an only child is any worse off than one with siblings?

The negative associations that cling to that status are without foundation. Besides, who is to say if you will even get on with your siblings? After all, the world is full of families who barely speak to each other.

Dr David Carey of the Connolly Counselling Centre says there is nothing for parents of only children to be concerned about.

"There is no need for guilt on the parents' part, whether it's a choice or not," he says.

"Nothing in psychological literature suggests that only children will be less functioning than those with siblings."

Dr Carey goes on to explain that it all comes down to how children are raised, how their nature is nurtured and not the size of their family.

The results of some ongoing research will make us all wish we had only one child. John Claudy of the American Institute for Research did an exhaustive study of families, and his conclusion was that only children in two-parent homes exhibited higher intelligence and higher levels of achievement than children with one sibling.

AS for the argument that siblings make you more prepared for life and the big bad world and that they help you to develop the social and emotional skills you need if you are to fit in with other people – it is absolute codswallop. That is what school is for. Sharing a small classroom with 30 other students is an excellent lesson in how to survive in the big bad world.

The only downside I can see to being an only child is that you are alone in looking after your parents when they get older.

Having to shoulder the entire care burden alone can be a heavy load.

But then, if you are the leader of the free world or the number one tennis player in the world, you can probably afford to ship in some help.

Irish Independent

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