Book: The seven common sins of parenting an only child, By Carolyn White (Review 1)

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Jan 162007

Book: The Seven Common Sins of Parenting an Only Child by Carolyn White (Review 1)

(Please Note: We have 2 reviews of this book. This is the first one. The second review appears elsewhere. Book reviews do not necessarily reflect the views of the Only Child Project website – Admin)

Ten must-avoid sins, we already know. Now what are these seven new sins which White speaks of? Does that make it totally seventeen sins (oooops!) to avoid? Read on to know>>>

Seven parenting sins there are which parents must avoid, insists author Carolyn White but also agrees almost immediately that none there can be who has not committed at least one or more of the seven sins, most surely not parents of only children.

The author, (obviously) a parent of an only child herself and the editor in chief on the Only Child magazine has based this book on “long-term experience and research” and intends the book to be “useful in bringing up an only child” and let the parents of only child know that they are not alone in their triumphs and trials of being the parents of a single child. Carolyn White at the very beginning sets out to clarify that “I am not a sociologist or a psychologist, and this book is not meant to be a scientific or academic study. But I am a parent and educator who for years has counseled other parents throughout the world.”

Coming back to the book of Seven common sins; Now what are those cardinal sins which parents should avoid like plague? Luckily Carolyn White’s commandments are three less than the original ten. The seven vices to be shunned by parents of only child (equally applicable to parents of more than one child) are-

  1. Overindulgence
  2. Overprotection
  3. Failure to Discipline
  4. Overcompensation
  5. Seeking Perfection
  6. Treating your child like an adult
  7. Overpraising

There are seven sections in all with each sin taking up a chapter each. The book is well analyzed and each chapter has a pattern to follow.

  • The sin- what it is.
  • The consequences of committing the sin elaborated through anecdotes or case studies.
  • How the sin could be avoided
  • Finally a self test to assess if you are really committing the sin.

Emotional Vs Material

Every parenting vice mentioned above has two sides to it – the emotional and the material side. Parents may either go overboard giving or depriving their children of their emotional or material needs. More often it is a case of overdoing it rather than denying it. Parents tend to overindulge, overcompensate or overpraise their “one and only” either through excessive emotional rewards like hugs and kisses or through excessive material gifts. In their quest for raising a perfect child, they may use emotional or material compensation to reach their goals. Failure to discipline their child through effective means like drawing clear lines, setting nonnegotiable rules and directing through self example may end up in bringing up a child who is emotionally and materially smothered. The author tells you how to strike a balance between offering emotional and material rewards to a child for her good behavior and social progresses without making it into a practice of bribery.

Stress on moderation

All the seven sins are not entirely sins but good practices gone awry. A child has to be praised, encouraged to try her best, can be indulged now and then and disciplined in manner appropriate. Only when praise becomes overpraise, indulgence becomes overindulgence and disciplining becomes overbearing or totally absent does problem set in. The book invites your attention to assess where you stand vis-a-vis the seven sins and lays stress on moderating parental behavior which in turn will positively influence their own wards’. To that extent, the self tests at the end of each chapter help you ascertain your position and aid the soul searching exercise that is sure to follow.

Allied issues

Though the book’s prime focus is on the seven common parenting sins, the book also touches upon a variety of significant allied issues. To name a few of the issues parents of single child may face-

  • Searching for surrogate siblings. Are you trying to make up?
  • Divorce and its impact on the only child
  • Perils of Puberty. How to tackle your only child who is an adolescent.
  • Are you afraid of being unpopular with your only child?
  • Value of solitude. Allowing the child to be.
  • Asserting your parental right. Must you be told?
  • How to answer the “When is your next one coming?” question
  • Is threesome a bad number? And so on.

Aggressive and Arresting

Carolyn White has an arresting writing style. Laced with humor and lots of practical wisdom, she etches a deep impression in the reader’s mind with her wide experience on the subject, acquired through her interviews with “hundreds of only children and parents of only children.”

The book does a lot of plain speaking and the author indeed has to be congratulated for her tough stance. But to mention its underside, the book sometimes gets too overbearing. It speaks directly to the parents in an unapologetic fashion, without sugar coating any of the hard facts and sometimes the oft heard refrain of “Don’t do this if you don’t want your child to….” and “Did you know this is what happens if you do this….” gets grating on the ear after a while.

Do not be surprised if you yell at your kid a notch more and feel fretful about your parenting ability while reading this book. Each chapter will make one wonder, “Have I done anything right at all as a parent?” or “Oops! Dire consequence, that’s what awaits me if I give in to this sin”.

The author comes down too heavily on the “Don’t ever do this” tirade of hers. More often than not she speaks from the pulpit (given that she is speaking of sins) and successfully evokes guilt and anxiety in the minds of the readers. Basically the book gives lots and lots of advice (to think you paid for it) and warns of you some terrible consequence or other if you fail to correct your parenting style and put on your best parenting coat, boot and hat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Keep an energy drink handy, you will surely need it after the read.

Why read it?

  • Clear cut presentation of parenting problems.
  • Clear delineation of how to avoid the seven sins
  • Offers practical advice.

Why avoid it?

  • Overstates the problems and evokes anxiety and tension in their readers.
  • Book’s approach more negative than positive. Over emphasis on how and where things can go wrong rather than how things can be done right.
  • Too aggressive and didactic for matured adults to give in and enjoy.

 Posted by at 12:00 am

Book: The seven common sins of parenting an only child, By Carolyn White (Review 2)

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Jan 152007

Book: The Seven Common Sins of Parenting an Only Child by Carolyn White (Review 2)

(Please Note: We have 2 reviews of this book. This is the second review and written by another reviewer. The first one appears elsewhere. Book reviews do not necessarily reflect the views of the Only Child Project website – Admin)


It’s amazing how many myths there are about parenting an only child. Growing up as an only child, I was often asked – “So are you spoiled?” I always wondered what answer they expected from me – “Yes, I am”. Hardly. I never considered myself spoiled, mainly because although I was an only child, I was raised by parents struggling to make ends meet, and there wasn’t much room for indulgence. Nevertheless, the questions persisted, and so did the myths. Until I read “The Seven Common Sins of Parenting an Only Child” by Carolyn White however, I never quite appreciated how in many cases the myths were right, and how easy it was for parents of only children to swing excessively in one direction.

Why Need a Book for Only Children?

I must admit, before reading this book, I felt very apprehensive. What is this book going to say that I don’t already know? How is this going to help me? All of a sudden why do parents of only children need a book? Everyone’s doing it. No big deal. Then I realized, yes, in my generation a lot of people have started having only one child. Part fueled by state policies like China’s One Child Policy, part due to hectic lifestyles, changing priorities and nuclear families, where looking after one child is more than what most parents can take. Nowadays parents think that having one child means they can give him or her more attention, a better upbringing, a better education. Yet, in previous generations, people valued the companionship of a sibling(s), the support, and the extra helping hands. Having only one child was considered disastrous for the child, who would turn out to be a horrific monster – anti-social, spoiled, lacking in friends, unable to handle him or herself in the real world.

The author herself recounts a similar story, being made to feel almost like a criminal because she was forced by circumstances to have only one child. She avers that raising an only child can be very different from raising more than one, and parents can and often do make mistakes that leads to their children being lonely and unable to cope. However, help is at hand. In her refreshing style, Carolyn White, editor of Only Child magazine, parent and educator, explain and illustrates the most common ‘sins’ that parents commit (seven of them) and how to avoid making them. She reassures parents that almost all of them commit these sins, and it is alright (she herself admits to several); the important thing is to become aware of the problem and change one’s tactics. The book is a must read for only children, their parents, and even critics of those parenting an only child. After all, parenting any number of children is tough, and who is someone else to criticize without having at least a view of the other side? I would also recommend this book for parents with more than one child, as many of the tips are equally applicable; for example how to avoid being bullied by your child and not to give in despite the threat of a ‘scene’ and how to help your children nurture their individuality.

Layout, Structure and Style

The book is written in simple prose, full of anecdotes and examples from her interaction with hundreds of parents in a similar situation. Carolyn gives chapter quizzes to find out if you are committing any of the sins and lots of tips on how to stop doing so. In each of the chapters she describes a different sin –

  1. Overindulgence
  2. Overprotection
  3. Failure to discipline
  4. Overcompensation
  5. Seeking perfection
  6. Treating your child like an adult
  7. Over-praising

Although some of them may sound contrary, it is possible for unwitting parents to commit several of them at once. As the author says “[f]ortunately, the sins that parents of only children commit are not usually deadly. But they absolutely can be destructive in the long run is they become part of the fabric of life”. Thus, it is important to become aware of our mistakes early, and rectify them.

The Seven Sins

Only children, growing up as they do without siblings to play with, often appear mature for their age. They also tend to be overindulged as the only recipient of their parents’ affection, overprotected and burdened with unrealistically high expectations from their parents. They are often treated as an adult by their parents much before they become one, as parents are fooled by their seeming maturity. They can also become unwilling decision-makers, sometimes forced to take on more responsibilities and problems than they can handle at their age.

The first sin detailed in the book and in my opinion the most important one for parents of this generation is “overindulgence”. As Carolyn explains, having only one child, for whatever reason, often means that the parents unrestrainedly shower the child with all their love and munificence, often far in excess of what is actually beneficial for the child. In our materialistic culture, with most advertising aimed towards families and kids, the adorable darlings are often able to ‘persuade’ their parents to give in to all their demands, usually with not much persuasion required. The author warns against such behavior, as it leads to dissatisfaction and ennui early in life, as well as a reduced ability to feel strong attachment as well as strong disappointment. To a child that is used to having everything, the frustrations of real-life will be hard if not impossible to bear. It is much better to exercise restraint as a young parent, and thus raise an independent, well-mannered child better able to handle the extremely difficult world out there. That is the real gift a parent can give.

The other chapters of the book are equally enlightening and full of insight, and will definitely help you make the most important and wonderful job you will ever have a lot easier. Carolyn addresses the problems parents have sometimes in disciplining their child, often because they give in to all demands thinking, ‘we have only one’. She explains how to discipline, without being harsh, and still conveying to your child that you are there for them. She cautions against treating your child as an adult and making him part of all the problems you have, or surrounding him with too much adult company. This chapter struck a chord with me, explaining why I always found it natural to talk to my parents’ friends, but realized that it was a burden being polite all the time, and that I would have liked to have more friends my age.

A Must Read Book

Reading Carolyn White’s book gave me a lot of insights on better parenting, but it also helped me to better appreciate my own parents. I often complained that they hadn’t done enough for me growing up compared to my friends’ parents – been at home more, supervised my homework, enrolled me in more activities. But now I realize that although they were constrained by their limitations, I actually benefited from these things. As Carolyn points out, giving children space to develop their imagination and independence is important, not always doing things for them or filling up every moment of time from morning to night. The hours I spent by myself entertaining myself has definitely contributed to my becoming a writer. And even if your child doesn’t want to become an artist, he or she can benefit from the opportunity to experiment and tap into their innate creativity and explore their own interests.

 Posted by at 12:20 am
Jan 152007

Book Review

(Please Note: We have 2 reviews of this book. This is the second review and written by another reviewer. The first one appears elsewhere. Book reviews do not necessarily reflect the views of the Only Child Project website – Admin)

Book: The Only Child: Being One, Loving One, Understanding One, Raising One- by Darrell Sifford (Review 2)

The title says it all. The book covers rather comprehensively the entire gamut of emotions, challenges and joys of being, loving, understanding and raising an only child. The author Darrell Sifford, an only child himself, through a long string of true stories and case studies collected from adult only children and psychologists who have worked with the same, tries to map a psychograph which according to him might be quite peculiar to the only child.

In the author’s own words- “This is a book about people, their lives, told sometimes in their own words, and it is by nature mostly anecdotal. It is not a book based on what researchers would call hard data, the kind you can take into a laboratory, dissect and hold up to the cold light of scientific scrutiny.”

The book throws light on vital issues like-

  • Why are only children compulsive go-getters?
  • Forget and forgive- do only child know how?
  • Can’t live without praise? That may be an only child syndrome
  • How-to not spoil your only child rotten
  • When are you old enough to be independent of your parents?
  • Why parents cannot be siblings and so on.

The inside story

Written at a time (1989) when there was next to no scientific curiosity, research or serious engagement with the psychology or sociability of a single child, the book tries to give its readers- presumably single children or parents of single children a key to understanding the complexities, aches, loneliness, strengths and peculiarities of being an only child. The true stories are experiences narrated by adult single children who muse in retrospect on the positives and negatives of having been an only child.

The stories touch upon a variety of issues- Loneliness, the search for perfectionism, the only child’s search for independence, breaking away from one’s parents, approach to work, desire for praise and so on, which are sure to strike a chord with the readers.

Two sides of a coin

Since the book is a string of stories interspersed with the author’s own personal experiences; his summation of various psychologist’s therapeutic sessions with only children, notions and surmises arrived at from one’s own life and understanding of other adult only children’s lives, it is indeed commendable that Darrell Sifford has tried to present the good and the bad, the black and the white, the pros and the cons of being an only child and being the parent of an only child

For almost every topic handled, be it motivation or narcissism or sharing or dependency, the author tries to give atleast two different perspectives of an almost similar situation. For instance, if an adult child explains how he thrived on his parent’s unconditional love which motivated him to continually excel in his own eyes and the eyes of his parents, another adult child confesses how his parent’s unconditional love painted an unrealistic picture of the world and presented a distorted picture of the challenges and difficulties embedded in it.

Possible hand guide

Looking at the two predominant groups of readers- single children and parents of single children, the book will certainly be useful to parents of only children for broadly the following reasons-

  1. Since the book is largely built around the adult only child’s confessions about his innermost emotions, fears and strengths and how his parents have helped shape or swipe it, parents of only children can use the book as a possible guide to watch their step and look for obvious pitfalls to avoid.
  2. Parents through the stories can get a first hand account of how even their most well intentioned behavior and unbounded love can stifle an only child and limit him emotionally. Old fashioned parents may even find these expressions of regret trifle “ungrateful” and may wince at it- but Sifford speaks hard reality.
  3. Most importantly, Sifford guides the parents on how to not ‘in the name of love’ raise their child to grow into a self centered, narcissistic, selfish and egotistic adult. To put it in a nutshell, he tells us how not to raise a spoiled-rotten kid. Of particular interest will be the chapters ‘Praise: The Two-Edged Sword’, ‘The Spoiled only child: Is it inevitable?’, ‘Parenting the only child’, to parents.

Again, the book will be immensely useful to the adult single child for the below mentioned reasons-

  1. The various case studies mentioned in the book transcend socio-cultural barriers and are certain to strike a chord with only children. Many of the situations will tend to dovetail with one’s own life experiences and therein lies the lesson and comfort the reader can derive from the case studies. There is something ‘universal’ about the joys and aches of an only child.
  2. There may yet be many adult single children who have not recognized negative and aberrant patterns in themselves; who in some invisible and intangible way would still be continuing to respond to their parents’ wishes and whims albeit being a fully grown adult and probably being distanced from them both physically and emotionally. This book will help them to awake to their own discrepancies.
  3. The book is rather therapeutic. It will lead the reader into a soul searching mode and could possibly aid him in addressing issues hitherto un-addressed.

To read are not to read

The true stories are immensely readable, engaging and quite successfully communicate the author’s intention- that is of trying to map the emotional graph of single children and the parents of single children. It is one of those books, which anyone can read just for its readability.

But a word of caution- the author tends to indulge in broad generalizations here and there. Look for sweeping statements like “Children always mean more to parents than parents mean to children” and watch out for falling back into stereotypes like “all only children are spoiled rotten”. But these are rather an exception than a norm. Darrell Sifford’s Only Child is a good early book on the only child- readable, emotional and moving, but certainly not scientific in its approach.

Positives About this Book

  • Easy to read
  • Emotional and moving
  • Interesting case studies

Negatives About this Book

  • Author sometimes falls into didactic mode
  • Tends to falls into broad generalizations on and off.
  • Early book on Only Child. Does not help explode myths and stereotypes.

 Posted by at 12:01 am
Jan 152007

Book Review

(Please Note: We have 2 reviews of this book. This is the first one. The second review appears elsewhere. Book reviews do not necessarily reflect the views of the Only Child Project website – Admin)

Book: The Only Child: Being One, Loving One, Understanding One, Raising One- by Darrell Sifford (Review 1)

The part about parenting which everyone agrees on is that it’s tough. There’s no single formula nor does parenting follow a pattern. Families with single children face specific issues. The kind of personality which the only child develops depends on the manner in which the parents tackle these issues. As the title says, this book is about the only child, the parents of an only child and people associated with only children. The author is an only child himself and the book reflects a strong sense of empathy with single children. The author draws heavily from his own life to illustrate several concepts and this endows the book with a personal touch and makes it easy to read.

Is loneliness always bad?

The only child is often stereotyped as being lonely and the author tackles this issue in a novel manner. He emphasizes the advantages which an only child enjoys; he does this by examining several case studies of families with multiple children. The underlying theme of these case studies is to emphasize the undivided attention which is showered on the only child by his parents. This attention reinforces the intrinsic self worth of the child and results in the only child developing into a self confident individual. According to the author, this self confidence is instrumental in shaping the personality of an only child and is responsible for the disproportionate success in life enjoyed by single children. The special rapport between single children and their parents is a recurring theme in the book. The acute sense of loss experienced by single children on the passing of their parents is another issue which has been dealt with in a sensitive manner by the author.

Parents and their aspirations

Perfectionism can be very frustrating if carried too far, the book examines this aspect of an only child through the works of several contemporary authors, most of them psychologists. In most of the cases, the underlying reasons for the quest of an only child towards perfection can be traced to the family environment.

Parents have aspirations and it is often the responsibility of the single child to shoulder the burden of parental expectations. The only child has a deep desire to please his parents. Nothing short of the best is acceptable in all spheres of life for the only child and this is the beginning of a lifelong pursuit of perfection.

The role of parents in setting goals based on learning instead of performance will go a long way towards helping the only child into becoming a well adjusted adult.

The importance of developing a balanced outlook on life should be inculcated in an only child in her childhood. Another important issue highlighted by the author is the need of the single child for constant approval and reassurance.

The Perils of Perfection

The quest for perfection can easily lead to a compulsive personality. The burden of parental expectation is often the underlying reason for this quest for perfection. Compared to a child with siblings, the only child is much more susceptible to seek perfection. The book analyzes the various facets of this issue in an objective fashion. Some relevant aspects are discussed below.

The author has identified several patterns of behavior in families with single children which contribute to this quest for perfection. The present day world places an undue emphasis on professional success, in this scenario it is easy to succumb to the pressures of one’s work environment and allow it to dominate one’s life.

This leads to an unbalanced lifestyle where one’s profession overshadows all other aspects of what constitutes a healthy life. The only child has always been regarded by her parents as special and in a world which values success it is but natural that they are more prone to let professional success dictate their lives.

Guarding against stereotypes

“The spoiled only child” is a recurring stereotype in public perception. The book examines the exaggerated sense of self importance which most single children might possess and the disillusionment which they face when they realize that the world doesn’t revolve around them. The section on what parents of single children can do to avoid this situation is structured well and offers concrete recommendations through several examples of effective parenting and the importance of guarding against over indulgence.

Parents of an only child should guard against overprotecting their children. Most parents of single children share a reluctance to let their child lead an independent life. In many cases when single children are unwilling to risk a confrontation with their parents, they grow up to be dependent adults. The perils of not knowing when to let go are discussed by the author in a sensitive manner, he examines both sides of the argument with the help of several examples. The author realizes that the parents of an only child will form a significant part of the book’s readership and hence has devoted a significant part of the book towards parenting. He has outlined several models of parental behavior. These models will benefit the parents of an only child considerably.

Examples make it easy

The book is easily comprehensible scoring a high Flesch index of 62.8. Daniel Sifford writes a column for the Philadelphia Enquirer which is syndicated in more than 160 newspapers across America. His book examines the various issues confronting an only child in considerable detail. More importantly, the issue has been examined with the help of several examples; this helps us to clearly understand the process which the author has followed to reach his conclusions. While the reader may not always agree with the author and his conclusions, the book offers a valuable insight into the life of an only child. Even if the book does not provide an answer to a specific problem that you are looking for, it provides the reader with an excellent understanding of several issues which will interest both single children and the parents of an only child.

 Posted by at 12:00 am