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The Case for Only Child: Your Essential Guide

The Case for Only Child: Your Essential Guide

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The Case for Only Child: Your Essential Guide

3/5 (5 ratings)
237 pages
4 hours
May 9, 2011


What's really wrong with having one child? Is one enough for you? For your partner? What constitutes a complete, happy family? Will your only child be lonely, spoiled, bossy, selfish? Read this book and find out.

Despite the personal distress and pressure to have a second baby, the number of women having an only child has more than doubled in the last two decades.  What most people don't realize is that one-child families outnumber families with two children and have for more than two decades. In major metropolitan areas like New York, 30 percent of families have a singleton. Throughout the country people are following suit. And it's no wonder why:
  • The worrisome biological clock (secondary infertility; older mothers)
  • Downtrodden job markets
  • How mothers working affects everyone in the family
  • Finances and housing and costs of education

These are only the few things that parents today (and parents to be) contend with when deciding to start a family and determining whether or not to stop after one. The time is right for a book that addresses the emerging type of nuclear family, one that consists of a solo child.

Popular Psychology Today blogger and parenting author of fifteen books, including the groundbreaking Parenting the Only Child, Susan Newman, Ph.D., grew impatient with the pervasiveness of only-child folklore masquerading as fact and offers the latest findings about the long-term effects of being raised as a singleton.

In The Case for the Only Child, Newman walks parents (and future parents) through the long list of factors working for and against them as well as highlights the many positive aspects of raising and being a singleton. The aim of this book is to ease and guide parents through the process of determining what they want. Although each situation is unique, the profound confusion surrounding having a second child is similar. It is one of the most difficult and life-altering choices parents face. Adding to one's family dramatically changes one's life and the life of one's firstborn forever. What will a person give up in time, money, freedom, intimacy, and job advancement with another child in the household? What will they gain? The Case for the Only Child helps explore and resolve these perplexing questions.
May 9, 2011

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Top quotes

  • At no point did I consider not working. I think I would get frustrated if I didn’t work and probably would feel useless. I’m a very organized person, a type A, who needs to be in control and one child knocks that for a loop.

  • Are you asking me about my personal life? You’ll forgive me if I don’t answer.” Good chance you will get an apology. Saying, “We can’t have more children,” is a conversation-stopper as well.

  • Family time, adult time, and weekend relaxation are harder to snag if you take the leap and become a two-child family. Be prepared for a nonstop routine of shuffling and shuttling.

  • Already 46 percent of England’s families have a singleton.¹⁵ By the year 2020, if current birth rates continue, one-child families will dominate in England.

  • The feminist movement of the seventies paved the way so women of eighties and beyond could have babies and work.

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The Case for Only Child - Susan Newman

Praise for

The Case for the Only Child

I love books that present good news most people don’t know about. This is such a book. Susan Newman lets you know that far from being damaged, only-children can have it made! As a parent, you can have one and be done, and Dr. Newman shows you why. Goodbye guilt, welcome the fulsome joy of being parents to a one-and-only!

—Edward Hallowell, M.D., author of

The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness and other books

Susan Newman has written a delightful, honest, and readable book that explores a complex issue—whether to have more than one child. She presents and explores every possible conflict and scenario with compassion for all sides of the issue and for all members of the family.

—Jane Mattes, LCSW, author of Single Mothers by Choice,

"For anyone debating the issue of ‘filling your nest, but how full?’ this book is a wise and empowering read. As the mother of an only child and the founder of, a community for midlife mothers, I know the self-doubt and judgment that some parents experience. Susan Newman offers a validating and refreshing pat on the back for those going the only-child route."

—Robin Gorman Newman, Founder/Parenting Blogger,




Your Essential Guide

Susan Newman, Ph.D.

Health Communications, Inc.

Deerfield Beach, Florida

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Newman, Susan.

The case for the only child : your essential guide / Susan Newman.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references.

ISBN-13: 978-0-7573-1551-0 (trade paper)

ISBN-10: 0-7573-1551-8 (trade paper)

ISBN-13: 978-0-7573-9189-7 (e-book)

ISBN-10: 0-7573-9189-3(e-book)

1. Family size. 2. Only child. 3. Family planning. I. Title.

HQ760.N49 2011



©2011 Susan Newman

All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the written permission of the publisher.

HCI, its logos, and marks are trademarks of Health Communications, Inc.

Publisher: Health Communications, Inc.

                  3201 S.W. 15th Street

                  Deerfield Beach, FL 33442-8190

Cover photo ©iStockphoto

Interior design and formatting by Lawna Patterson Oldfield

To all those who have had

or may have to answer the question

"When are you having

another child?"

Other Books by Susan Newman, Ph.D.

Under One Roof Again: All Grown Up and (Re)learning to Live Together Happily

The Book of NO: 250 Ways to Say It—and Mean It and Stop People-Pleasing Forever

Nobody’s Baby Now: Reinventing Your Adult Relationship with Your Mother and Father

Parenting an Only Child: The Joys and Challenges of Raising Your One and Only

Little Things Long Remembered: Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day

Little Things Mean a Lot: Creating Happy Memories with Your Grandchildren

Little Things Shared: Lasting Connections Between Family & Friends

Getting Your Child into College: What Parents Must Know

Let’s Always . . . Promises to Make Love Last

Don’t Be S.A.D.: A Teenage Guide to Stress, Anxiety & Depression

It Won’t Happen to Me: True Stories of Teen Alcohol and Drug Abuse

You Can Say No to a Drink or a Drug: What Every Kid Should Know

Never Say Yes to a Stranger: What Your Child Must Know to Stay Safe

Memorable Birthdays: Now a Guide, Later a Gift


Author’s Note

Introduction: Filling Your Nest, but How Full?

1 The Trend Toward One-Child Families

2 Pressure, Pressure Everywhere

3 Stereotypes—Fact Versus Fiction

4 The Kid Ceiling

5 Children Are Big-Ticket Items

6 Divided We Stand

7 Tick-Tock—Your Biological Clock

8 The Happiness Factor

9 Sibling Realities

10 Into the Future

11 Decisions, Decisions

12 One and Done



Author’s Note

A few months after I had my son, friends began asking me when I was going to have a second child; I felt bombarded by their questions and had many questions of my own. As an older mother, I considered the possible health risks of another pregnancy. Should we adopt instead? If we made the choice to raise an only child, how would that decision affect our son? What would it be like for him to grow up without siblings? Were we being selfish? I suspect you are asking yourself some of the same questions.

I had my son in my second marriage, and I mulled over those questions many times. Self-doubt, indecision, and concerns about having decided to have an only child were a constant presence for many years. In a first marriage, I married a man with full custody of his four children. Having raised stepchildren in one household, I was in a unique position to compare the dynamics of siblings versus no siblings. I watched my son’s behavior for stereotypical signs of the only child: was he lonely, spoiled, bratty, self-centered— peculiar in some way? And I looked for ways to prevent the nasty stereotypes from applying to him. That was more than twenty years ago.

During those years, I have conducted three research projects in which I interviewed only children and their parents to find answers to my questions—roughly one study every ten years. What is different now from the previous studies is that many more people have one child. Even before the 2010 Census figures were released, it was evident that the only-child population had continued to grow, not only in the United States, but also around the world.

This time when I began looking for participants, the floodgates opened; my e-mail inbox was full of requests from people who wanted to talk about raising or being an only child. With almost no effort on my part, the network of parents of only children and only children themselves fed the research. I spoke with parents of only children from Florida to Seattle, in varied economic groups, and holding a huge range of jobs. One person led to another until I stopped the interview process at 100 as I did with the 1990 and 2000 interview sets. Because everyone seems to know someone who is or has an only child, no doubt this research could have continued for many more months.

I have changed the names of people interviewed to protect their identities, but not their words or the feelings their statements convey. What the interview subjects tell you will unscramble many of the complex issues and emotions that play into the decision to have an only child. For the past three years, I have been writing a blog for Psychology Today magazine called Singletons where I explore the conflicts and choices surrounding the family and the only child. While I am on the subject of names, I use singletons and onlies—as only children have come to be called. At times, when I defend the merits of only-child families or set the record straight about having children after age 35, for example, readers respond with an uproar that feels like a lashing in the town square. When I posted pieces such as 40 Is the New 20 for Having Babies or When Will the Duggars Stop? readers answered with strong opinions, and their comments reflected the sensitivity and controversy that surrounds the subject of family size.

When I posted items in an effort to correct thinking and debunk stereotypes about only children, some people expressed their outrage, including only children themselves who had unhappy childhoods. I heard from children with siblings who voiced their views, as well—some positive, some negative about their brothers and sisters. This book includes all the perspectives I encountered, including comments from experts I interviewed directly, and the latest findings and discoveries from leading psychologists and researchers.

To analyze information from many sources, I used what is called grounded theory. This research method provides an overview of the issues by incorporating the work of other researchers and presents accurate social and psychological perspectives from its interview subjects. The main data comes from participants’ stories, which are sorted to find trends, patterns, and recurring themes that lead to a theory—in this instance—about having and being an only child. For simplicity, the text refers to parents in the plural. In almost all instances, facts and comments apply to single parents as well.

No matter what your beliefs when you start this book, you will learn that there is certainly nothing wrong with having or being an only child—and, in fact, lots that is right with it. No doubt some will disagree—even argue fiercely—with the strong position taken in presenting The Case for the Only Child.

Childbearing options, the definition of family, and parenting attitude have changed dramatically in the last ten years. In some ways and for some people, the changes make the decision to have one child easier; for others, the choices make the decision even more bewildering and harder to make. My hope is to enlighten you with concrete facts, insights, and keen perspectives about the only child and help you make an informed decision about your family’s size.

Introduction: Filling Your

Nest, but How Full?

Parenting shouldn’t be distilled into a

binary of joy or misery any more than we should

discuss the merits of children versus childlessness

without considering the place in between:

having just one kid.¹

—Lauren Sandler, thirty-five, the mother of a two-year-old

When you thought about becoming a parent, you may have been very clear and emphatic about how many children you wanted. Perhaps you decided you didn’t want any children and now wonder if you might want one. On the other hand, you might have been positive you wanted two children; there was no shaking your confidence, that is, until you experienced parenting one child. Suddenly, the decision may not seem so obvious or absolute.

Maybe you decided one was just right for you, but everyone from your parents to perfect strangers has an opinion they gladly offer whether or not you ask. A whole range of what ifs take over, your conviction weakens, and you are no longer 100 percent sure of what you want. You may fear you won’t feel like a family with only one child, or you may fall prey to the lingering negative preconceptions associated with the only child. You speculate that your child could end up being lonely or bossy or worse. Too often you hear, He needs a brother or sister. Really? You become unsure.

Most everyone agrees that a second child dramatically changes your life and the life of your firstborn forever. As big a decision as having or adopting another child is, deciding not to is a commitment you may not be ready to make. You look in your garage or storage area and ask yourself: Do I hold on to the crib, the high chair, and the rest of the all pink (or blue) baby paraphernalia? Or, do I tag them with prices and put them on the front lawn? Selling seems logical, but you may find it reassuring to allow the memorabilia of babyhood to clutter the basement for another year or so while you make up your mind.

How do you decide whether to add to your family when social pressure and pessimistic attitudes about singletons sway you toward a second child? What’s wrong with having just one? Is one enough for you? For your partner? What constitutes a complete, happy family?

Patricia, a dentist, the mother of a three-year-old child, isn’t sure. She contacted me to talk about whether or not she really wants a second child. She is not an isolated case of a parent second-guessing herself.

The husband of an almost-forty-year-old wife wants to give their five-year-old a sibling. Originally adamantly against the idea, his wife has agreed to see a fertility specialist, but isn’t sure she can cope with another child.

A friend, age thirty-four, has been teetering on the second-baby fence and feels pressure from her family to have another. She hesitates, knowing her career will be in jeopardy if she takes another maternity leave.

At the time a couple adopted their first child, miraculously, they were offered a second. They weren’t sure they could comfortably afford two children or give them the attention they felt they would need.

These examples illustrate the conundrums people face regarding family size. They ask themselves, Is having one child better than having two or more? Will I live to regret having only one child? Will my child suffer needlessly as an only child? Who will my child turn to when we, as parents, pass on? These pages will help you better understand the realities of the single child and the single-child family. Much has changed since your parents had you.

Size Matters

When it comes to the complex calculus of mapping your family’s future, one thing is certain: whether you are thinking about having one child, have one child and are sure that’s all you want, or are deciding to have a second child, size matters. It matters in how you view yourself and in how others view you. It makes a difference in how you function, how you manage your life, your career, your family, and other personal relationships.

How you feel about the number of children you have or don’t have matters more than the actual number. You could feel like Maureen who says, Our marriage is perfect. We have one perfect son. Why would I want another child? Or you could be in Phoebe’s camp. She worries her daughter, age six, will miss the special bond Phoebe shares with her own sister.

Parents who consider stopping with one child are likely to find themselves on the defensive because many people still believe that children without siblings are at a disadvantage and are more likely to be selfish and spoiled. However, an established and growing body of evidence indicates that people who make these claims are misinformed. Most people, when asked, answer they want two children—usually, a boy for him, a girl for her. Or they say, I wanted one of each. Despite what people say, the U.S. Census reports the single-child family is growing at a faster rate than families with two children.² This well-kept secret isn’t new. Between 1976 and 1998 there was a jump in the only-child population from 9.6 percent to more than 17 percent. During those same years, the percentage of families with three or more children shrank by 21 percent. The rise in one-child families continues.³

With so many people having just one child, it is important to understand the facts and dismiss the myths. The roots of family-size preference and opinions about only children run deep and opinions are hard to change. It is this thinking, coupled with the new definitions of family and the economics of raising children, that makes it so incredibly difficult for parents to stop at one or make the jump from one to two children.

To complicate matters, emotions run high when men and women enter the family-size terrain. As you read about how others made their decisions, you’ll realize that you, too, must move beyond logic and factor in several issues. These include your feelings about your own childhood, how you related to your siblings, what friends are doing (and saying), the media portrayal of family, your career or job, your dreams, and heading the list: the annoying and inaccurate stereotypes that stigmatize the only child.

You may find yourself surrounded by well-meaning but intrusive people (if you haven’t already), all of whom have an idea of what’s right for you and are eager to tell you. Unsolicited and unwanted opinions frequently flow from grandparents, friends, coworkers, even strangers in store checkout aisles. Gloria, herself an only child and the mother of one, receives comments all the time and finds them disconcerting: It was my decision; I wish people would stop questioning me. They really don’t know why I have one child or what might be going on in my life that’s out of my control.

Family configurations are many, and decision-making influences are everywhere—from your mother to the pregnant woman you pass in the hall when dropping your child off at pre-K. What (and how) you decide is subject to scrutiny and comes with mega-doses of pressure that increase self-doubt. This is a decision you want to get right so you don’t feel negative and guilty. Men and women worldwide have come to realize that having one child is desirable from a wide range of viewpoints and practicalities. Today only-child families are a given and rapidly becoming the New Traditional Family.

The Tough Questions

The Case for the Only Child is designed to unravel your questions and clarify the concerns you may have about formulating a yes or no decision to have one child. You will learn not only what it is like to raise an only child, but also what it is like to be one. Eliminating your confusion involves finding answers to these questions:

• How will more children affect my life, marriage, or partnership?

• What impact will a second child have on my job? Will I need or want to stay home?

• Do I have the support system, money, and other resources I will need?

• How much is my cultural or religious upbringing influencing me?

• Does my child need a sibling?

• Will my only child fare well in the world or be at a disadvantage?

• Do I want another child for the benefit of my firstborn or so someone will care for me in my dotage?

• What do I want versus what family, friends, and society tell me I should do?

Your answers will vary depending on your partner (or lack of one), pressure from family,

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  • (4/5)
    I am an only child who is the parent of an only child so I was very curious to read this book. When I was growing up I knew very few only children (if I think about it, I still know very few), nonetheless, after I had my son it never occurred to me to have another. My parents always said to me, "If you get it so right the first time, why do it again?" I did get it amazingly right the first time. My son has just successfully finished his first year in college and is a very happy, smart, socially well-adjusted, and kind human being who hopes to be an elementary or middle school teacher as a way of giving back to his community. None of that is a surprise to me because that's both who he's always been and how he was raised.I don't remember ever wanting siblings - I think that's a pretty abstract notion for small children, anyway. If I did when I was little I definitely remember being thrilled to be an only child after I started having sleepovers with friends with siblings. I'll admit that I'm often curious about it what it might be like, but purely from an intellectual standpoint. I was always very close with my parents (as is my son with his). We were a united front - all in it together.I had and have friends. I was lucky to have been able to participate in activities outside of school - art classes, music lessons, ballet. I do remember being lonely sometimes, but I think everyone's had that sensation - siblings or not. I have always been (and remain) very independent and choosy in my personal life - choosing fewer rather than more friends - again that's part of who I am and of my personality. My son is much more social and outgoing than I am or than his father, so I'm not convinced being an only child dooms you to social ineptitude.The qualities I think only children gain quickly are those of independence, of learning to compromise (really, friends never give you your own way all the time). I think only children also learn the luxury of picking and choosing because they know how to be alone and how to entertain themselves. I see these as positives.FDR - President and Only ChildDr. Newman clearly takes apart the stereotypes associated with only children as just that - stereotypes that turn out to be essentially untrue. We no longer live in the kind of society that loses children at such a rate that multiples are had if only to ensure someone makes it past childhood. Our children do not work our farms, or labor in our factories. We are fortunate as a society to have choices about family size and there are good reasons for choosing fewer as there are equally good reasons for having more. I don't think it's a question to torture yourself over and it is good to see an explication of that for parents who may be doing so.I think children should be wanted and cherished by their parents. If you're able to do that with only one child, then that's what you do. If you can do that with more, then you do that. All choices have advantages and disadvantages - it's up to you to figure out the cost/benefit and then follow your heart.If this is a question that you're dealing with in your personal life, you can't find a better book to help you think about this choice. Perhaps the best (and most difficult) thing about living at this time is that we have many choices. Knowledge increases our ability to make the right choices for ourselves and further helps us down the road to knowing our heart's desire. This is a thoughtful and worthwhile book that presents information in a clear way and affirms the right to make all kinds of choices - great book.