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Why Only Children Are Not 'Better'

25/06/2013 10:55 BST | Updated 24/08/2013 10:12 BST

American journalist Lauren Sandler feels so strongly that only children are so unfairly demonised and negatively stereotyped that she has written a book about why the choice to have an only child is better for both the parents and the child.

Titled, 'One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child, and the Joy of Being One,' Sandler, an only child herself and the mother of one, believes that a mother needs to well-manage her 'breeding', as having more than one child will threaten her identity and 'authentic self.'

Freedom can be maintained by only having one child, she declares. One child is liberating for the parent. And, she tells her readers, there is no need to worry about the stereotypes and common misconceptions about having an only child because having an only child is better!

Sandler claims that her book provides research and studies which will reassure the reader why having one child is not just okay, but better than having any more. In fact, this 'better than' theme runs throughout, with Sandler 'proving' her theories that only children are more intelligent, happier, more successful... pretty much better than a child with siblings would be at anything and everything in life.

How can such sweeping generalisations be made? There are children who were raised as only children who were happy to be so, and others who were desperately miserable. Likewise, there are children raised with siblings, maybe just one or perhaps more, who absolutely loved it, and others who look back on their childhoods less enthusiastically. Only children, two children, ten children - there are advantages and disadvantages to each. But to claim that one is better than the other is wrong and, quite frankly, disturbing.

Sandler has continually stated her own opinions for sticking to having one child. She denounces the opinion that only children are selfish, yet continues with her own self-centred, narcissistic reasons on why her only daughter will remain so.

Her reasons are focused on her own wants: 'I want to do meaningful work. I want to travel. I want to eat in restaurants and drink in bars. I want to go to movies and concerts. I want to read novels. I want to marinate in solitude. I want to have friendships that regularly sustain and exhilarate me. I want a romantic relationship that involves daily communication beyond interrogatives and imperatives - I want to be known.'

Rather than focusing on the joy her daughter brings and by refusing to acknowledge how that joy would be multiplied if she were to have another child, she lingers on how the child would negatively impact her own life and wants. In her opinion, if her own wants are not met then she would be unhappy, which would then affect her daughter's happiness. She then seeks to justify her opinion on motherhood further by explaining how remaining a singleton can only seek to benefit a child.

Sandler concedes that differences between only children and those with siblings do indeed occur. However, she hastens to point out that these differences are only positive ones. She refers to research by Falbo and Polit, which claims that only children have: 'demonstrably higher intelligence and achievement; only children have also been found to have more self-esteem. These findings, which have been confirmed repeatedly in recent years, hold true regardless of whether parents of only children stayed together and regardless of economic class.'

Really? So every only child in the world regardless of their socio-economic status, background or class is always more intelligent, higher achieving and more confident than every other child in the world who has a sibling or several? Could these characteristics not be gained by any combination of other factors? Parental involvement, for example? Geographical location? The child's own personality traits? The serendipitous opportunities that life sometimes brings us? Genetics, even? Nature or nurture, perhaps? Not according to Sandler and the once more selective 'research' she refers to. 'Onlies tend to have higher educational and occupational achievement, whether our parents stay together or not, and whether we are from rich families or poor ones.' According to her, if 'onlies' are different, it is only to be superior to their sibling-burdened counterparts.

Sandling continues her efforts to back up her theories that only children are brighter, better and have a greater advantage over those with siblings. She writes: 'Social psychologist Robert Zajonc, who codeveloped the Confluence Model, which provides the mathematical basis for understanding family size and intelligence, found that as the number of siblings goes up, the intellectual environment of the family goes down, regardless of its education level. Not only do parents speak--and read--less to their kids, but the entire family becomes more "babyish," operating at the level of its youngest member. Instead of challenging the older child, interactions are dragged backward developmentally to accommodate the younger one. Or, as Blake put it, with a literalism that threatens to rankle, the family "becomes weighted with infantile minds.'

To argue that research and studies claim that one choice is very, very wrong whilst the other is very, very right is asinine nonsense. You can find research to back up any opinion you hold on any subject at all if you look for it.

To suggest that one particular family set-up is 'better' than another is absurd. Truly, there are advantages and disadvantages to any one of them, and an accompanying stereotype to go with each of them too. The only ideal family is one which the parents decide upon together. For some that may mean one child. For others it may mean two, three or even many more. What suits one family and their circumstances will not suit another. What it does come down to is individual choice, and what the parents are prepared to sacrifice or what they feel they can provide. It does not make one choice right and another wrong. All it makes them is different.

Adapted from the article 'Why Lauren Sandler has got the only child argument all wrong'