Several years ago I was asked by a doctor whether I was planning to have more children.
To my uncertain response she replied: ‘Please don’t stop at one child, I do worry about only children.’
Only children are often stereotyped as spoilt, bratty and selfish with a certain sense of entitlement, so not only did I find her comment irritatingly tactless, but it hit a nerve too – it is a worry that lurks at the back of my mind.
It made me wonder if this stereotype is the inevitable end result of receiving the full whack of a parent’s love and attention, of not having to share or compromise with another sibling, or whether it is avoidable?
And, if this stereotype is true and only children really are more self-centred than those with siblings, then what kind of society is China breeding with its one child policy? Now over 30 years since the policy was established, China must be starting to see the effects.
Some opinions suggest that rather than the Little Emperor Syndrome that was feared, China is seeing a generation of strong-willed and successful adults who are emotionally secure and confident and whose parents are able to make more effort in developing and maintaining relationships with them as children.
Their parents have been able to pay more attention to their schooling and personal needs, simply because they have more time to do so.
I would like to think that the existence or absence of siblings in itself does not define the outcome of a child’s personal development and I know of very few children – siblings or none – who do not exhibit this type of spoilt attitude from time to time. I have also come across many selfish and self-absorbed adults who were not only-children.
But there are other worries also. Emotionally, an only child goes through their early experiences without access to the shared understanding of life, love and education that one may gain from having a sibling.
As an adult, my son will have no blood nieces or nephews and his children thereafter will have no first cousins from our side of the family. When the day comes that he loses one of his parents, he will have no brother or sister to lean on to share the pain. These are undisputable facts, but the impressions on his personality are more dubious.
For me, prominence rests on encouraging him to learn how to be sociable outside of the home and develop strong friendships and, in an attempt to combat my Only Child Angst, I try to force him to compromise with me in place of a sibling.
I make him share his sweets with me (thinking of his oral hygiene too of course, so selfless am I) and when we are deciding what to do at the weekend I encourage the importance of choosing something that we will both enjoy.