The Case for the Only Child

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Although parenting approaches change, attitudes about only children remain stuck in the past. The negative stereotypes—lonely, selfish, bossy, spoiled, socially maladjusted—make parents think their child will be at a disadvantage when compared to those who grow up with siblings.

The Case for the Only Child debunks the myths, taking into account the many chang­es the nuclear family has experienced in the face of two-family incomes, women who have children later, and the economic ...

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Although parenting approaches change, attitudes about only children remain stuck in the past. The negative stereotypes—lonely, selfish, bossy, spoiled, socially maladjusted—make parents think their child will be at a disadvantage when compared to those who grow up with siblings.

The Case for the Only Child debunks the myths, taking into account the many chang­es the nuclear family has experienced in the face of two-family incomes, women who have children later, and the economic reality of raising children in our modern world. Combining often-surprising findings with real-life stories, compassionate in­sight, and thought-provoking questions, Dr. Susan Newman provides a guide to help you decide for yourself how to best plan your family and raise a single child.

-Provides fascinating facts and statistics to show the reasons for the rapid risein the number of singletons

-Explores pressure from friends, relatives, and strangers to have a second child . . . and how to deal with it

-Demystifies the realities of raising and being an only child with personal stories and current research

-Explores the highly debated question: Does a child need a sibling?

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Editorial Reviews

Jen Singer

"Once again, Susan Newman brings some common sense to modern parenting, this time with very valid reasons for having an only child. Whether you're feeling pressure to have another baby from your parents, your neighbors, or your kid, The Case for the Only Child provides the socioeconomic and psychological proof that maybe your gut—and your wallet—are right."

Jen Singer, author of
Stop Second-Guessing Yourself guides to parenting.

Edward Hallowell

"I love books that present good news most people don't know about. This is such a book. Susan Newman lets you know that far from being damaged, only children can have it made! As a parent, you can have one and be done, and Dr. Newman shows you why. Good-bye guilt, welcome the fulsome joy of being parents to a one-and-only!"

Edward Hallowell, M.D., author of
The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness and other books

Marc Goldstein

"The Case for the Only Child is an informative, well thought-out review of the controversies that surround the issues of family size. Newman debunks the stereotypes and myths about only children, answering tough questions about what it means to be a family and how to handle social and medical pressures, including the rising rates of secondary infertility."

Marc Goldstein, M.D., Professor of Reproductive Medicine and Urology at Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University and coauthor of A Baby at Last!

Alex Barzvi

"Are only children spoiled, lonely, and selfish? Finally, a valuable resource for those who have or are considering one child. A powerful book, The Case for the Only Child challenges misguided advice from family and friends, reveals the facts about only one child, and teaches how to handle unwanted pressure and self-doubt. Only you can define what family means, and this book gives you the confidence to embrace that view. A must-read that will free you of any guilt or shame you might feel for not wanting (or not having) another child. This book is a gift."

Alex Barzvi, Ph.D., Assistant Clinical Professor of Child
and Adolescent Psychiatry at the NYU Medical Center
and cohost of About Our Kids on Sirius XM's Doctor Radio.

Robin Gorman Newman

"For anyone debating the issue of 'filling your nest, but how full?' this book is a wise and empowering read. As the mother of an only child and the founder of, a community for midlife ­mothers, I know the self-doubt and judgment that some parents experience. Susan Newman offers a validating and refreshing pat on the back for those going the only-child route."

Robin Gorman Newman, Founder/Parenting

Jane Mattes

"Susan Newman has written a delightful, honest, and readable book that explores a complex issue—whether to have more than one child. She presents and explores every possible conflict and scenario with compassion for all sides of the issue and for all members of the family."

Jane Mattes, LCSW, author of
Single Mothers by Choice,

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780757315510
  • Publisher: Health Communications, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 6/1/2011
  • Pages: 264
  • Sales rank: 797,443
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan Newman, Ph.D., is a social psychologist and the author of 15 nonfiction books about parenting and issues affecting family life. She taught at Rutgers University and is a featured speaker/workshop facilitator on family life and children's issues. Susan is the author of the classic book Parenting the Only Child and blogs for Psychology Today magazine. Visit the author at

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Read an Excerpt

Introduction: Filling Your Nest, but How Full?

Parenting shouldn't be distilled into a
binary of joy or misery any more than we should
discuss the merits of 'children' versus 'childlessness'
without considering the place in between:
having just one kid.

—Lauren Sandler, thirty-five, the mother of a two-year-old

When you thought about becoming a parent, you may have been very clear and emphatic about how many children you wanted. Perhaps you decided you didn't want any children and now wonder if you might want one. On the other hand, you might have been positive you wanted two children; there was no shaking your confidence, that is, until you experienced parenting one child. Suddenly, the decision may not seem so obvious or absolute.

Maybe you decided one was just right for you, but everyone from your parents to perfect strangers has an opinion they gladly offer whether or not you ask. A whole range of 'what ifs' take over, your conviction weakens, and you are no longer 100 percent sure of what you want. You may fear you won't feel like a family with only one child, or you may fall prey to the lingering negative preconceptions associated with the only child. You speculate that your child could end up being lonely or bossy or worse. Too often you hear, 'He needs a brother or sister.' Really? You become unsure.

Most everyone agrees that a second child dramatically changes your life and the life of your firstborn forever. As big a decision as having or adopting another child is, deciding not to is a commitment you may not be ready to make. You look in your garage or storage area and ask yourself: Do I hold on to the crib, the high chair, and the rest of the all pink (or blue) baby paraphernalia? Or, do I tag them with prices and put them on the front lawn? Selling seems logical, but you may find it reassuring to allow the memorabilia of babyhood to clutter the basement for another year or so while you make up your mind.

How do you decide whether to add to your family when social pressure and pessimistic attitudes about singletons sway you toward a second child? What's wrong with having just one? Is one enough for you? For your partner? What constitutes a complete, happy family?

Patricia, a dentist, the mother of a three-year-old child, isn't sure. She contacted me to talk about whether or not she really wants a second child. She is not an isolated case of a parent second-guessing herself.

The husband of an almost-forty-year-old wife wants to give their five-year-old a sibling. Originally adamantly against the idea, his wife has agreed to see a fertility specialist, but isn't sure she can cope with another child.

A friend, age thirty-four, has been teetering on the second-baby fence and feels pressure from her family to have another. She hesitates, knowing her career will be in jeopardy if she takes another maternity leave.

At the time a couple adopted their first child, miraculously, they were offered a second. They weren't sure they could comfortably afford two children or give them the attention they felt they would need.

These examples illustrate the conundrums people face regarding family size. They ask themselves, Is having one child better than having two or more? Will I live to regret having only one child? Will my child suffer needlessly as an only child? Who will my child turn to when we, as parents, pass on? These pages will help you better understand the realities of the single child and the single-child family. Much has changed since your parents had you.

Size Matters

When it comes to the complex calculus of mapping your family's future, one thing is certain: whether you are thinking about having one child, have one child and are sure that's all you want, or are deciding to have a second child, size matters. It matters in how you view yourself and in how others view you. It makes a difference in how you function, how you manage your life, your career, your family, and other personal relationships.

How you feel about the number of children you have or don't have matters more than the actual number. You could feel like Maureen who says, 'Our marriage is perfect. We have one perfect son. Why would I want another child?' Or you could be in Phoebe's camp. She worries her daughter, age six, will miss the special bond Phoebe shares with her own sister.

Parents who consider stopping with one child are likely to find themselves on the defensive because many people still believe that children without siblings are at a disadvantage and are more likely to be selfish and spoiled. However, an established and growing body of evidence indicates that people who make these claims are misinformed. Most people, when asked, answer they want two children—usually, a boy for him, a girl for her. Or they say, 'I wanted one of each.' Despite what people say, the U.S. Census reports the single-child family is growing at a faster rate than families with two children.2 This well-kept secret isn't new. Between 1976 and 1998 there was a jump in the only-child population from 9.6 percent to more than 17 percent. During those same years, the percentage of families with three or more children shrank by 21 percent. The rise in one-child families continues.3

With so many people having just one child, it is important to understand the facts and dismiss the myths. The roots of family-size preference and opinions about only children run deep and opinions are hard to change. It is this thinking, coupled with the new definitions of family and the economics of raising children, that makes it so incredibly difficult for parents to stop at one or make the jump from one to two children.

To complicate matters, emotions run high when men and women enter the family-size terrain. As you read about how others made their decisions, you'll realize that you, too, must move beyond logic and factor in several issues. These include your feelings about your own childhood, how you related to your siblings, what friends are doing (and saying), the media portrayal of family, your career or job, your dreams, and heading the list: the annoying and inaccurate stereotypes that stigmatize the only child.

You may find yourself surrounded by well-meaning but intrusive people (if you haven't already), all of whom have an idea of what's right for you and are eager to tell you. Unsolicited and unwanted opinions frequently flow from grandparents, friends, coworkers, even strangers in store checkout aisles. Gloria, herself an only child and the mother of one, receives comments all the time and finds them disconcerting: 'It was my decision; I wish people would stop questioning me. They really don't know why I have one child or what might be going on in my life that's out of my control.'

Family configurations are many, and decision-making influences are everywhere—from your mother to the pregnant woman you pass in the hall when dropping your child off at pre-K. What (and how) you decide is subject to scrutiny and comes with megadoses of pressure that increase self-doubt. This is a decision you want to get 'right' so you don't feel negative and guilty. Men and women worldwide have come to realize that having one child is desirable from a wide range of viewpoints and practicalities. Today only-child families are a given and rapidly becoming the New Traditional Family.

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Customer Reviews

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  • Posted July 9, 2011

    Great book if you're trying to decide

    For medical reasons, my husband and I have decided on having just one child. This book really helped me find many reasons to feel good about that decision. While it was a painful decision to make, we now can see all of the positive things that can come from having an only.

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