When I was growing up in the 1960's, there weren't many only children in the neighborhood. In fact, I was the "only" one on the block. I was also the "only" one in my classroom for the first five years of school, at which point another "only" entered the scene - a young man with whom I fell promptly in love. It seems I was fated to be attracted to only children, for my next two boyfriends were also the centerpiece of their triangular families. As was the one who ultimately became my husband, thirty five years ago this month. In the early days of our courtship, people half heartedly teased us about the havoc this was likely to wreak on our relationship. "You're both so used to getting your own way," one of my aunts said. "You're both so independent," my best friend told me. "You're both so spoiled!" my dad said.
Later, as it appeared that nothing would hold us back from pledging our futures together, friends and relatives pointed out that someday we would each have the sole responsibility of caring for elderly parents. "You'll have no one to help you," they warned. And still later, when it became apparent that we would have an only child ourselves, the warnings became even more dire. "Your poor son will have such a lonely life! He won't even have aunts and uncles and cousins!"
Only children have historically been the subject of pity, and have been looked upon as inherently selfish and inordinately spoiled. The myth of the only child dates back to the late 1800s when G. Stanley Hall, known as the founder of child psychology, called being an only child "a disease in itself."
I'm sorry to inform Mr. Hall that modern research can't come up with a shred of evidence suggesting only children are more prone to psychological disorders. In fact, these studies indicate that only children are more intelligent and more highly educated, which isn't surprising when you consider that an only child is the sole beneficiary of her parents resources in time and money.
A recent poll (reported by ABC News) suggests that only 3% of people think it's "ideal" to have only one child. There was a time when I would have placed myself squarely among that 3% - but maybe not so much anymore. I have to admit that it gets lonely here at the apex of the triangle. Until I got older, I didn't realize how alone I really was. No siblings to share special occasions or tragedies. No extended family to call on for help with moving or garage sales or trips to the airport.
And most obviously, there will be no one to share memories with when my parents are gone. When those two important sides of the triangle are removed, only I will be left teetering precariously on the tip of what was once our solid little family.
Of course, I have my own family now, triangular as it is. But now that it's about to grow by one, I feel a stirring of excitement. I wonder, will the only child syndrome come to an end with this generation?
Only time will tell.
I know several of my regular readers and friends are only children, or have only children. How about you? What do you think? Is being an only child "ideal"? Or is it lonely at the tip of the triangle?