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THE ONE AND ONLY

 

With the birth rate falling across Europe and many parents deciding to have just one child, siblings could become an endangered species. (This dramatic reduction in family size is well demonstrated by our family Tree!)

Imagine it: always coming first. Never having to wait for attention. Always being listened to when you have something to say. Never being in doubt that your parents love you best. Never being fobbed off with hand-me-downs. Always feeling confident that your toys will be where you left them. Never having your favourite clothes borrowed (and probably stretched) without being asked. Wouldn't it just be bliss to be an only child?

For most people who grew up with a gaggle of siblings, the fantasy of being raised in solitary splendour has probably floated through their minds at some point or other. How could it not?
Parents may prefer to dwell on the rosier aspects of providing their children with siblings, but as children themselves know, the reality is usually a mixed bag of pros and cons.
Siblings may teach us about sharing and the rough-and-tumble of life, but they teach other less pleasant lessons too: that parents don't always protect you from being beaten up; that love doesn't always get shared out equally; that some children get blamed while others get off scot-free time and time again.

The soft focus image of boisterous, bountiful family life endures nonetheless.
Parents of two speak wistfully of the third they would have loved but couldn't quite manage, while parents of three or more look smuggly shattered. Adults who were themselves raised as only children are keener still on the idea of large families, invariably and unshakably convinced that more is merrier and bigger is better.
Comments such as "I love the chaos", because childhood, as a single, was too orderly and neat and over-protected.

These children are unlikely to follow that procreative lead. With fertility rates falling across Europe, the USA and even parts of Latin America, siblings are fast becoming an endangered species.
In tomorrow's world, like it or not, the only child will reign supreme. Despite a recent study of nine European countries showing that the majority believe the ideal family to be two children or more, many of those same countries' present birthrate has fallen well below this expectation.

Some reasons given for stopping after the first child are the mother's work progress and family house moves, after which it becomes too late to add more children. It also appears that children put a lot of strain on a relationship and one child is therefore enough of a challenge. Financial restrictions also play an important part. Also since many women put off having children until the mid or even late thirties it becomes more tiring and stressful coping with young children.
In some cases it would appear there is a considerable bond between the only child and it's parent and they can therefore not visualise sharing this with another child.

The rise of the only child in today's society is part of a much larger picture of changing family life. Contraception is now more freely available giving freedom of choice. Marriage breakdowns, co-habitation, step-families and single parent families mean many more children will effectively be raised as only children, even though they may have step-siblings or half-siblings living elsewhere with another set of parents.

Some analysts believe that the increasing number of only children might lead to a society of people who don't know how to share and take turns, and who respond to problems by either fighting or withdrawing. Other professionals don't see any problem or find evidence that only children are spoilt or mal-adjusted compared with the rest of the population. The only consistent findings of a difference is that only children tend to make good leaders and are often self-sufficient and used to keeping their own company.

Points to ponder about only children:
How do you measure the effects of always feeling outnumbered by your parents?
Or being the sole recipient of their expectations and ambitions?
How do you quantify the toll of being responsible for them in later life?

Inevitably some parents will get it more right than others in bringing up their only child. Only time will tell whether the trend towards only children will be a good or bad thing for future populations.

Edited from an article in The Daily Telegraph 30 June 2001

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