Only children are far from a rarity these days. Yet, as many only children and their parents can attest, people are still quick to judge and comment. Has this happened to you?
Pamela, mother of a nine-year-old, aptly told me, “It’s open season on only children; they remain one of the most discriminated against groups and one of the last still maligned. People who think it’s okay to openly insult only children or their parents wouldn’t dream of bashing women or gays or an ethnic group.”
Even though I’ve been studying and interviewing only children and their families for decades, I’m continually shocked at the audacity of some who openly judge one-child families.
I’ve encountered what you likely have as well: People who feel strongly that only children are at a disadvantage, are set up for hardship, or are even being “abused” by not having siblings believe they have the right to share their opinion.
For only children and their parents, it can feel like an overstep or worse. Know that these unhelpful beliefs that one-child families are “lesser than” are indeed outdated. These opinions also don’t take into account what issues or circumstances affect families: financial concerns; fertility complications or other health issues. Hurtful statements could inadvertently increase someone’s guilt about being unable to have another child.
People’s perceptions may be rooted in opinions and thinking that generations past held and stuck in their minds. It may seem surprising that people hold on so stubbornly — but there are theories behind why. According to a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “Ideas can spread by emotional selection, rather than by their factual merits, encouraging the persistence of falsehoods about Coke — or about a presidential candidate.” Or, only children.
13 hurtful, unthinking comments one-child families hear too often:
- You can’t do that to your child.
- What? You just have one!?!?
- But, you are such good parents; you should have more kids.
- One child is not a family.
- When are you having another child?
- He needs a brother or sister.
- You’re so close to your sister, don’t you want that for your daughter?
- He or she will be lonely (or spoiled or self-centered).
- Why doesn’t your child share?
- Who will be your child’s support system when you die?
- I bet you can’t wait for your mother to give you a brother or sister.
- You don’t act like an only child.
- I wouldn’t marry an only child.
One-child families ‘out of the norm’
Families out of the considered norm, unique or foreign to our thinking are likewise subjected to criticism and shaming. This isn’t unique to only children; families on the opposite end of the spectrum are also seen as “abnormal.” Think the Duggars with 19 children, Octomom who has 14 children, and celebrity families with multiple kids. They, like only child families, are judged disparagingly online and offline.
Implying that something is wrong with any family is never supportive.
Resisting the temptation to comment on only child status is the caring way to keep friends, not offend strangers, and retain close, loving relationships with relatives.