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“Oh, look at your little one playing alone in his room. Don’t you think he feels lonely? I really think you should give him a brother or a sister.” If you are mother to an only child, chances are you are familiar with this conversation. Family members, friends, neighbours – everyone keeps telling us that having a sibling is good for children. The perception is – an ONLY child is also a LONELY child. But is this really true? We spoke to fellow moms and experts about this, and some really interesting observations came up…
Mansi, a Delhi-ite who got married at 22, faced a big dilemma after her baby was born. Mansi and herhusband were happy with their family of three. Although she did everything for her little girl, and loved her to bits, she also wanted to focus on her career. It was a personal choice to not have more children. However, people around her started making comments:
“Are you sure? She’s going to get lonely.”
“Don’t you want someone to take care of you when you grow older?”
“What if something happens to her and you are left without a choice?”
“That is such a selfish decision!”
Comments like these were thrown at Mansi very frequently, even by people who didn’t know her well. Her personal decision of having an only child somehow became a public subject everyone kept discussing. It seemed to be a decision that would somehow harm her daughter.
What happened to Mansi is extremely relatable for all those of us who have one child – boy or girl. So, is having an only child really a bad idea? Are only children lonely and aloof too?
Let’s find out.
6 “Facts” About Only Children – What Moms & Experts Feel
1. No Playmate/Companion in Busy Homes
One of the biggest problems that only children are perceived to face is the absence of a playmate. Increasingly today, families are getting nuclear and mothers are also stepping out of the house to work. Expenses are rising, and the need to have a career is also becoming a priority in many women. In this setting, an only child often ends up spending time only with himself, with no companion to play alongside.
A mom says, “More than anything else, a second source of affection brings about a sense of balance in our children’s life. A playmate and sometimes a soulmate, with whom you share your parents, a family and a childhood.”
Expert Opinion: Child psychologists agree that spending time with family members makes a huge difference to socio-emotional development in early life. So, when a child lives with a sibling, and finds a companion for play, it sure is helpful. However, this in no way means that only children cannot – or do not – have companions. It depends on the efforts we as parents are able to make for our child’s happiness. Many mothers today figure out ways to not let their only child feel lonely – either by spending more time with them when possible, organising playdates, or encouraging independent play.
Mrinalini Pandey Awasthi, a Pune-based homemaker, shares her thoughts about only children. Her son too is an only child, but she doesn’t let him feel the absence of a playmate. She says,
“My son is alone, but never lonely. I make it a dedicated point to give him my attention and my company whenever it is convenient. I have a simple KRA for myself – what did he learn from me today, and how many times did I make him laugh heartily.”
2. No One to Look After Them Once the Parents are Gone
One of the most-quoted ‘negative’ effects of being an only child is that they won’t have a sibling to care for them, especially if something unforeseen happens to the parents. A personal conflict, an accident, loss of life, turmoil – in all these situations, an only child will have no one to support them. A mom, who has an only child, and regrets it, says, “We all grew up with our cousins, siblings. Now our parents are either gone or ailing but we still have each other. Our children will not have anybody, other than their workmates and if they are lucky, a handful of friends perhaps.”
Another mom feels, “I learnt a hard lesson. No matter how many books and toys and experiences you give them, it is not enough. It is important to have a balance, especially in a nuclear family where one or both parents are working and away.”
Expert Opinion: There is no doubt that siblings offer a beautiful kind of love, care and security. However, let’s be honest – many of us have faced situations when our friends and neighbours came to our help, and our siblings didn’t, or couldn’t. Child development experts believe that our children can definitely form deep bonds with people who may not be related to them through blood.
Also, just having a sibling does not ensure protection of any kind; it’s harvesting friendships and strong bonds (even with our siblings) that really matters. Tanya, a Mumbai mom, feels: “Siblings today don’t live together and many a times may not even be there for each other later in life. Life is unpredictable so I don’t know how one can say this!”
3. They Don’t Learn How to Share Things/Play With Other Kids
Since only children grow up alone at home, with no other children, many feel that they don’t learn the art of sharing. They tend to ‘own’ their belongings – from toys to books – and don’t want to let anyone else share these items. The same problem also crops up when they are playing with another kid, perhaps with someone from the neighbourhood. They are so used to playing alone that they find it hard to understand concepts of team spirit, playing for your side, sharing playthings with others, etc. This is a widely prevalent line of thought about only child behaviour.
Expert Opinion: This is simply not true. Only children can be taught the art of sharing just as well as children who have siblings. It only depends on how the parents teach them these things, and whether or not they themselves practise these good habits. Our kids learn from us as we are their role models.
As per Dr. Denise Duval Tsioles, a Ph.D. psychologist, “not being able to share” is only a stereotypical characteristic that we attach to only children. He says, “Only children are often described as being lonely, selfish, unwilling to share and lacking in patience, but these characteristics are typical of toddlers in general and a lot of adults, whether they had siblings or not. Personality is built on the types of early relationships children establish with their caregivers. Only children, like all children, model what they see.”
Watch three people who grew up as only children talk about how it really felt like in their childhood!
4. They Grow up Spoilt, Moody & Introverted
This is one of the commonly perceived characteristics of only child. Many people think that only children are either shy or introverted, as they don’t have other kids to talk to at home. They don’t like talking to or mixing with other people. They are also more prone to mood swings – behaviour that often makes them aggressive and selfish around other children. This behaviour, also called “only child syndrome”, supposedly emanates from how their parents have always pampered them – something that ended up making them spoilt.
Expert Opinion: This is another stereotype about only children that holds little truth. It is true that only kids may behave differently from kids who grew up with siblings. However, this does not mean they are spoilt or moody. In fact, as Dr. Tsioles says:
“Only children are not more spoiled, selfish or aggressive. They want friends, and if they display these behaviors they will not have any!”
5. Nosey Questioning About Why Their Parents Didn’t Have More Kids
If you are an only child, chances are you will have a difficult time growing up – this is a widely-held belief. Our society bombards parents with questions about everything – from their personal choices to their plans for children. Only kids are often asked why their parents didn’t have more children. While this might be seen as a joke/jibe, it can lead kids to thinking or worrying about this. Often, the underlying insinuation is that there was a ‘medical problem’ with the parents. Some kids also tend to develop a complex/feeling of isolation owing to how they are the only one in their circle of friends who doesn’t have a sibling.
Expert Opinion: On this, social experts and commentators agree. There is no dearth of people who interfere in other people’s lives – and being parents to an only child, or being an only child, can surely put you up for some irritating questioning in life. However, this is also true for children who have siblings. They get asked personal questions about sibling rivalry, favouritism shown by parents, and whether or not they are the ‘favourite child’. Interference and judgment are, sadly, a part of the society we live in, and shouldn’t dictate our personal life choices.
6. They Are More Prone to Depression & Bad Habits
Some people also believe that only children are weird, aloof and moody – factors that trigger depression in them in their growing up years. Since they have no one close in age to share their feelings with at home, they may also be likelier to take up bad habits. Smoking, drinking, etc., are often linked to lonely households, where the children grew up in isolation. This is seen as one of the psychological effects of being an only child.
Expert Opinion: Strangely enough, there seems to be some truth to this belief. According to a 2011 study by Center for Disease Control and Prevention, only children are 62% more likely to be unhappy, sad, or depressed. On the other hand, middle and youngest children are 37% and 15% less likely to be depressed. However, experts also believe that the way a child is raised, his home environment, exposure to social settings and friends, and individual temperament have a lot to do with these statistics. Parents of only children may thus need to be more particular about making time for their kids and being good listeners. The way our children grow up to be is largely in our hands – and being the only child in the household is by no means a ‘causal’ factor of dark habits and lifestyles.
So, To Have or Not to Have an Only Child?
Now that we studied the various beliefs around only children and also separated fact from fiction, the decision lies only with one person. You! To have or not to have an only child (or have multiple children) is a decision that only you can make with your partner, based on your emotional, physical, financial and other factors. No one else – not your family, not your society – should make this decision for you. There are many advantages and disadvantages of being an only child. There are also many advantages and disadvantages of having multiple children. It totally depends on what you feel works for you as an individual and as part of a family.
Jiya, a mom from Delhi with two kids, sums this up beautifully,
“I am not saying you should not have the second baby at all. I too am a mom of two. But everything has two sides. The lovely side of having two kids is more giggles, sibling love, baby smells, the same love in your partner’s eyes for you, the pampering by your mom, handmade laddoos…
But this does not mean we should jump into a decision. We need to see if all the dynamics fall in place – finances, space, responsibility sharing, health, and age. Both the parents and their children deserve this extra thought!”