Ayesha Inoon looks at why more and more couples
are opting to have just one child
Nilu and Mahesh, parents of a five-year-old boy,
have decided that they will have only one child. They feel that
their son will benefit from their undivided attention, and that
they will be able to give him the best of resources rather than
if they had more children.
Nilu, herself an only child, says that she never
felt the lack of siblings when she was growing up. Her parents never
‘spoilt’ her, and having friends she was never lonely,
she says, confident that her son can be raised in the same manner.
Many couples are now making the same choice for
various reasons. Especially when both parents are working and living
away from their extended families, raising even a single child can
be complicated. Some couples say that when they are compelled to
leave their only child at a daycare centre, it wouldn’t make
sense to have another.
Also, with people getting married at a later age
and putting off having children into their thirties, or even forties,
having more children may not even be a viable option. A few women,
who have been able to take time off from their careers to stay at
home to raise their child during the early years, say that they
do not feel it possible or necessary – to do it all over again.
Are these reasons really justified? Is it fair
to a child to have to grow up without the companionship of brothers
and sisters? To have to face later crises in life without the support
of siblings, and to have to shoulder the burden of caring for aged
parents, alone. Have the material comforts of life taken greater
priority over the intangible values of family bonds?
While there are many who question the sensibility
of the choice to have just one child, most of those who do, believe
that an only child can be brought up just as happily as any other.
They also argue that the stereotyped ideas about only children –
that they're selfish, lonely, too dependent on their parents, or
unable to interact appropriately with peers, are not necessarily
|It’s all yours, no doubt
Pre-school teacher Shazmina Nizam says that it
is the parenting style more than the number of siblings that influences
how an only child – or any child for that matter – turns
out. “You cannot simply label an only child as ‘spoilt’
or selfish, that depends on how they have been brought up.”
Experts agree that there may be several advantages
to having an only child. These children will definitely benefit
from the extra time and financial resources that their parents will
be able to give them, they say. Studies show that not having had
to deal with sibling rivalry, only children are often more confident
and do not feel the need to prove themselves.“Compared to
children with siblings, only children, especially when they are
younger, are frequently calmer and self-assured,” says Ms.
Nizam. She adds that contrary to the common belief that only children
find it difficult to get along with their peers, they actually tend
to try extra hard to make friends and be liked.
“I like being an only child,” says
18-year-old Damayanti. “I have many friends, and I like having
the option of being by myself when I want to. I don’t think
I’m spoilt. My parents never gave into all my demands. Actually,
I think they were stricter, because they were so determined not
to spoil me!”
Kavitha, whose ten-year-old daughter is an only
child, says that often, by the time a person gets close to his or
her siblings, it is usually much later in life. Due to the different
personalities of each individual child, parents cannot help treating
them differently. During the growing up years, she says, this is
often mistaken for partial treatment towards a particular child.
Both she and her husband had felt this insecurity while growing
up, and therefore decided that they would have just one child. While
she admits that there may be instances later on when her daughter
might miss having a sibling, she does not believe in sacrificing
the present for an unforeseeable future.
Still, there are many obvious disadvantages to
being an only child. However determined parents may be not to spoil
their child, nothing can substitute for the actual experience of
sharing a home with siblings.
A Vice Principal of a girls’ school says,
“In my experience, only children often lack the initiative
to do things by themselves, since they are used to having things
done for them. When there are many in a family, they learn to share
naturally. Finances may be limited, but there is a spirit of caring
and generosity.” She adds that only children also find it
difficult to accept defeat. Having never had to give up or give
in to anyone, their tolerance levels for failure are less, she says.
“When you have only one child, you naturally
want to give him or her the best of everything, which is not always
a good thing,” says Consultant Paediatrician Dr. Dilrukshi
Ruberu. She recounts her own experience, where her eldest daughter
was an only child for over nine years.
Although she excelled in her studies and was participating
in several extra curricular activities, she became very stubborn
and difficult to handle. Now that she has two siblings, she is far
mellower, says Dr. Ruberu.
“Motherhood involves sacrifice,” she
adds, “it seems that many women are not willing to make that
Fathima is the mother of an only son, but not
by choice. Were she able to, she says, she would have had more children,
since she feels very sorry for her son having to grow up by himself.
“I had six sisters, and I know the value of siblings,”
she says, “there are things you may not be able to tell your
parents or your friends, but you can always tell a brother or a
sister. My son is often lonely and bored; I feel that if he had
a sibling he would be happier.”
However, it is increasingly apparent that the
single-child family is here to stay. Careers, financial situations
and other considerations have contributed towards this trend. Many
couples say they are determined to maintain a comfortable standard
of living both for themselves and their families, even if it means
having just one child.
“Happy parents raise happy children,”
says Ms. Nizam. Ultimately it is an individual choice about what
works best for whom.
If you are raising
an only child
- Create a lot of opportunities for socialisation
Even very young children can benefit from playgroups once
or twice a week. Invite your child’s friends to your
home, as well as letting him go their homes to play/study.
Friends often take the place of siblings for only children.
- Don’t interfere
With an only child, it can be tempting to be overprotective
and try to shield them from all life’s hurts and disagreements.
However, this not only keeps your child from developing
healthy interpersonal skills, but also from coping with
- Have realistic expectations
Sometimes there is great stress placed on an only child
to excel, which can become too much of a burden for him
or her. Don’t push your only to become a ‘super
kid’, but celebrate the talents and strengths that
he does have.
- Encourage independence
From tying his shoelace to feeding his meals, you may be
tempted to do everything for your child, but resist. They
will benefit from learning to do things by themselves.
- Let them enjoy their childhood
Only children tend to be surrounded by adult conversation
due to the lack of siblings and mature quickly. In a positive
sense this helps to build good reasoning skills. However,
resist the urge to treat him as a little adult or expect
adult behaviour from your child. Once grown, childhood can't
- Go easy on gifts and other indulgences
It may seem normal to give your child everything he asks
for – after all he is the only one to benefit from
your earnings. Still, always having your own way can lead
to self-absorbed children, who cannot cope when they are
- Encourage self entertainment
Your child does not need your attention 100 percent of the
time. Try to plan activities that he is interested in and
would love to do by himself, in addition to the time he
spends with you.
- Keep your child off centre stage
Don't always put your child first or set yourself up as
your child's ‘everything.’ Your child needs
emotional and physical space from you. Offer age-appropriate
freedoms that help your child develop self-sufficiency.