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

Only Children Forums The Only Child: Being One, Loving One… by Darrell Sifford (Review 2)

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