Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bookish Thoughts: The Case for the Only Child by Susan Newman

The Case for the Only Child: Your Essential Guide by Susan Newman, Ph.D. 
HCI, 2011
Nonfiction; 250 pgs

The decision to have or not to have children is age old. It is a very personal decision, one that is not always easy, and can be different for everyone. Not all babies are planned. Some people want no children. Some cannot have children. Parents may choose to have one or many children. Some people choose to adopt. Whatever the method, families come in all shapes and sizes. And it's a good thing. I respect a person's right to choose the size of his or her family, and I only ask for the same in return.

Who would have thought how many children I have would be a bone of contention for so many people?  Remember when people badgered you about getting married?  "When are you planning to get married?" They'd ask even before there's a prospective spouse in the wings.  Or perhaps you're in a long term relationship with no intention of marrying.  But people ask all the time anyway.  Or how about, once you are married, "When are you having children?"  Those who do not want or cannot have children come to despise that question.  Now that I'm married and have a child, I figured I was safe.  No one would ask me either one anymore.  Boy, was I wrong. 

I suppose it's a given that people will want to know if I plan to have another child.  And I really don't mind the question.  Most of the time.  But it doesn't stop there.  When I respond with a firm no, we only want the one, I was surprised to find how vehement many people are about the need to have another child. I swear it's become a crusade of a couple of women in my office to convince me that my daughter needs a sibling. It's not just those two either.  Just yesterday I attended a training and ran into an old colleague I haven't seen in years.  When I told her I had a daughter and answered her question about whether I intended to have another with a no, I was told I should consider another.  The second one is much easier, she said, trying to convince me.  And when my daughter is a little older, she'll appreciate having a playmate.

The most common argument for me to have another seems to be the sibling factor.  Don't you want your daughter to have the sibling experience, I'm often asked.  One friend told me my daughter would be lonely without a sibling.  I have also heard about how she'll be spoiled and feel entitled.

It doesn't matter the reasons I give for my and my husband's decision to stop at one.  And I always wonder if those who put on the pressure ever stop to wonder if maybe we aren't having another child because we can't.  For us, it is a choice.  For others, it might not be.

The thing to do, of course, at least at the office and among my friends and family, would be to tell them to stop badgering me, to tell them it's none of their business and to just walk away.  I'm too nice though.  I usually just smile and shake my head, while on the inside I'm thinking, "Not again.  Why won't they leave me alone?!" Sometimes I just find it amusing.  I know they aren't trying to be malicious or mean.  I only wish they'd accept that their idea of the perfect family is not necessarily meant for me.  I tried to tell a few people that, including the women on the crusade to change my mind, but it fell on deaf ears. 

It wouldn't be so bad if I didn't take it personally. I try not to. I try not to internalize the messages coming at me.  Maybe it wouldn't bother me if I wasn't hearing the same messages so often.  Or if I was a stronger person.  My husband and I are quite adamant about wanting one child, and yet doubt creeps in with the constant pressure.  I start to second guess myself and wonder if I truly am ruining my daughter's life by not trying for a sibling.  Logically, I know I am not, but there's that small niggling thought that just won't seem to go away.

I sought out a copy of Dr. Susan Newman's The Case for the Only Child, which I had heard much about. I was hoping it would help me shore up some of those doubts. I was also curious to know what the author had uncovered to debunk the myths of the Only Child Syndrome.

It is important to note The Case for the Only Child is targeted for a specific audience--those who have only children and those on the fence, leaning in that direction. It's meant for people like me. In this way, I would say it is pro-only child. It isn't the author's intention to criticize other family types; rather just to show support for the one.

I was especially drawn to the research aspect of the book, the various studies done about children with siblings and without. Much of the negative theories once believed about only children have since been disproved, and yet they linger, perpetuated by society. Only children are not necessarily more spoiled or more lonely or more selfish or even more bossy compared to children with siblings.  Of my friends who are only children, none have ever fit the profile for the Only Child Syndrome, and so it came as no surprise that the initial research suggesting there was such a thing was faulty and incorrect.  Much comes down to how they are parented. How any child is parented. 

Dr. Newman's book is fairly easy reading and quick too.  She describes the growing trend of single family households and touches on all of the reasons my husband and I have chosen to have one child, including a few others.  I found myself nodding in a agreement more than once.  She also captured some of what I've been feeling, especially from the pressure I receive. So I'm not just crazy or weak!  Whew! She uses real life examples, which help drive her points home.

Did I walk away from the book with a stronger resolve in my decision? In some respects, I suppose so.  It was more confirmation in why my husband and I have come to the decision we have.  And it was nice to have that validation.

The truth is, I am feeling more confident about my decision each day (which, for the record, wasn't just my decision--my husband has a big say in this too).  I have a beautiful and smart daughter whom I love dearly.  Life is good.

You can learn more about Dr. Susan Newman and her books on the author's website.

Source:  I purchased a copy of this book for my own use.


© 2012, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

28 comments:

  1. Isn't it funny how everyone thinks they know what's best for you? We have an only child and I don't think he suffered because of it.

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    1. Everyone certainly has their own opinions on the subject. Which, of course, is fine. I just wish they wouldn't try and convince me there's a right and wrong side to this topic!

      From what I know of you, I imagine your son is doing very well. :-)

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  2. Everyone thinks they are experts. It has nothing to do with how many children you have. I think it is all about the parents and you two seem to be doing a great job. I wouldn't worry! (I hate people that think they know everything. I have no intentions to have children at all and I am constantly getting 'advice'.)

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    1. Kelly - I really don't understand why people feel the need to interfere over such personal and individual choices. I appreciate it when people share their experiences and own desires, but when they try to say I should do this or that . . . It's going too far.

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  3. Another mother of an only child here. She's doing just fine. I think I always knew that I was meant to the be the mother of just one child - deep in my heart, I mean. We didn't necessarily set out to do it that way, but it was the best thing for me. I had a lot of pressure too from well meaning friends and family. Hang in there.

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    1. It's too bad we all don't live closer together--then I wouldn't have to deal with the pressure. :-)

      Sometimes it really isn't something you can predict, for whatever reason. I can't tell you the number of times people have told me I have to have a boy. Like I have a choice. And that's only if I can get pregnant again. It's not a given I would be able to.

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  4. I have a question about the book. I am only kid. My dad died about 20 some years ago and my mom died three years ago. I am married but have no kids.
    Does she address the situation of when an only kid is left "alone" or becomes an orphan, even an old one? Lately, to me, I have had alot of thoughts about what the future will bring. I haven't really seen any books on the subject but maybe I haven't looked hard enough.

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    1. Carla - No, she really doesn't go into it other than to discuss only children caring for an elderly parent.

      I can only speak from personal experience--and it's not really mine. My "aunt" (good family friend) is an only child whose parents have both passed. Unlike you though, she never married.

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    2. Hi Carla: The literary feline is correct about my book's coverage. For many only children, friends become sibling substitutes and often life-long friends who step in as siblings would after loss of a parent (There's is discussion of this in The Case for the Only Child.)

      For those who want more information, you can also check out my blog at Psychology Today magazine: Singletons. Note the post "The Stereotype that Won't Go Away for starters." http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/singletons.

      Susan Newman, Ph.D.

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  5. This was more of an issue for me when my daughter was younger. Not only did I have the question asked of me, I had my own angst. Time is a great thing. It tends to even out the bumps. My daughter has her cousins and loving aunts and uncles. You don't get to choose your family anyway and not everybody has the Cosby Show family, siblings included.

    PS- I think I read this book years ago.

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    1. Chris - It's such a minor thing in the scheme of things, I think. Especially, like you said, over time. In the moment though it seems a bit larger. I look forward to the day people stop asking.

      My daughter doesn't have much in the way of family outside of grandparents and great aunts and uncles. My brother and his wife do not have children, my brother-in-law isn't married and has no kids, and my only niece is 19 (my sister's only child). And no one really is close by. I think that will make it more challenging for us. It's hard to know for sure though. Only time will tell, right?

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    2. The Case for the Only Child came out last year. If you read the book years ago, it was probably, my earlier book titled Parenting an Only Child (still available).

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  6. I love it when people try to tell you how to live your life! Go with what is best for you and your husband. One, two, or ten...who cares! It's your life as a parent and you're a great one!!!

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    1. That's sweet of you to say, Staci. Thank you.

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  7. I think I am in shock over how freely everyone seems to give your their opinion whether you've asked for it or not, and how few people are supporting you. I'm so sorry, Wendy. How many children a couple have is their business, and no one else's....that said, I have a friend who is currently going through her crisis of realizing she will never have children, and she is an only child. she is very sad, as she had thought her life would be different. We often joke about her being an only child, too, with the stereotypes, and really she is one of the most giving and generous people I know, and so kind. So don't ever think Mouse is missing out by not having siblings, or that you ought to have more.

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    1. I would say it may be because I work in an office full of women, but I know that can't be it. Perhaps it is because we are such a close knit office? I don't know. I just can't believe it hasn't died down despite my being up front about our decision.

      I am so sorry for your friend. It is so hard, especially when the option to choose is taken away from you. I can't even imagine.

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  8. I feel your pain. I don't want children, but my co-workers seem to feel the need to talk me into it. It's become quite irritating. My husband is disabled and, while I already didn't want children before he became disabled, that has contributed quite a bit to our final decision not to procreate. But some people can't understand..."It's different when it's your own child" or "You'll feel differently when you have kids." I find it a strange argument to say that I might change my mind once I do the thing I don't want to do. Because, what if I don't? How is that fair to anyone? It would be nice if people could learn to mind their own business.

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    1. I heard a lot of that too, Lexi, when my husband and I weren't sure we wanted a child. It really gets to be annoying, doesn't it? I wanted to say, "If you want a child so much, have one (or another one) yourself."

      You know what is best for you. No one else is living your life.

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  9. You're too kind, Wendy - I know I was a bossy little snot sometimes as a kid! Then again it's not like every child with siblings was angelic either...

    Whenever anyone has given me grief about our son being an only child (with a few exceptions I let go since they are elders) I kindly reply that he's a 5th generation only child from my side of the family. That shuts most people up very quickly.

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    1. Nikki - Haha! I don't remember you as being bossy. Okay, maybe once. What I do remember most of all is you being independent and having a confidence about you I wish I had. I am not sure that had to do with you being an only child so much as your mother's good touch though.

      I love your response to people who question your having an only child. :-)

      In reality, just because a child has a sibling doesn't mean the siblings will get along--either in childhood or adulthood. And I don't think having a child to provide my existing child with a playmate or companion later in life is a good enough reason on its own to have another child.

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  10. Dear Literary Feline:
    A quick note to thank you for reading and writing about The Case for the Only Child. I so appreciate the time and thoughtfulness you gave it. Susan Newman

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    1. Thank you for your comment, Dr. Newman! Your book came at a good time in my life, and I am glad I took the time to read it.

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  11. I know how you are feeling, Wendy. I don't know what it is that gets people so upset about having one child. It usually makes me want to say something about not being able to have more (not true as far as I know) just to put them in their place. But I never do.
    I read this book last June...http://stacybuckeye.wordpress.com/2011/06/20/the-case-for-the-only-child-by-susan-newman-phd/

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    1. Stacy - I really don't understand why it has to be a big deal either. I've thought of giving the same response--that I am not able to have more too--but I worry it would only invite more questions. I just need to learn to tell people to back off--nicely.

      Thanks for the link to your review! You go into the actual content of the book more than I do, which is good.

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  12. I feel for you: I used to get all kinds of crap about having an only child. (Not a choice; I just never got pregnant again) Best story: I was in a fabric store with my son (looking for material for a superhero cape) and the clerk asked my son how many brothers and sisters he had. He said, "None. I'm an only child." The clerk proceeded to scold me right then and there! There was another incident where a woman tried to convince me using fear. I wish I'd had Susan Newman's book back then!

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    1. Thanks, Bybee. I can't believe the clerk in the fabric store scolded you like that! A complete stranger and in front of your son. That's nerve. I'm sorry you had to go through that. It's dumb the issues some people choose to make a big deal, especially when there is no reason for it other than opinion.

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  13. Glad to hear that you are feeling better about your decision. There is no wrong or right, only what is best for your family and your own situation. Your daughter is very lucky to have a wonderful mother like you and I'm quite sure she won't suffer without having a sibling.

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    1. Kathleen - Thank you. I feel the same way about there being no wrong or right. We each have to do what is best for our own situations.

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