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Are Only Children Destined To Be Selfish, Lonely A**holes?

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Momlogic's MomstrosityAn article in this month's Time Magazine reminded me of a conversation I once had while waiting in line at Target with my 2-year-old daughter.

Time Magazine

The conversation started innocently. The woman behind me had an infant in a Bjorn, a toddler in a cart and a 4-year-old clinging to her leg. I'll call her FertileMom.

FertileMom (re: my daughter): "Your first?"
Me: "Yes."
FertileMom: "Are you going to have any more?"
Me: "No. We just want one."
FertileMom (shaking her head with disapproval): "Tsk. What a shame."

This woman then launched into a monologue about how sad it will be for my daughter as a "lonely only" and how the best gift we could ever give her is a playmate. "You know what they say about only children: They're spoiled," she added emphatically.

Of course, FertileMom was only parroting what most people believe (albeit in a rude manner): that only children are destined to be lonely, selfish, spoiled jerks. Given the economy, more women are choosing to have smaller families. Does that mean that, in the coming years, we will be overrun with sibling-free children who think they are the center of the universe? 

No, says Time contributor Lauren Sandler. "Studies showed that singletons aren't measurably different from other kids, except that they -- along with firstborns and people who have only one sibling -- score higher in measures of intelligence and achievement," she writes. 

Psychologist Carl Pickhardt also weighs in: "There's no question that only children are highly indulged and highly protected," he says. "You've been given more attention and nurturing to develop yourself. But that's not the same thing as being selfish."

Whew ... dodged that parenting bullet! Now, what's the next thing I can stress over ...?

Are you concerned for only children? 


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19 comments so far | Post a comment now
tom July 8, 2010, 2:58 PM

I’m not concerned about ours. He has no issue making friends at whatever school/park/function he is at. Teachers seem to rave about him too. A few words from his counselor in his weekly report: “A very caring and respectful camper.”

Do I worry? Not one bit.

I think “nurture” wins in this nature vs nurture example. I’ve met plenty of parents with 2 bratty kids.

Sandra July 8, 2010, 3:12 PM

I’m not concerned about my son at all! he’s an extremely social, loving, caring, giving, nurturing child and he’s only 8. He’s always had the best attributes possible in a child. I’ve always received compliments on him. Yes, I over indulge him. How can I not? He’s in no way selfish and the rare instances I’ve seen even an inkling of selfishness displayed I nip it in the bud. For what it’s worth, I’m an only child and I turned out better than just fine. I graduated in the top 5% of my high school class, attended a prestigious collge, and I’m considered to be one of the most loyal, loving, and selfless friends/coworkers. I wouldn’t have things in our lives any other way :)

MomOf OnlyChild July 8, 2010, 3:13 PM

This is so NOT TRUE!! What a bunch of BS.

FinanceMommy July 8, 2010, 3:50 PM

Yes my son is self-centered, but all kids are, it’s our job as parents to raise them not to be. That is one of the many reasons kids need parents. They aren’t supposed to raise themselves! I have an only child because I cannot seem to have any more kids despite wanting more. People need to be more sensitive and not assume that just because someone has one child that they can have or want more,especially with strangers in the line at the grocery store….

Heather July 8, 2010, 4:37 PM

My husband and I have an 8-year-old daughter. We both work and she went to daycare before starting school. Because daycare (and everything else!) is so expensive we decided to wait until our daughter started school to try for a second child. I miscarried and was devastated—we had waited so long! I never intended to raise an only child—my husband and I both come from large families—but if that’s how things end up it will not be the worst thing. My daughter definitely has more than I had, gets more attention than I ever did with 3 sisters, but I think it’s mostly beneficial. I have more time to help with homework, play games, and ensure she grows up to be a kind and generous person.

kate July 8, 2010, 6:49 PM

A lot of it comes down to the parenting. I have seen parents of a single child blow it and raise a big brat and I have seen parents do it right and raise a wonderful child.

Renae July 8, 2010, 7:47 PM

Well I dated one and he definitely was all of those things! but that’s only one example…LOL

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shannon July 8, 2010, 9:27 PM

I have only 1 son,he is 5 almost 6, I would love to have another and we have been trying for years,however it has yet to happen, my son is very considerate to everyone,he is very polite,always please and thank you for everything,despite the fact that I do give him everything he wants. he shares all of his things with all of his friends,very unselfish,so for being an only child he is also the most caring,sensitive kid ever.he would give everything he had to someone else.so being an only child has not hurt him at all.

damill July 9, 2010, 5:42 AM

It does come down to how they are raised. My niece is a wonderful, loving only child, but my daughter went to school with a girl whose parents took out the wall between 2 bedrooms to make room for her stuff - she definitely did not know how to treat other kids nicely, share, take turns, etc.

That said, I do think the best gift I’ve even given my daughter is a brother. Even though, or maybe because, they are 5 years apart, they are incredibly close, loving, and supportive in a way parents can never be. In all fairness, though, I have to say they also know how to torture each other best!

Anonymous July 9, 2010, 7:02 AM

I love how all these comments, save one are fom parents of only children who don’t see to have been only children themselves. Parents…get a clue. no matter how similar you believe your only child to be in relation to other kids you see, they arn’t the same and never will be. As an adult only child who knows a fair number of other adult only children i can say that we all have at lesat one thing in common, our childhood was considerably different than those of our peers. Wheter those experiences were positive or negative doen’t matter, what does however is that the differences need to be recognized. We tend to relate to people differently. While we’ve certainly all had friends growing up we may not click with our age related peers as well. Speaking on behalf of myself and my friends, most of us relate to other adults 2 or 3x oue age than we do to others our own age. I’m going to more friends funerals than I should be for someone my age. Looking back, we’ve grown up in “academic” households where we tended to be trated more like little adults than as kids. Just remember that your perception of your child is considerably different than their perception of themselves especially in regards to their only child status. Your kids are different, but that doesn’t mean different in a bad way.

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LonelyOnlyButOK July 9, 2010, 4:11 PM

I am an only child and I would love to have a sibling. It is great being the centre of your parents universe, but I would have loved to have had someone to play with at the park or the beach when I was younger. It would also be nice to share memories of childhood with someone. And since my parents have divorced I feel a lot of pressure to take sides. It also makes me sad to think that when my parents pass away that I won’t have any connection to my past.

However the toys when I was younger were brilliant! :P


Anonymous July 10, 2010, 11:17 AM

I agree with LonelyOnly. I grew up with a brother and sister. There’s quite a gap between my brother and I so we were never close. My sister and I were. I also have a niece who’s almost grown up. She’s an only child. For the most part, I think only children can do well. They make friends and all the rest of it. But there are times when company would be fun:

- family holidays when money/timing means none of the friends can come along.

- secrets to share with a peer rather than a parent. Adults can NEVER get excited or passionate about the latest kids things in the same way kids can.

- an accomplice when there’s something naughty waiting to be done.

- someone to shriek with on Christmas day when the presents are being opened. This comes back to the family holiday thing. Christmas iis a day when pretty much every child the only child knows will be with their family.

- someone to remember with in old age. I’m not there yet, but it will happen.

Only children may thrive, my niece certainly has, but there have been times when perhaps a brother or sister would have been nice for her. As for myself, when I start having children, I want to have more than one. Hopefully they’ll be close in age too.

ss July 10, 2010, 2:37 PM

I think it’s a huge myth that only children are in some way damaged. I have lots of friends who are only children and they’re very successful and well adjusted. It all depends on the parenting.

I do, however, think that having someone else in this world who knows what it’s like to have the same parents you do is priceless.

Having someone who was there through good times and bad and who will be there when your parents pass away, to share those memories with you, is a very valuable thing.

I’m not saying being an only child in any way deprives you of a great life, I just know I cherish having a sister who knows what it was like to live in my house (and I grew up in a happy family).

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T August 19, 2010, 8:54 PM

@LonelyOnlyButOK…there were 4 children in my family. My oldest brother died at 37 in 1990, then my mom in 1993, then my dad in 2002, then, my oldest sister last December. There is only me and my sister who is 1 year older than me left. We are 53 and 54. Neither one of us has the family memory, or for that matter much of any memory! So, don’t feel like you are missing out on “sharing” memories!

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