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The only child myth debunked!
Whether it’s your mother-in-law hassling you about having another baby or the neighbor down the street hinting that Junior would be better behaved if he had a sibling, there’s an assumption in America that only kids make for unhappy kids. Common opinion pegs them as selfish and spoiled, judgmental and lonely, overly adult and much too childish. In other words, they are symbol of everything we don’t like about children in general, while children with siblings are generally thought to be more well-adjusted, considerate and well-behaved.
How nice, then, for common opinion to be firmly debunked. In fact, recent articles appearing in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and Psychology Today have taken us down another trajectory entirely, one that posits that only children not only turn into happy, well-adjusted adults, but that people with siblings can often suffer lifelong self-esteem issues that revolve around birth order and favoritism. Either way, it seems, whether or not a person has siblings is not indicative of the kind of success or happiness they will attain as an adult.
Citing Dr. Toni Falbo’s studies of 115 only children conducted from the 1920s to the 1980s, the Wall Street Journal reports that not only did Falbo find that only children were “generally as well-adjusted, intelligent, accomplished and sociable as those with siblings” but in some cases “there are benefits to being an only child, They tend to have stronger vocabularies, do better in school and are closer to their parents.”
Even more fascinating is the way that parents of today’s onlies are seeking to give what child psychologist Carl E. Pickhardt calls “the opportunity to get into the push and shove of sibling relationships, where you just kind of naturally learn there is going to be a give and take and resources have to be shared.” By having weekly onlies gatherings, cutting down on the presents and even sometimes the amount of attention they are giving their kids, parents of onlies are seeking to create a lifestyle in which their child begins to understand they are not the center of the universe.
In counterpoint, a recent article appearing in Psychology Today points out that problems between siblings can be every bit as detrimental to a child as the so-called “only disadvantage.” “Siblings are born to compete for parental attention, and the strategies they use wind up encoded in personality. Small wonder it can take a lifetime to work out sibling relationships,” writes Hara Estroff Marano, going on to say that “parents treat young offspring unequally, giving rise to sibling resentments that can long outlast the parents themselves” and that “we tend to replicate our roles relative to them in work and even love.”
So what’s the fix for an adult sibling-complex? Whether rooted in the fear that mom loved one sibling more in childhood, or the reality that dad left one sibling more in his will, Psychology Today maintains that working through feelings of insecurity due to sibling relationships can free adults up from choosing to be a part of toxic situations just because they feel familiar. For those of us who have spent time with our families just to find ourselves reverting to that twit we were at ages five, eight and twelve (*blush*), this is good news indeed.
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