Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Maladjusted Only Child

I ran across this week's Time Magazine, which includes an article about the myth that only children are spoiled, selfish, solitary misfits. I haven't finished reading it yet, but it's already got me thinking about this. Until today, I've never considered my status as an only child to be unusual or stigmatic. I never felt like I was missing something by the fact that I don't have any siblings (with the exception of my half-brother, who is 14 years older and never lived with us and therefore doesn't count in these studies). In fact, I had to think long and hard to figure out that almost all my childhood friends had siblings. I just never categorized people that way.

So when I read statistics quoted in this article about how rare only children are (and were even rarer in the past), I'm surprised. I'm less surprised at the comments quoted in the article, which basically amount to, "Parents are short-changing their child if they don't produce a sibling," only in ruder words.

Now, I won't argue that I'm not a spoiled, selfish, solitary misfit. I'm certainly all of those things. But I'm also fully capable of nurturing a friendship and acting with generosity toward others. I also have a well-developed self-esteem (in that I don't care much what others think of me) and I am able to entertain myself when I find myself alone. I know plenty of people with siblings who are spoiled, selfish, solitary misfits. There's more that goes into my personality than whether I have a sibling.

I guess my point is that parents shouldn't let stereotypes about siblings (or anything else) rule their reproductive decisions. And I don't think they do. This article talks about how more and more parents are deciding to stop at one for economic reasons-- either they can't afford another kid or the mom wants to postpone pregnancy in favor of a career. It's just the supermarket cashiers who feel the need to insert their opinions into other peoples' lives.

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