Despite the growing proportion of families opting for one child, and all the research dispelling old myths about social skills, loneliness, and over-parenting, the “only child” stigma is still strong in the family-size caste system. My daughter is an only child, and that sometimes has me on the defensive; I’ve armed myself with quippy retorts just in case insensitive questions are lobbed my way. So, when people comment on your only child, here are just a few ways you might respond:
“But what if something happens to her?!”
That would be terrible and tragic and the most unimaginable awfulness. Not because she’s an only child, but because she is a child, my child. What if “something happened” to one of your kids?!
“What if something happens to the both of you? She’ll be all alone if you die.”
Yet again, that would be terrible and tragic and unimaginable awfulness. And it’s not “if,” but “when.” There are infinite permutations and combinations of traumatic what-ifs, and I don’t think that an increase in procreation protects us from all that is bad and sad in the world. Nor do I particularly want to spend a lot of time thinking about it.
“Won’t she feel lonely? “
There will definitely be occasions when my daughter feels lonely, as we all experience, but there is a significant difference between being alone, and being lonely. Neither is dictated by the presence or absence of siblings. These will make for great opportunities to distinguish solitude from loneliness, and to teach her strategies to meet her own needs or fulfill her desires: nurturing others, creating and maintaining social supports, trying new activities, devoting herself to hobbies, and talking through her feelings.
“Only children are selfish, spoiled, and don’t know how to share.”
My daughter loves to share, and seems to come by it naturally. I on the other hand, hate to share. I would rather give you my pen than let you borrow it, and I grew up with an older brother. The number of children in a family is not directly related to selfishness, spoilage or sharing. It has to do with available resources, family values, and myriad other reasons.
“I’m so jealous, I wish I had just one kid. It’s sooooo much easier.”
Not true. In parenting my only child I am still not living a life of total leisure. She still requires attention, and wants me to play with her. I don’t lay around binge-watching Netflix or eating ice cream out of the carton during the day. It’s not like having a pet rock because there’s just one kid.
“I don’t know why anyone would want an only child. Don’t you want your daughter to have a sibling?”
“Only children are so weird.”
Yeah, there are some seriously socially awkward only children out there. But guess what? There are some seriously socially awkward kids with siblings out there, too.
“That’s a lot of pressure to put on your daughter having to care for elderly parents all by herself.”
We did not embark on the adventure of parenting as some kind of insurance plan. We intend to arm ourselves with actual long-term insurance and clearly documented wishes for aging and dying. Who is to say that our daughter or her hypothetical siblings would even want to be involved in our caregiving?
“Wasn’t Charles Manson/Norman Bates/Darth Vader/Bloody Mary an only child?”
I don’t know, maybe? I’m not up on my sociopath trivia. But I do know that Eleanor Roosevelt, Betty White, and Ghandi were only children.
“My brother/sister is my best friend. Life wouldn’t be the same without him.”
I’m close with my brother, too, and I can’t imagine my life without him. In part because I just don’t know otherwise. I feel lucky that we get along so well, but there are no guarantees. There are plenty of siblings who can barely stand to be in the same room as one another.
Only children, or multiple children all play important roles in our diverse family compositions. So whether you are a mama wolf from a pack of 3 or 33, your family is just the “right” size.