Hi, my name's Clare Bonham I'm an Australian television producer and documentary maker living in Washington DC.
I had my first child in 2001, a boy, Tom. From the moment he came into my life I felt fulfilled in a way I’d never known. I loved being a mother and my husband Peter loved being a dad. Our little boy was perfection and our family of three was harmonious, strong and very happy.
We were complete.
Of course I grew up with all the old myths and stereotypes associated with only children. I grew up in the 1960s and 70s when onlies weren't very common but we all got the message that they were different, lonely and spoiled, maybe even a little scary. We accepted the much peddled notion that a happy family was brimming with people. It was a message reinforced in television shows, books and movies.
But my experience growing up was at odds with the image of the 'big happy family. Our family was sort of big but not happy. There were five of us and it didn't go well. As we grew, my big brother, big sister and I descended into increasingly vitriolic sibling rivalry. We competed for approval and attention both of which were in short supply from our self-absorbed parents. Favouritism played into it further as our mother flaunted her preference for her only son. And all our misery was compounded as our parents marriage took an entire decade to break down.
So when I had a family of my own I ignored the stereotypes and focussed on the little family that was before me, and all l saw was perfection. We never even considered 'risking' a second child.
Over the years I've congratulated myself thousands of times on this profoundly sensible decision. I've appreciated the extra time I've had, the ability to focus on just one child and giving him the best. It's left me time to pursue my career, to work at my writing, to spend time out of the work force being a Mum. It's taken the pressure off us financially, allowing us to stay in our home and not have to expand it. We've been able to travel extensively and enjoy this beautiful planet, have gorgeous hollidays and not to have to worry about money. We've saved for our retirement so we know we'll be independent and free. And most importantly we've always been able to send our boy to good schools where he's thrived.
Of course one child isn’t perfect. Christmas morning used to feel a little anti-climactic with just us three. And my son craved young company on vacation. But we found solutions; vacationing with other families, arranging play dates, making sure Christmas and holidays were crowded with friends and relatives. We made our home the hub, opened the doors wide and invited people in. We reached out and were rewarded with great and lasting friendships. Later we filled our home with pets, two beautiful little dogs, his little brothers, my little fur babies.
At times we have to be careful not to overdo our attention, and sometimes have had to tone our enthusiasm down a little. Once he asked us to stop calling every drawing a masterpiece, which we did (kind of). And I know I sometimes over parent but not when I'm working full time so that when I do, it's special.
As he grew older my son connected to others himself through school, texting, skype and later through gaming and social media. He was often alone, but rarely on his own. In any case he craves his time alone, treasures it and uses it to recharge, create, explore and relax. I do too, so I respect that.
Today, my son is a well balanced, mature, intelligent, thriving individual with the world at his feet. He has friends in many continents and a group of close friends who will be so for life. Does he wish he had siblings? He says he doesn't. Looking around at his friends who do hasn't convinced him otherwise. And he's very aware of what he has gained from being an only in terms of privacy, material wealth, opportunities and education.
My son and our family are nothing like the fearful stereotypes of only child families that persist and coerce parents into 'going again' despite it being counter to the best interest of themselves and their first born.
In fact, our experience was in such contrast to the negative stereotypes surrounding only children that I felt obligated to do something; to 'spread the word' if you like and try to kill the crazy negative stereotypes that plague us.
It erks me that it's somehow 'OK' to insult an only child to their face or stigmatise them as a social group in the media. It's fine to talk of 'Little Emperors' and spoiled onlies and 'Generation Lonely.' We live in a world where branding people with negative labels, taunting them with derogratory names or discriminating against them because of what they are not who they are is not considered acceptable. So why is this allowed to persist?
I hate the pressure applied to parents by random strangers, the media, politicians and religious leaders to 'go again.' Or the sense of sadness or failure they must enfure if they can't because they've been told they are bad parents and their family is second rate.
It annoys me that many only children worry that they are worse off than people with siblings, that they are damaged or flawed and that their parents have let them down. If people tell you you are lonely, missing something or spoiled, you tend to believe it. And the worst thing about all this is it's not just morally wrong, it's factually wrong.
As I started to read and research about only children, to my amazement I discovered that the negative stereotypes of onlies aren't based on fact at all.
Overwhelmingly the research conducted over the last 60 years concludes that only children are in every way socially normal. Even the so-called 'Little Emperors' of China are just normal kids, and grow up to be normal people. If anything the research seems to indicate that only children are in many ways the lucky ones. They are statistically more likey to succeed both in educational outcomes and careers. They are happier and so too are their mothers.
And is seems my own negative experience of siblings isn't unusual either. Sibling rivalry, bullying and abuse are more common than has previously been acknowledged and have proven serious long term psyhological effects. Parental favouritism is rife and psychologically scarring.
Around the world parents are under unprecedented financial and time pressure. A good education can mean the difference between a life of poverty and affluence. It's little wonder so many parents are opting to have one child. It makes sense on so many levels. It's an economically and emotionally rational decision. But for many it's a decision tinged with regret or a sense of failure. The ideal in most parts of the world is still two children which means there are lot of parents feeling short changed.
To me, this situation is unjust, unfair and unsustainable. It's time to start a conversation about the realities of being and having an only child. A conversation based on truth not prejudice, based on fact not myth and based on the realities of life now not 50 or 100 years ago.
Children today are growing up in a very different world to even 15 years ago. Chances are they are urbanised, they live in high rise or high density housing surrounded by people and in close contact with neighbours, friends and relatives. With their parents working long hours children spend a lot of time in childcare or after school care. When they're old enough to use a mouse most kids are communicating with people around the globe or across the hall. And these days, chances are those people will be only children too. It's hard to lonely when you're never alone. And it's unlikely you'd miss learning to share when you are so often with others.
This generation of only children are in my view, the lucky ones. They have been born into a world which is increasingly 'only friendly.' Never has there been a better time to be an only child. The rewards are huge: Better educational opportunities; greater access to limited parental attention; better connection to people outside the family unit and greater material wealth. They are unique.
I hope this blog will start an honest conversation about only children and that we can change the way the world sees the only child, and together we can give Generation Only a loud, proud voice.