Parents fear having an only child because they worry he or she will be unhappy. They imagine a child sadly playing board games alone with its imaginary friends, or angrily demanding more 'stuff' and more attention cause it's thoroughly addicted to both thanks to guilt-ridden parents.
This fear of the unhappy only child is the reason many parents choose to ‘go again,’ to give their first born a life time companion to play with, befriend and support and to teach them important social skills like sharing and cooperation. It's a a genuine attempt to ensure their happiness.
Having been raised with siblings and gone on to mother an only child I concluded a while back that the idea that onlies are unhappy is as mythical as the notion that all siblings are happy supportive playmates. So the news that a major British study has backed up my observations is really gratifying.
Not only did the research show that only children aren't sadder than the rest of us, it found that all children are generally happier the fewer siblings they have with only children being the happiest of all.
This revelation is just one finding to come out of a wide ranging study of British life known as the Understanding Society Study. In it researchers asked 2,500 young people from diverse backgrounds to complete in-depth questionaires about their lives. The results were analysed by Gundi Knies from the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex where the Understanding Society Study is based.
The major findings included:
• Seven out of 10 British teenagers are "very satisfied" with their lives.
• Children from ethnic minorities are on average happier than their white British counterparts.
• Happiness declines the more siblings there are in a household.
I can't explain the first two of these findings, but the third I can have a very good stab at. My experience of siblings growing up and continuing into adulthood was sadly negative. We three turned rivalry into an artform. In stark contrast, my only child is having a demonstrably great time. How do I know? He tells me all the time. He's 14 now but when he was younger he'd often announce spontaneously "I love my life." More recenly he looked at me and said "I'm the most stable, happy guy I know." I'm not a fool, I can see when someone's having a good time. And I can tell you now if my husband and I had 'gone again' the sacrifices all three of us would have had to make would definiately have dminished our quality of life and hmy son's most of all.
The way I figure this generation of only children, Generation Only, is already ahead. They are too numerous to be picked on or called freaks, they have too much going on to be lonely, they're education is giving them a huge head start in life, and since Millennials have all been labelled 'entitled' i guess they'll fit right in. Only children live at a time when the rewards for being an only - education, travel, mobility, wealth - have never been greater.
But if all that doesn't make them happy, then consider this. The mere fact they don't have siblings is a really big reason to celebrate. As a sibling victim I've come up with a bit of a list, here are my top eight reasons only children are happier.
HAPPY PARENTS – Average parents have less time than ever before. Both parents work, work life is more demanding, commuting is slow and crowded, housing expensive, our expectations higher and life is all round more stressful. And while parents have less time to give, children still need the approval and attention of their parents above all else. Given this, only children benefit doubly from a lack of siblings in that they get exclusive access to their parents love and attention and their parents happier as they are less stresssed and have more time. There's a lot of research to show that children diminish happiness for parents at least in the first few years. And some research has shown that the happiness of mothers never recovers from a second child. As a parent of one, I love giving my full attention to my son and can work less and give more. As one of three growing up my parents openly resented us, and we were clearly a handful. We faught over everything from chores to fried chicken, no wonder they saw us as an unruly mob who needed to be controlled, broken even avoided. And then, as is so common, they favoured their first born and delivered him the lions share of attention leaving my sister and I with scraps. Sibling rivalry, jealousy and a sense of abandonment were emotions I lived with on a daily basis. As a consequence I suffered low self esteem, anxiety and even depression. My son in contrast is confident and happy and he's doing well. But so am I. Mothering him has been a healing process for me. By mothering him with such attention and care, I'm mothering myself. Unlike my mother who was stressed and angry, I'm happier, calmer and more able to create a loving, happy home. Happy parents make happy children.
THEY’RE HAPPY WITH THEIR OWN COMPANY – Loneliness is not the same as solitude. Solitude is a good thing which is why we also call it 'peace and quiet', 'alone time', 'me time.' 'Peace and quiet' is rewarding, rejuvenating, creative and spiritually important. Only children have better access to time alone and so they’re more likely to understand how to use it constructively. They can choose to enjoy 'me time' to read, draw, build lego, play with their pets, stare into space, listen to music or watch what they choose to online. Most importantly being alone is critical to finding out who you are. Especially when you're a teen or young adult. But when they’re done doing that they can reach out to friends in the neighbourhood or on Skype, on their phone or via their Xbox. In this regard Generation Only is lbetter off than onlies of the past. They’re mothers are more likely to work and they’re more likely to be in childcare, or afterschool care or with their only friends so there’s less chance of overdosing on alone time and finding themselves feeling ‘lonely’. My son values his alone time highly and sees it as a treat, a time for him to switch off and indulge in whatever he feels like. He uses that time to repair, relax, rejuvinate and unwind. And when he's done he gets in touch with someone, arranges a sleepover, or hangs out with us and his dogs.
THEY’RE NOT ENVIOUS – Greed and envy come from a sense of deprivation or missing out. Only children don’t feel deprived because they know their parents are giving them all they can. Additionally, having one child means their parents have more to give: More toys, more holidays, a better school, trips away, outings, clothes, technology. Kids with siblings have to battle for their share of a smaller pie and the sense of injustice and unfairness is very difficult to avoid. Growing up in my household I was famous for saying "It's not fair" and whether it was or not I felt that way and that's not a nice way to feel. And if there's one thing guaranteed to make you want more, it's less. Happiness is never having to worry you're missing out.
THEY GET TO ENJOY BETTER STUFF – The cost of raising a child is so great that the financial difference between those with one child and those with multiple children can be significant. Most, only children reap the benefits of greater disposable income. They have more and better stuff, more eating out, better holidays, travelling, going to the theatre and driving to school in a better car. They're guaranteed of their own room. And their parents too get to enjoy more stuff which contributes to a sense of happiness in the home as a whole. While money doesn't guarantee happiness, the stuff it buys is fertile ground for it to flourish.
THEY MAKE GREAT FRIENDS – In the absence of siblings only children and their parents learn to reach out and connect with other people whether its on holidays, in hotel pools, on the beach, in airports or at home and at school. Our family is connected to others in ways my family never was growing up. Back then our family was typically inward looking and isolated, we spent much of our free time together, we ate together, holidayed together, spent weekends together, we gathered around the TV every evening and went camping. Unsurprisingly, the tension often spilled over into fights and arguments and much of my homelife was unhappily spent living with friction and conflict. Worse, I didn't learn how to bring people close to me and making friends was a slow and painful process. My son has grown up surrounded by people and with a house full of good friends he's learned habbits of a lifetime. Having an only child we have all learned how to fill our home with great people wherever we are, people we have chosen to be with, new people and old friends, not those who happen to be 'family.'
THEY HAVEN’T BEEN BULLIED AT HOME - Research is only just starting to reveal just how common and damaging sibling bullying really is. Being relentlessly teased, or having your possessions taken or broken and being physically abused, makes children understandably unhappy or worse, damaged. Sibilng bullying has been reported by a third of children and the consequences are far reaching and as significant as bullying by peers. Low self esteen, self harming, subtance abuse, anxiety and depression long into adult hood have all been linked to sibling bullying. Unfortunately, thanks to the myths about siblings being essentially 'good' for children, parents often fail to intervene to stop sibling bullying believing a bit of rough and tumble is just a normal part of this 'special' relationship. This is one stress only children avoid and a big reason they are happier.
THEY HAVEN’T SUFFERED PARENTAL FAVOURITISM – Parental favouritism is the cause of great unhappiness for children with sibilngs. The favoured thrives at the expense of the unfavoured who will not just suffer hurt and unhappiness but poor self esteem, feelings of rejection and failure and long term damage from anxiety and depression. Parental Favouritism is common enough to be normal with estimates as high as 90% of families suffering. Whether it's the first born or the last born, the girls or the boys, the sporty or the smart, or just a personal connection with one child, parents have favourites and hiding it is impossible. Favouritism damages sibling relationship turning them toxic and pitting one child against another so that all the relationships in the home are affected. A happy home doesn't have favourites. THEY HAVE ACCESS TO A BETTER EDUCATION AND A BETTER FUTURE.