The notion that all only children are spoiled brats may have gone the way of other stereotypes that were born in the last century. However, being the small center of a nuclear world can have its disadvantages. Mom and dad get to shower all their attention in one direction -- which isn’t always a good thing, particularly for the adolescent trying to spread his wings. And when adulthood comes, “onliness” can be even more complicated.
While their peers are tussling in bedroom forts with siblings or squabbling over borrowed toys, only children are left with just Mom and Dad. For many only children, loneliness is a notable downside of their family life. They crave a sibling. As an only child, British journalist Jenni Murray went so far as to invent a baby brother to fit in with her classmates. And today, online forums abound that give onlies a place to vent about their status.
Parents who set up frequent play dates for their only children may be able to combat one of the most the common complaints against only children: They don’t know how to share. However, according to psychologist Carl Pickhardt from Austin, Texas, some only children are “uncomfortable with conflict from not having the rough and tumble, push and shove competition with siblings.” Therapist Ann Richardson adds that because only children interact primarily with adults, their ability to resolve conflicts with their peers may be hampered. Parents naturally hold power over the child, whereas siblings stand on more equal footing.
Caregiving for the elderly can have enormous financial and emotional implications. Only children do not have the benefit of siblings with whom they can shoulder the burden and may find themselves overwhelmed with the responsibility and high-stake decisions they will need to make. Particularly if they live far from their parents or have a limited circle of support, only children may need to delegate responsibilities in ways that may be difficult for them and their parents.
In spite of what may appear as disadvantages to being an only child, many only children are perfectly content with their family dynamic. They appreciate the attention they receive from their parents and are often better equipped to handle adult interactions than their peers. Professor of educational psychology Toni Falbo has spent more than three decades dispelling myths about only children being lonely and somehow maladjusted. In fact, she and others supporting onlies believe the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.