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.



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

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