Tyrades! The Only Child: Threat Or Menace?

Friday, September 3, 2010

The rock group Three Dog Night identified "one" as the loneliest number -- but new research calls that into question.

According to researchers at Ohio State University, boys and girls who grow up without siblings are no less capable of developing good social skills than those raised with brothers and sisters.

This news comes at an opportune time for American society. There are an estimated 20 million only-child households in the United States. The percentage of women who have only one child has more than doubled in the past 20 years.

Bad parenting can occur in any size family, but only children have faced countless stereotypes and myths: "Only children are spoiled brats." "Only children are aggressive and bossy." "Only children are lonely and maladjusted." "Only children turn have snakes for hair and turn Greek adventurers into stone..."

Does the presence of siblings really prepare one for school? All it prepares you for is classroom exchanges such as "Johnny, who first broke the sound barrier?" "It wasn't me! But for a Popsicle I'll snitch on who really did it!" And I've never heard of a biology teacher saying, "Sorry, but you forgot to put the frog in your sister's bed after dissecting it."

I know, I know. Kids supposedly learn Cooperation, Sharing, and Patience when they come from large families. But in today's economy, those qualities manifest themselves in some icky ways. ("Hey, you got the clean underwear all last week. I think it's time for you to share your braces with me!")

Youngsters get picked on for wearing glasses, being short, being fat, etc. Are playground profiling techniques really sophisticated enough to include, "This kid always got to lick the spoon! Let's steal his lunch money!"?

Parents of only children must face well-meaning advice from hordes of people who want to counsel, tease, cajole, badger them into making multiple trips to the maternity ward. ("Ha ha. You know what little Suzie really needs????" "I dunno -- maybe unsolicited advice from some total stranger who doesn't know our family dynamics from a hole in the ground and would disappear into the Bermuda Triangle if called upon to babysit????" "Uh, I was thinking sunscreen, but now that you mention it...")

Don't let grandparents off the hook. When visiting their offspring, they can grouse about traffic jams, smog, and farm land replaced with endless retail outlets -- then launch a guilt trip because the parents aren't doing enough to increase the population.

You can never achieve a family configuration that suits these people. Two children of the same sex won't do. Just a boy and girl won't do. It's a trap. ("Okay, we've got three boys, three girls, one undeclared, plus we've adopted a highway, adopted the Kyoto global warming Accords...")

You work with what you have. I have one sibling. My wife has two. For various good reasons, son Gideon is an only child; but he is well-adjusted. I asked him what he thinks of families that have only one child. "They're lucky," he gushed. "I mean, suppose you had one kid who's as crazy about bananas as I am. How would you have enough bananas for 10 kids?"

Point well taken. On the other hand, Gideon still holds to his plan of fathering 18 children. I guess "getting lucky" trumps "being lucky."

Note: Danny Tyree welcomes e-mail at tyreetyrades@aol.com.