In Defence Of Only Children

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Marion Fulker writes:

I am an only child. Four of my friends are only children. I am married to an only child. We are part of a growing proportion of the population who are ‘onlies’.

Because of our solo child status we are considered to be different to the rest of society who have one or more siblings.

It is assumed that if you are an only child you were spoilt, indulged and lacked a proper childhood.

We only children are derided by others for being selfish – unable to share or compromise.

I cannot say whether these criticisms are true of me, how can one be dispassionate in self-assessment, yet I know that they are gross generalisations for an increasing part of Australia’s population. Don’t we find those characteristics in all parts of our society, not just in those that are onlies?

Let’s face it, everyone is defined by whether or not they have siblings and, if they do, where they come in the pecking order.

‘I am the oldest’ is said boastfully or, as my eldest likes to put it, ‘I was your first born’.

The counter voice proclaims ‘I am the youngest’ or ‘I am the baby,’ as my last born likes to say, often with a cutesy smile.

For some ‘I am the middle child’ is said in somewhat deflated tones which acknowledge that undesirable position of being wedged between the first born and the baby.

The larger the family the more complicated the descriptor ‘I am the eldest of the boys in a family of five with two older sisters,’ to name but one of the many permutations.

To continue with the generalisations, the perception is that the oldest child tends to be the most serious and the youngest the most pandered to, particularly as they grow older and may be the last left at home.

The oldest is the one that parents are criticised for being the most strict with, yet those levelling the criticism fail to understand that we are learning ‘on the job’ and the more you parent the better and more relaxed you become about it.

The middle child is often seen to be the one fighting to be heard.

My eldest granddaughter is a middle child yet defies this stereotype. She has the perfect temperament to fall in between her serious older brother and sweet baby sister. She is charming yet feisty and will never go unnoticed in her meat between the sandwich place.

My ‘onlieness’ was far reaching because I was also the only grandchild forever and a day and the only great grandchild for many a year. I quite liked being the single point of focus yet many only children confess to yearning for brothers and sisters.

I am sociable by nature and have always had a lovely group of friends with which rules out the misconception that onlies are socially inept.

I can be a bit quirky at times but I don’t think you can blame that on not having any brothers or sisters. I also have a generous nature so there’s another myth busted – I can and do share.

The discussion about whether or not to have children is more common place than it was a few decades ago.

And having made the decision to become parents, many a website is dedicated to the pros and cons of the number to have.

Most articles on only children are cautionary tales and I suspect they were written by people smug at having siblings. Two children, one of each sex seems to be the conventional wisdom and if you have a boy first you have hit the jackpot.

But in reality you get what you are given and in most cases once that baby is in your arms your undying love overwhelms any preconceptions.

Domestically, an analysis of our current population shows a decreasing family size with couples having 1.7 children and the number choosing to have just one child is growing.

In the United States onlies are a growing proportion of the population and currently make up 20% of the community. A 2012 report from the United Kingdom shows a marked rise in the proportion of single child families.

Any article on only children should acknowledge China’s one child policy which, for cultural reasons, became a ‘one child who is a boy’ policy. It has resulted in 120 boys to every 100 girls in cities and 130 boys in regional areas. It is predicted that by 2050 there will be 25-35 million more males than females in China which has the potential to lead to social instability and courtship-motivated emigration. A policy originally designed to curb population growth has had unintended consequences and is now under review.

Australia is clearly part of a trend across the developed world. So if you are someone who sticks to stereotypes there is bad news for you because by your reckoning there are going to be more spoilt, selfish people in the world.

And so I say to you, judge each person on their merits because onlies are people too.

Marion Fulker

Marion Fulker is the CEO of the Committee for Perth, a think tank focused on the future of the Perth region. She is also an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow at The University of Western Australia and has travelled extensively throughout the developed world to research cities and what makes them tick.

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