Episode 35: "A Smart Choice: Busting Only Child Myths"

A Smart Choice: Busting Only Child Myths

Lonely, selfish and maladjusted? NOT. Careful consideration of all the ramifications of your family-size decision is smart. Perhaps you’re leaning toward having only one child; there are plenty of good reasons to stop there. But you’ve heard only children are spoiled and selfish, or can be peculiar. It turns out these are myths.

Journalist Lauren Sandler did a lot digging, and in this episode she tells us there is “a lot of data supporting the one-child family as a healthy, important choice.” Lauren wrote a Time magazine cover story on the subject, The Only Child: Debunking the Myths. She followed up two years later with the book, One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child, and the Joy of Being One.

Bottom Line: “In hundreds of studies during the past decades exploring 16 character traits — including leadership, maturity, extroversion, social participation, popularity, generosity, cooperativeness, flexibility, emotional stability, contentment — only children scored just as well as children with siblings.”

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“As these climate issues have become more a part of our cultural conversation, I have found the population question to be missing in ways that really scare the hell out of me.”
– Journalist Lauren Sandler

"When Special Projects Coordinator Carolyn VandenDolder, and I sat down last week for this conversation with Lauren, I was expecting some good information from a knowledgeable journalist. Little did we know, we were in for a supremely thoughtful, intelligent conversation with an amazing woman, mother and citizen of the planet."
– Dave Gardner

Even though “one-child families make obvious sense in a time of diminishing resources,” Lauren reports, “the world is still telling us we should have larger families.”

Lauren shares that kids have been sold a fantastical vision of what adulthood is supposed to be, but they’re bumping into a lot of realities now – student debt, housing costs, job prospects, childcare costs, etc.  “It’s not about buying another Barbie for the dreamhouse anymore.” So when women begin choosing childfree or fewer children, the assumption is that they are not getting what they desire. But that’s just because their desires have been “set” before they’re even ready to decide what their desires are.

A few tidbits of her insights:

“We live in a society that expects women to be mothers more than they want us to be anything else.”

“We aren’t really examining our family size choice, and when we do, we generally end up with a smaller family.”

“It turns out brutal sibling rivalry isn’t necessary to beat the ego out of us; peers and classmates do the job.”

“…hundreds of studies in the 1980s and found that only children had demonstrably higher intelligence and achievement; only children have also been found to have more self-esteem.”

“As the mother of one child, I enjoy more time, energy and resources than I would if I had more children. And it is hard to imagine that this isn’t better for my family as well as for me.”

“Instead of making family choices to fulfill breeding assignments we imagine we’ve been given, we might ensure that our most profound choice is a purely independent, personal one.”

“Having the bandwidth for citizenship, pleasure, power, is very difficult for women while they’re raising children.”

“I don’t care if you’re teaching your kids to recycle if you have five of them…. If you want to have five kids and that’s incredibly important to you, great. But don’t see it as the ‘woke’ choice.”


This episode was published March 2, 2020.