Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 6/11/2013
Cultural politics writer and Righteous author Lauren Sandler poured an inordinate amount of angst à la Tina Fey into the pros and cons of adding a second child to her family. She, herself an only child, combed through the credible research on singletons, particularly the meta-analyses conducted by Toni Falbo and Denise Polit, for some answers.
Sandler distills all the research along with interviews of academics and onlies into an upcoming book One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child and the Joy of Being One. A witty and frank case for the single-child family, One and Only debunks the quasi-academic assumptions about lonely, selfish, maladjusted little emperors.
“I’m not here to preach the Gospel of the Only Child, although, to quote the engraving over the door of a brownstone church here in Brooklyn, ‘Jesus was an only child.’”
The calls to be fruitful and multiply have to me been real as a mother of a singleton and palpable as a lapsed Catholic living exurbanly in Texas. After so much heavy-handed evangelism and ostracism, I’d begun to second-guess my aspirations for the well-being of my only offspring and the world she will inhabit. Sandler’s book has been fortifying.
“When our internal desires clash with accepted wisdom, it’s incumbent upon us to wonder why. I believe that when we interrogate our assumptions, we find they’re usually coming from the culture, which needs us to behave. We need to be more assertive in questioning why exactly we believe our children need siblings.”
In One and Only, Sandler questions how much of the decision to add siblings is based on wrong-headed stereotypes, bad science and hysterical social pressure. During the Great Depression, family size shrank along with the economy, but it wasn’t until World War II that reliable studies on the only child began to emerge in the media. In 1985, seven years into China’s One Child Policy, Newsweek coined the term Little Emperor in a headline.
Sandler cited Toni Falbo’s meta-analyses of more than 500 studies that showed how only children compared to siblings fared better in achievement motivation and self-esteem and scored better in the ability to deal with anxiety and conflict. She also found that only children tend to benefit from an abundance of parental vigilance.
Sandler also read the research of Judith Blake, who coined the term resource dilution in her 1981 Demography study. At the UCLA School of Public Health, Blake spent her career investigating why only children tend to exhibit higher educational and occupational achievement.
Every additional child tends to dilute the resources of a family in terms of parental time, attention and money. If an only child receives 50 percent more resources than a child in a two-sibling family, Blake proposed, singletons have an increased chance at success.
Sandler writes the anxiety parents of singletons experience might come from “a visceral response to the notion of that child alone.”
“We often mistake loneliness with solitude, confusing a state of grievous misery with a state of placid contentment, the likes of Thoreau’s exaltations or the teachings of Buddhism.”
In view of the benefits of self-sufficiency, undiluted resources and extraordinary goals, Sandler chalks up the number of onlies of both sexes who express a deep interest in “white collar, scientific and cerebral career paths.”
She extolls the achievements of celebrity singletons like Cole Porter, Frank Sinatra, Lauren Bacall and Hedy Lamarr. You know… the Hollywood star who invented the cryptic communication system adopted by the U.S. Navy… the forerunner of Bluetooth and WiFi technology?
One and Only by Lauren Sandler is a highly worthwhile read and an illuminating case for the single-child family.
Category: Nonfiction, Social Science