We’ve been doing a bit of a spring clean this week.  Well more of a re-organise than a spring clean, but somewhere in the process Birdy’s cot got dissembled and packed away.

I would have thought that packing up the cot would have been an emotional time for me, especially as we spent most of 2008 and 2009, as well as a few months of 2010 being pregnant and hoping for another baby.  I would have thought that I would have just taken a moment to observe the end of an era.  But it was really quite pragmatic.  One day I came home from work and the baby gate was taken down.  Another day I noticed a kiddy lock was missing from the kitchen cupboard.  Then it only seemed a small step to pack up the cot to make room for a new toy shelf.  Some time soon the nappy change table will make it’s way out to the shed.

So now, although we’d still like more kids, we are looking forward at a future as an only child family.

I know that for some people the concept of a one-child family isn’t such a big deal, but I was raised as one of four siblings and would never have planned to have an only child.  Even though my mum was an only child and I have several close friends who are only children, the stereotypes persist.  There’s this idea that only children are spoilt rotten, grow up too fast and don’t know how to relate to other kids.  Part of the problem is with the language.  Only child sounds so negative and inadequate.  It’s like when people ask how many children I have and I find myself saying, “Just one.”  Just.  In French and Italian they say “unique child”.  It sounds so much more positive and special.

In fact, research from the UK shows that only children are happier than their counterparts with siblings.  There’s some evidence that only children are more motivated to achieve, have higher self-esteem and better relationships with their parents because they don’t have to compete for their attention.

Like most only children, Birdy is self-assured at speaking with adults.  She’s also good at entertaining herself and has a vivid imagination.  She’s also developing a great ability to make friends.  Again, the research supports this.  Some studies have shown that only children are actually conditioned to be outgoing because they have to win over their friends, rather than just relying on siblings for company.  Birdy has recently made close friends with a much older girl at church, who also happens to be an only child.  I think in some unspoken way, this friendship seems to be modeled on a “big sister/little sister” pattern of relating.  But still, how many three-year-olds can confidently and independently make friends with an eight year old?

But there are down sides. Without fail, every single one of her friends and cousins has a younger brother or sister.  On nearly every play-date there are moments when she is left out as siblings naturally fall into play with each other.  After those times, she will usually ask me for a baby brother or sister which is hard to take.  Some research also shows that only children can have trouble fitting into groups, and tend to dominate.  They can also become aggressive as they struggle with introvert or extrovert tendencies.  (An only child has to be both introvert and extrovert depending on the context.)  But as long as they’re not overprotected, which is a natural trap for parents of only children, they should grow up to be confident, independent and motivated to achieve.

Whether we like it or not, only child families are becoming more common.   There are 20 million only child families in America today and China has millions of them.  In spite of all the talk of “Little Emperors” the Chinese experience has shown that, in general, they have turned out to be very well-adjusted adults.  There’s one other major fringe benefit to growing up as an only child: peace.  Studies have shown that only-children’s recollections of childhood are overwhelmingly peaceful.  I’m sure their parents appreciate that too.

Do you have an only child?  Or did you grow up as one?  How did it affect your personality and social skills?  Is there any truth to the stereotypes of only children as spoilt?  Would you be happy to have an only-child family?

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