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New book explores the not-so-miserable only child

No kids, one kid, four kids: There's no end to the debate over why people decide on a certain number.

By Associated_Press Jun 19, 2013 5:02PM

NEW YORK (AP) — Is one family configuration more scrutinized than another? Lauren Sandler thinks so.

She delves into the myths and misconceptions about singletons in a new book, "One and Only," out this month from Simon & Schuster. And she feels strongly about the subject, as a journalist and an only child raising an only child with her photographer husband, who's one of two.

Photo: This June 17, 2013 photo released courtesy of Lauren Sandler shows, from left, Justin Lane, Lauren Sandler and Dahlia Lane at their home in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Sandler delves into the myths and misconceptions about singletons in a new book, The choice of one, the Brooklyn mom said, is often demonized, and the pull to have more is strong at times. Based on scores of interviews with academics and only children, the book wasn't intended as a memoir, though Sandler's family — her "lean team" of three — is woven throughout.

While she's content and confident her 5-year-old daughter is doing great, Sandler hasn't escaped the conflict. Her reaction when her husband suggests he get a vasectomy drives home the turmoil.

"I burst into tears, run up to our bedroom, and throw myself onto the pillows like a heartsick teenager," she writes.

"Despite all the rational information that supports my reluctance to have another kid, all the research demonstrating that only children are fine, all the data suggesting the additional sacrifices another kid would require, making the choice not to have another child is still fraught with conflict. It's an emotional struggle that, it turns out, no set of numbers and analysis can erase."

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A conversation with Lauren Sandler:

AP: How has research on raising only children changed in recent years?

Sandler: I don't think it's really changed. What keeps happening is people keep retesting, saying, "Oh, how could it possibly be true that all of these studies from all of these years ago have said that only children are just fine." And so they retest and then they find out, "Oh yeah, only children are fine."

AP: So where does the notion come from that only children are lonely, selfish and maladjusted?

Sandler: I've been puzzling over this for three years, and the best I can come up with is this sort of three-pronged answer.

No. 1, it was a story that needed to develop in an evolutionary biology sense, that in order to thrive as a species we had to have more of us, so that was important. And then we were an agrarian society, and in an agrarian society children were a work force and a life insurance policy, and if you wanted your family to thrive you needed to have a bigger one.

But then the Industrial Revolution came around, then the women's movement came around. We didn't really come to terms with what women's freedom looks like, and we didn't really come to terms with how much society had changed, and so we kept telling this story. I've talked to researchers who think that it's a story that people need to tell because having more kids is hard and you need to feel like there's a reason behind it.

AP: Is there an underlying discrimination in the culture against only children?

Sandler: I was having a conversation with an only child I met and she was telling me that about 10 years ago she was in a job interview and her lack of siblings came up, and the person she was interviewing with, the boss of this company, said, "I'm sorry, I don't hire only children." And that was that.

Can you imagine if she was any other group? I'm sure it's illegal but I'm sure that no one even thinks about it in terms of being illegal because we're not a race. We're not any standard minority group. We just happen to be this group of people that the world has decided is a certain way even though hundreds of studies and decades and decades of research have shown that we just aren't all that different.

AP: What drives that nagging pull to have more?

Sandler: I think that as parents we want our kids to be happy and to thrive. We want our families to be happy, and we have society telling us if you have one kid, your kid's going to be really unhappy. You're going to have a miserable misfit of a child, but if you give your child a sibling you will have a happy family.

The data tells us that most people have their first child for themselves and the second child for the benefit of their first. I feel like if you want two kids, three kids, five kids, no kids, great. Do what your heart tells you but don't do what society is whispering in your ear, especially when it's based on such fallacy.

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AP: When you're raising only one, everyone seems to want a say. As an only yourself who is raising an only do you feel you're under a spotlight in that respect?

Sandler: If you choose not to have a child, like many people I know, then society may mumble and grumble about how you're not fully a woman, you're a selfish person, and you're going to mess up a "defenseless child" by not giving them a sibling.

I think that that feeling, that you are making a bad call and it's going to hurt a child, is enough so that people feel like they can go from beaming at your adorable child in the subway or in the supermarket line to shaking their head and saying they wouldn't do that to their child, which is a line that I've heard a lot.

AP: In light of all the positives you've rounded up on the benefits of having an only child, including the financial benefits, you seem to remain conflicted about it. Can you explain that a bit?

Sandler: I know my daughter would be a great big sister and I love babies, and I love being a parent more than I ever thought that I would. I love the delicious closeness that you have with a small child, and you know, my kid's 5. I know that type of delicious intensity with a small kid is eroding. I know that that's going to come to an end. That makes me feel like, "All right, I'm pretty sure that this is what's going to be the best choice for the three of us," but I'm always open to the idea of change, or the notion that the heart can swerve.

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Photo: From left, Justin Lane, Lauren Sandler and Dahlia Lane at their home in the Brooklyn borough of New York on June 17. Sandler delves into the myths and misconceptions about singletons in a new book, "One and Only," out this month from Simon & Schuster. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Lauren Sandler)

Jun 25, 2013 9:05PM

I was never "suppose" to have any children, but God blessed us with our daughter. I was never able to get pregnant again. She is grown and married and now expecting one of her own. This may be her only one due to infertility issues that run in the family. I can't tell you how many times people would ask me if I have children. I would say we have one child and they would react as if it were sad or something. "Only one child???? You are planning on having more right??? Why did you not have more, if you don't mind me asking."  Well yes, I do mind.... I thank God for my little family and that is all that matters :-)

Jun 25, 2013 5:12PM
My husband and I were told we could not have children at all, but by the grace of God we were able to have 1 daughter.  I am so grateful for that.  If I had a choice between none or 1, I would always choose my daughter.  She is a true blessing from God.  Those of you that think an only child is not a family, then you apparently don't have any children at all!
Jun 25, 2013 5:12PM
In this society, children are fine if the parents are good.  With some thought and determination, even if one of the parents is evil, the children turn out to be fine adults.  With a manipulative selfish parent in control, more children means more misery to the siblings
Jun 25, 2013 4:33PM
I only want one kid, and I want it to be daughter, why does the world need more children anyway? We have enough brainwashed kids from religion
Jun 25, 2013 11:35AM

Who's to say if I should have had more kids.  Apparently the Good Lord blessed me with what I could handle .  One.  And spoiled?  No.  I'm a single mother dirt poor going to school.  I give her the basic needs of life and maybe a little more when I can afford it. She is neither deprived nor spoiled.  I'm a lucky mama to have a beautiful baby (15)...


Maybe in my next life I'll be financially prepared for more than one, but I'm absolutely blessed to have the "prettiest girl in all da world!"... (my song to her when she was little). 

Jun 25, 2013 9:57AM

I had an only child and I was raising her all my well  meaning friends and family gave their arguments one by one of why I should have more children.  Some of the more ridiculous arguments were:

-You should have more than one so if one dies, you will have a spare!

-If you aren't constantly breaking up fights between siblings, you're not a  real parent! (my response was that I didn't want to be a real parent!)


The bottom line is, raising children is a choice, some choose to have several, some choose to have one, and some choose to have none at all.  Parents should choose what is right for them, not everyone else, or they will not be good parents if they are miserable. What's good for one is not good for everyone.  The best parents are the ones who made choices based on their own situation and not pushed into doing something they don't want to do by meddling people!



Jun 25, 2013 6:17AM
If we had had a choice we would have had 2 or 3 but, that wasn't meant to be.  We are blessed to have a beautiful only child(now 20+), who will tell you she is spoiled rotten but not a brat.  I agree with her.  She is an amazing young woman who is very outgoing, warm, friendly, giving and has a wonderful way with others (could tell some fairly amazing stories on how she reached out and touched others).  We were also blessed with a pretty great bunch of people from all walks of our/her life and for that we are so grateful cause, I don't think we were all that great of parents. All that being said, she hopefully plans on having more than one.
Jun 25, 2013 5:05AM
foo 2u, please take a long walk off a short pier. I have no siblings and I don't care. I take offense to jerks who think I've somehow been deprived of all the emotional and physical torment growing up, angry that my parents were able to pay for my college, and jealous that I had some awesome vacations (and I brought back souvenirs for all of my friends). My "little brother" is a Boston terrier and I still think he's smarter than most people I went to college with, and I know for a fact he's smarter than you!
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