5 Benefits of Having an Only Child
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Quinn Kelly is a busy wife and mother of four boys as well as a marriage and family therapist. She hopes to encourage other moms with laughter and honesty and help remind them that the best part about motherhood has nothing to do with being the “perfect” mom or raising the “perfect” kids, but instead enjoying yourself and your children along the way.
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Do you remember being little and someone asking you, “So how many kids do you want to have when you’re older?” I would always answer that question with “Three. Maybe four.” Because to me, having a big family just sounded fun.
So I’ll never forget the time I heard a close friend answer that same question with, “One.” I remember being surprised by her answer and curious all at once. I asked her, “What makes you want only one?” And her answer dealt with being an only child herself. She loved being the one and only. To her, it was perfect. So why would she want to have more than one?
Fast forward 15 years, and I have many friends that have only children. And research says that one in five Americans have only one child, which means this family type is becoming more and more common versus the days when big families were the norm.
Of course it’s important to remember there are more reasons onlies come about than parents intentionally choosing to have just one, which seems to be an inaccurate assumption amongst outsiders looking in. Sometimes parents deal with infertility, and their only child is the only child they were able to have. Other times broken relationships cause children to become onlies despite a person’s desire to have more. And sometimes marriages that happen later in life with older mothers, another growing trend, also produce an only. But no matter the reason behind it, one thing is for sure, there are many only children walking the earth.
But sadly, there has long been a stigma attached to only children. In fact, in 1896, one of the most well-known American psychologists named G. Stanley Hall, referred to being an only child as a “disease in itself.” From that time, only children have often received a bad rap for being selfish and bossy. Or for being unable to mix well with others, or trapped in a lonely world.
However, in the 1970’s only child Toni Falbo, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas, and her colleague Denise Polit, examined more than a hundred studies done on only children since the 1920’s. And their research disproved the negative stigma put on only children. In fact, they discovered some areas in which only children had more success than children with siblings, and also concluded that in the majority of ways, onlies are indistinguishable from children with siblings.
While research indicates onlies score slightly higher on academic tests than children with siblings, it does show only children tend to be higher achievers. This is likely due to the benefit that their parents can focus all their attention and finances on helping that child excel. Some great examples of famous high-achieving onlies include: Condoleeza Rice, Leonardo DaVinci, Alan Greenspan, Mahatama Gandhi and Danielle Steel.
It turns out that while being the center of your parents’ attention can at times be a little much for some children, it also has wonderful benefits. Feeling the constant love from your parents has proven to show that onlies have strong self esteem, but not necessarily over-inflated. While oldest children tend to have the highest self-esteem because they can compare themselves to younger siblings, and youngest children tend to have the lowest because of their comparison to older siblings, only children tend to fall in the middle. Instead of getting their self-value from comparing themselves to their siblings, they seem to have a realistic sense of their capabilities not built on comparisons to others but accurate self-awareness.
It’s a misconception that only children are lonelier. While it is true that at times only children might ask for a brother or sister because they desire a playmate, this does not always translate into a permanent state of loneliness. In fact, research suggests that only children may be alone more, but become more independent because they know how to do better with their time alone — which is clearly a positive attribute in life.
Only children may not have siblings to interact with at home, but research indicates they are no less social than children with peers after the age of Kindergarten. Who knows? Their lack of siblings at home may give them an extra desire to connect more!? As one researcher indicated, you cannot determine if you are sitting next to an only child on a plane—their traits don’t stand out.
Benefits for Mom
In a study done through the University of Pennsylvania by Hans-Peter Kohler where 5,000 sets of twins were interviewed, the researchers found that of those women who had children, the happiest ones were those who had just one child. Many moms are made to feel selfish or guilty for stopping at one, or enjoying having the flexibility that comes from only having one child to focus on. However, if it translates into more happiness, why should a mother feel guilty?
In summary, there is no perfect number for all families. Some families are big. Some are small. And only you know what is right for you. And for many families, the right choice is one. So if you’re wondering if it’s okay to only want one? The answer is YES! Enjoy your little ONE!
Cheers to Only Children,