By Amy Meyers Steinberg
When I was young, like most little girls, I played mommy to my baby dolls. I even had an imaginary baby with the boy next door. In my late twenties, I wished for a husband and a house full of kids. When I actually married in my mid thirties, I thought for sure I would have at least 2 kids. Isn’t the American Dream to have a house with a white picket fence and 2.5 kids?
Once I got pregnant it all changed for me. My pregnancy was not an easy one. My daughter, once she was born, was colicky and would only nap in a moving vehicle. But I still thought that I would like for her to have a sibling in the future. Then, when my daughter was six months old I, was diagnosed with Breast Cancer, which, in my mind, sealed my fate. My daughter was going to be an “only” child.
In China, by law, the norm is one child per family. It seems the social expectation in the United States is to be a family of four. But in the US, who defines the ideal number of children a family should consist of? Who is telling us how many kids we should have? Why is one too few and four too many? If you are the parent of one child, how many times are you asked, “Do you have any others?”, as if we were losing out on something by not having more than one.
There are many reasons why people choose to have one child. Today, many women are waiting longer to have children, either putting their career first or not marrying until they are older. Some have medical issues that lead to the decision to stop at one child. Others may make the decision based on financial realities. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the current cost of raising one child in the US is almost $250,000 (not including college tuition). That’s over half a million dollars to raise two kids. Imagine the money you can save by having only one child.
Having only one child most certainly has its rewards. Parent and child have more quality time to spend together and form a close bond without the distractions from siblings. You, as the parent, don’t have to shuffle between children, giving attention to one while the other wants to know if you love them as much as their sibling. You don’t have to deal with sibling rivalry and favoritism, and you don’t have to be in two places at once when one child has dance practice and the other has a soccer game. The cost of raising one child is certainly less and, once your child is potty trained, no more diapers. That’s a huge savings right there!
Of course, having one child is not without its challenges. Sometimes you become your child’s playmate and they expect you to entertain them. So you have less time to yourself, unless your “only” is great at independent play. There is also no one to share the responsibility of caring for you, the parent, in your old age. Then there is the myth that an “only” child is spoiled and self-centered. Aren’t first born children an “only” child, even for a bit? They can be just as spoiled and selfish as an “only”. In today’s society, many children are of the “entitlement” era, regardless of whether or not they have siblings.
So, if you are the parent of an only, here are a few tips from parenting expert Susan Newman, Ph.D., author of The Case for the Only Child: Your Essential Guide:
- Show your “only” that others have a say. If your child wants to play a game of Go Fish, tell them, “okay but I would rather play checkers”.
- Encourage your child to play a team sport or other group activity.
- Teach your child to know what it is like living with peers by sending them to overnight camp.
- Teach independence by giving them responsibilities instead of doing the job for them.
- Surround your child with many cousins as often as possible. Being with relatives close in age can provide the same benefits as having a sibling.
Remember that what you do or don’t do at home does affect the way your child will go through life, whether you have one child or a dozen. No one says that having one child versus two or more is right or wrong. It’s whatever is right for you. You don’t need to be society’s norm. Families come in all shapes and sizes and only you can define what family means. Whatever size family fits you is really okay.
By Amy Meyers Steinberg, JCS Marketing Specialist
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