Although 23% of American families currently have just one child, the number was much lower when I was born in the 1980s. I forget that I’m fairly unique in being an only child. That is, until things on social media like “National Sibling Day” photos or a sibling survey go viral. Most recently, the comment section of this NRP article got me fuming.
The spoiled/bratty/conceited stereotype of “onlies” is still pervasive in our society. If only I had a dollar for every time someone said to me, “but you don’t act like an only child.” Lately I’ve been approached by other Moms asking, “Is it okay if I just want one?”.
We’ve all heard someone make the comment, “you have to give them a sibling!” at one time or another. This upsets me not only because you can raise a perfectly healthy only child (*ahem*), but also because the person receiving that comment might be dealing with infertility. Maybe they aren’t financially secure enough to support multiple kids. Besides, not all siblings have a close relationship. I can name a few off the top of my head that are on non-speaking terms. And sibling rivalry could be either helpful or harmful, so it seems silly to factor it into the decision.
Any child – siblings or not – could end up a spoiled brat. There are many factors that go into one’s personality. I’ve thought of a few things that might help your only child create life-long, sibling-like bonds with others. Not all of these are necessary or right for everyone; but the more you can check off the list, the more likely your child will socially flourish.
I tend to get offended at the saying “blood is thicker than water”, because I truly believe that your friends can be as close (maybe closer) as family. However, there are phases of life when friendships drift apart, and it’s easier to keep in touch with family if you get together for holidays, etc. For this reason, cousins often play a great faux-sibling role. Unfortunately, my cousins were far apart in age on one side, and geographically on the other. But I have a fellow sibling-less friend who is so close to her cousin that we refer to her cousin’s kids as her nieces. Ideally your only child will have cousins that they can play with often.
I don’t know how I lucked out; but most of the kids in my neighborhood were all born in 1984. We shared backyards and never wanted to come inside until dark. I would have felt so isolated if I didn’t have siblings and lived on multiple acres out in the country.
If weighing the pros and cons of an in-home childcare provider vs. a daycare, I can personally vouch for daycare! Sure, there were times when I didn’t want to go; but by the end of my time in daycare, those kids were my best friends. We went on all kinds of neighborhood adventures together, and even created superhero aliases. I spent most of the school day thinking how excited I was to get back to writing our stories together!
I know choice of schools is highly personal. However, I’m so grateful for the diversity of people I was able to meet by attending public schools from Kindergarten through my undergraduate studies. It’s especially easy to get stuck in a bubble as an only child, because you’ve not experienced new ways of doing or thinking about things.
Admittedly: I’ve never been athletically inclined. However, organized sports are a great model of how to build routine and work as a team. My biggest social activity was Girl Scouts. I loved our outings and meetings so much. Whether it’s sports, scouts, music, dance, or countless other activities — get your only child involved!
Empathy by Example
The best way you can show your child how to be kind to others is to demonstrate this trait in your daily life. My parents were always there for their friends and siblings via phone, or welcoming them into our home at any time! They always implored me to call my friends back ASAP – what if they really needed someone to talk to? I’ve always been drawn to fellow “sensitive souls”, and my parent always encouraged them to come on over.
Whether you have one child by choice, or not, I assure you that they can certainly be a well-adjusted individual. Parents of multiples have to make sure they treat each child fairly. As a parent of one, your job is to make sure they are not isolated or lonely. It’s becoming more common, so hopefully the stereotypes will start to dissipate!
Did you grow up as an only child? Do you think it affected your personality?