The Case for the Only Child: Your Essential Guide

The Case for the Only Child: Your Essential Guide

by Susan Newman, P.h.D.


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780757315510
Publisher: Health Communications, Incorporated
Publication date: 06/01/2011
Pages: 264
Sales rank: 1,000,947
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About 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

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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Case for the Only Child: Your Essential Guide 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was hoping this book would give scientific evidence backing up the choice to have only one child. Unfortunately, this book is nothing but anecdotal quotes from blogs, message boards, etc bashing those that choose to have more children in an effort to console and justify those that choose (or don't have a choice) to have one child. The further into the book I got, the angrier I became. There has to be better resources out there to help with this decision, this book certainly isn't one of them. Please don't waste your money.
kraaivrouw on LibraryThing 24 days ago
I am an only child who is the parent of an only child so I was very curious to read this book. When I was growing up I knew very few only children (if I think about it, I still know very few), nonetheless, after I had my son it never occurred to me to have another. My parents always said to me, "If you get it so right the first time, why do it again?" I did get it amazingly right the first time. My son has just successfully finished his first year in college and is a very happy, smart, socially well-adjusted, and kind human being who hopes to be an elementary or middle school teacher as a way of giving back to his community. None of that is a surprise to me because that's both who he's always been and how he was raised.I don't remember ever wanting siblings - I think that's a pretty abstract notion for small children, anyway. If I did when I was little I definitely remember being thrilled to be an only child after I started having sleepovers with friends with siblings. I'll admit that I'm often curious about it what it might be like, but purely from an intellectual standpoint. I was always very close with my parents (as is my son with his). We were a united front - all in it together.I had and have friends. I was lucky to have been able to participate in activities outside of school - art classes, music lessons, ballet. I do remember being lonely sometimes, but I think everyone's had that sensation - siblings or not. I have always been (and remain) very independent and choosy in my personal life - choosing fewer rather than more friends - again that's part of who I am and of my personality. My son is much more social and outgoing than I am or than his father, so I'm not convinced being an only child dooms you to social ineptitude.The qualities I think only children gain quickly are those of independence, of learning to compromise (really, friends never give you your own way all the time). I think only children also learn the luxury of picking and choosing because they know how to be alone and how to entertain themselves. I see these as positives.FDR - President and Only ChildDr. Newman clearly takes apart the stereotypes associated with only children as just that - stereotypes that turn out to be essentially untrue. We no longer live in the kind of society that loses children at such a rate that multiples are had if only to ensure someone makes it past childhood. Our children do not work our farms, or labor in our factories. We are fortunate as a society to have choices about family size and there are good reasons for choosing fewer as there are equally good reasons for having more. I don't think it's a question to torture yourself over and it is good to see an explication of that for parents who may be doing so.I think children should be wanted and cherished by their parents. If you're able to do that with only one child, then that's what you do. If you can do that with more, then you do that. All choices have advantages and disadvantages - it's up to you to figure out the cost/benefit and then follow your heart.If this is a question that you're dealing with in your personal life, you can't find a better book to help you think about this choice. Perhaps the best (and most difficult) thing about living at this time is that we have many choices. Knowledge increases our ability to make the right choices for ourselves and further helps us down the road to knowing our heart's desire. This is a thoughtful and worthwhile book that presents information in a clear way and affirms the right to make all kinds of choices - great book.
meganfae More than 1 year ago
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.