Jan 172007

Why parents can stop with having just one child

Parenting an Only Child: The Joys and Challenges of Raising Your One and Only, by Susan Newman (Review 1)

Paperback: 268 pages, Publisher: Doubleday

Perhaps you are the parent of an only child, or are newlyweds considering having just one child or are older parents guilty of limiting your family size to just one child. This book comes specially addressed to all of you, after the author Susan Newman, (herself the mother of just one child) delved deep into the trend of American couples choosing to have one child.

In her book Parenting an Only Child—The Joys and Challenges of Raising your One and Only, she presents the opinions of a large cross section of parents across America who reminisce their reasons for sticking to the one child formula. Her book, spanning three sections and over 200 pages, does a lot to strengthen the case of only children in a world made up of nuclear families, sometimes broken by divorce.

Besides, Newman’s research proved that with every passing decade the number of only children increased and brought in their wake not the traditionally known “onlies” who were spoiled brats who didn’t know how to share their things, and were selfish, domineering, lonely and self-centered monsters but quite the opposite.

She found that while the number of such children were on the rise, they grew up to be better educated with good manners, and were successful, dynamic, outgoing, mature, extroverts, had leadership skills, were more creative than their peers and did better academically. This not only debunked the myths that surrounded onlies but strengthened the reasons parents put forth for not having a family of many siblings.

Often, young parents are nudged into having a large family by their parents who want to be surrounded by grandchildren, no matter what repercussions it has on the young couple. The other reasons are:

  • Women had transitioned from being homemakers to being career women who couldn’t throw away good career opportunities to have a baby. Besides, having another child can alter the direction of their lives immensely—something they aren’t prepared for.
  • With children being immunized, the infant mortality rate had dropped drastically, so mothers didn’t have to resort to have many children in case some of them died
  • With divorce rates constantly on the rise, young women find it practical to have just one child since, as single parents, they can afford to look after just one child.
  • Young working couples prefer a peaceful home environment rather than one fraught with sibling rivalry
  • Late marriages deter middle aged women from having more than one child since physically they are not up to having a second.
  • Couples can assure a better quality of life to one child.
  • With more women adopting children, they find they can manage only one child. This limits the family size to one

Besides, couples chose to have an only child because they can have that one person they can love, teach, educate and explore the world with. And, they have the advantage of having their parents’ attention to the extent of having them read to the child at night, because of “their exposure to cultural events” and “because of the extra insights they have culled from being around adults more than children with many siblings.” This premise of time spent with one’s parents results in the child having a “strong sense of security” and a “desire to achieve.”

Couples, she found, were also reluctant to have more children because this meant marital dissatisfaction and a curtailment of their personal freedom, as revealed in the chapter titled Personal Issues. With their attention being divided among many children, parents often feel guilty of not doing their best for their children, besides not being able to do what they want to with their time. A practical difficulty arises when the mother is invited out—she can’t tug along so many children with her, but taking one along makes the mother and child welcome.

In Part II, Newman gives handy tips to parents on how to look after their only child in situations as wide-ranging as delegating responsibility to your child to not overprotecting them to teaching him to respect his seniors. By teaching him socially acceptable behavior early in life, he becomes a confident and mature individual, and learns to respect the boundaries in which he operates.

However, Newman cautions you not to lay “great expectations” on the shoulders of your only child as this lays great pressure on him to perform and excel. Instead, if you put before him goals that can be achieved, it raises his self-esteem and he wants to take the challenge you throw at him the next time round.

You could ruin a good relationship with your only child if, for instance, you behaved like Martin Bronson’s parents. Martin believed he never lived up to his parents’ expectations, so he says, “If I got a 98, they said, ‘Why didn’t you get 100?’They demanded an improved performance for everything. I was not permitted any mistakes in any area.”

Such an “extra push” could run counterproductive to your child’s development, says Newman. If your child can’t handle stress, he will turn to your spouse for consolation, love or entertainment. That’s a sure sign that you’re turning on the stress button far too much than he can handle.

While discussing these points of raising a child effectively, Newman advises you to guard against a situation where your child runs the household and against a “state-of-the-art child” who would help any parent in our wealthy and child-centered lives.

Newman’s book is based on her personal experience of raising an only child. From her book, we can glean the joys and challenges of raising only kids—particularly if they turn out to be as high achievers as Jean-Paul Sartre, Hans Christian Andersen, Albert Einstein or Leonardo da Vinci!



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