Lately I have been thinking a lot about being an only child and what it means in today’s world. Its been on my mind more probably because we seem to get a new announcement every day from friends who had babies around the same time as we did, that they are now expecting #2.
I am an only child and for the most part I never thought much about it. Sure, growing up there were times when I was bored playing by myself and wished I had someone else around, but I also was pretty good at keeping myself occupied. I remember feeling grateful that I didn’t have to share my toys or fight with siblings.
Having to be alone a lot also helped me become very independent and adventurous even from a young age. When I was maybe 9 or 10, I found stray kittens in a drain a few streets away from my house. I would ride my bike to the nearest 7-11 to buy cat food to feed them every day. I did this for weeks before I ever told my parents! It was just one of my many adventures I had on my own. As I got older, I was still really good at being alone. Even though I was always known as a social butterfly, I enjoyed living alone, travelling all over the world alone, having my quiet “me” time. And this is one of life’s hardest lessons – how to be alone – and I learned it from the beginning.
And yes, here it comes, I was spoiled. I like to think that I didn’t act spoiled, but I do remember my friends coming over the day after Christmas and literally adding up the thousands of dollars my parents must have spent on me. I just thought it was normal. But, I also remember getting a barely functioning beater car when I learned how to drive. (to this day I still have never had a new car). I remember working at least 1 job, often 2 jobs since the age of 15 and while attending college full time. I remember scouring library resources looking for scholarship and loan opportunities to pay for my undergraduate and graduate tuition. I was taught the meaning of money, and that even though I often got whatever I wanted, that life wouldn’t always be that way. As I got a little older, I would get mad at my mom for spending too much on me and would try to “spoil” her to make up for all the years she did that for me. So somehow, even being spoiled, I learned the good lessons.
At the end of the day, I think a lot of the generalizations about only children just don’t add up. A UT (my alma mater) researcher, Toni Faldo, actually set out to investigate the only-child experience. Faldo and Polit conducted a meta-analysis of 115 studies of only children that looked at adjustment, character, sociability, achievement and intelligence. They found that only children were not measurably (aka scientifically) different from other kids, except (along with first borns with one 1 sibling) they scored higher on measures of intelligence and achievement. They also stated that only children tended to do better in school and have more education (probably because they are spoiled! kidding!). Faldo also conducted a study on personality traits of only children; again she found that only children were not distinguishable from ones with siblings. So…now that the myths of only children are debunked (to read more about debunking the myths, see Lauren Sandler’s article in Time) where does that leave us?
Will the experience of being an only child be a lot different for my son than it was for me? I was the only, only child in my friend group growing up. But I also was the only one with SUPER young parents, so I was always a bit odd in comparison to my friend’s families. I look at a section (albeit getting smaller by the day) of my current friend group and see parents who had their first child much older than we did and so even if they want a #2, it isn’t necessarily a given. I also see families who seem to have chosen the only child path on purpose. So perhaps our son will have many friends who are in the same situation and won’t feel so alone in that regard.
Then again, people always tell me that our son would be a great big brother, that he would love a sibling, etc. They are probably right. He loves babies, he is very gentle (well sometimes!), he’s good at sharing and caring for others and is super social. But he also LOVES being momma’s baby and would probably like that other baby to go home at the end of the day!
Now that I am older, I have started to wonder a bit about what it would be like to have a sibling. I do sort of wish I had someone that I could call in the middle of night no matter what. I wish that Cian had cousins from my side to spend his holidays with like I did. I spent a good deal of time with my cousins growing up, even if it was just for holidays or for short spurts. There were even times in my adult life that I was so close to my cousin’s that I considered them to be like sisters. But Cian won’t necessarily have this since his (first) cousins all live in Ireland. The grass is always greener though isn’t it?
So some days I wonder, do I need to “sacrifice” to give him a sibling? (this is the feeling I get from many people when they say why they are having #2 – they “need” to give their first a sibling). Then I think of friends from school, who literally couldn’t stand their siblings, who I see on Facebook seemingly so loving and close. So do I deal with upteen years of bickering and fighting just to give him the possibility of someone to lean on when he is older or to help him take care of his aging parents? Would he be happier having a sibling or would he feel short changed that he was the star of our world for x amount of years and then all of the sudden he has to share the limelight? No clue.
Or do we keep in mind the fact that by him being an only child, we will be able to, financially and emotionally, give him the world. We can travel, we can pay for the best schools available (if necessary) and stock away money for his future education. We can support and nurture his interests, again financially and emotionally. He gets our undivided attention, not having to share it with another child (unless you take into account the screaming cats or the iphone whom he has to compete with!) and he gets many amazing and unique opportunities than he might not otherwise get with siblings.
For me it’s a toss up. And I can compose list after list and neither “side” ever really wins out. So I guess you just have to go with your gut and do what you think is best and try not to judge others for what they think is best.
Thankfully, there are a few holdouts like us out there. For now, I am content that at least one friend of mine who had her baby at the same time we did, still doesn’t seem to have baby #2 on her radar. It makes me feel less alone. Of course it would be nicer if she wasn’t on the other side of the world!
And I am sure I will continue to analyze this to death in my mind. It’s one of the few things that I wonder whether I will regret. I love being a parent and wouldn’t mind a house full of kids (who got along and slept all night!), but I also know I would regret not getting to give my kids the best of everything, which just may not be possible with more than one. So be warned, if we strike it rich, I may be adopting kids left and right 😉