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Sunday, November 21, 2010

One and only

Are only children happier than those with siblings? A recent survey appears to suggest so

Some of my friends who have chosen to restrict themselves to a single-child family are often disconcerted by the kind of reactions they elicit from family, friends, acquaintances, hell, sometimes even passing strangers. Their decision not to extend their family always evokes shock, horror, amazement, even a smidgeon of pity.

The questions come hard and fast. Are they really sure about this? Don’t they realise that their child will grow up lonely? How on earth will he learn to get along with other kids or even share his toys? Who will be there to support her after they are gone? Maybe they should change their minds about this before it is too late. And so on and on and on.

Well, all those friends of mine who have been so exasperated by these demands over the years can now heave a sigh of relief. For a recent survey suggests that only children are far happier than those with siblings.

Well, I guess, at a certain level it makes some sense. Only children never have to compete with someone else for the love of their parents. Their parents can lavish more money, attention and praise on them because there is no other child around to make demands on them.

They don’t have to cope with bullying by an elder sibling or make concessions for a younger one. There are no invidious comparisons to be drawn between them and a brother who is so much better at maths or a sister who can write so well. They never have to share either the bathroom or their books.

And when it comes to their inheritance, the whole caboodle will come to them in the fullness of time.

Hey, maybe my friends with single-child families are on to something here. Perhaps they are actually doing better by their kids than those who bring two or even more children into the world.

Okay, so these kids don’t have the ready-made companionship of a brother or sister with blood ties to bind them. But they can go out and make friends of their own choosing. At least, that way they will be sure of getting along with them. With siblings there is always the danger than you will drive each other up the wall or be at one another’s throats before Mom and Dad charge in to break up the brawl. And sometimes these childhood – even childish – rivalries fester well into adulthood, poisoning relationships and ruining family gatherings.

Certainly there are enough grown-ups around who profess to be quite happy with their single-child upbringing. They enjoyed the feeling of being at the centre of their parents’ universe. They loved the idea of being the sole focus of attention. And they really didn’t miss the give-and-take that comes with a sibling relationship.

Of course, you could call them selfish, self-centred or even self-absorbed with no interest in anything other than themselves. And there may even be some truth to that. But they prefer to describe themselves as self-contained. Having grown up in isolation they are used to being by themselves. And as a consequence, they have developed enough inner resources to cope with being on their own.

You may see them as lonely but actually they are just alone – and no, it is not that same thing.

But just as some people are content with their single-child status, others are actively unhappy. As children they probably pestered their parents for a sibling, as grown-ups they feel as if they have lost out on an essential part of the human experience. Some of them try and make up by creating big families of their own in an attempt to re-write history. Others content themselves with berating others who are disinclined to extend their families.

I guess at the end of the day, it all comes down to personality. Some people are essentially loners, who thrive on their only-child isolation. Others long for social contact and meaningful inter-familial relationships, and they can never quite make peace with their sibling-less status.

But even though the survey says otherwise, I can’t help but feel that only children do tend to lose out – sometimes in ways which they don’t even comprehend. Sure, they may not have to contend with sibling rivalry. But they have no opportunity to enjoy some sibling revelry either.

And I have a sneaking feeling that they are the poorer for it. The rich web of human relationships that are formed between siblings are lost to them forever. They may not have had to share their parents’ love, but there will be no one to share the burden of their care in old age either. And once they are gone, they will never be able to share the memories of their parents with anyone else. And there will be no one around with the same shared history of growing up.

They will never experience the special bond that forms between aunts and nieces. They will never have the pleasure of playing indulgent uncle. They will never enjoy the sight of their kids playing with their cousins, all of them united by a certain family resemblance. And they will never be able to fall back on the unconditional support that only a sibling can provide in a time of crisis.

But I guess, you don’t miss something that you never had in the first place. Perhaps that explains why only children profess to be quite so happy.


O P Tandon said...

You seem to be getting confused with the survey in question.No survey can analyse correctly the human psychology in such a situation. The only child concept evolved recently based mainly on economic consideration than any other factor. The population pressure and Government policies in countries like India and China also contributed to this trend.

2. You have rightly stated that only child loses many natural childhood feelings and pportunities than the sibblings , The only child is a centre of attraction of parents who train him like a robot and expect him to be the best in every sphere which is unfortunately unnatural and cause of frustration in many cases. Further,his social connect with the outside world is minimal and he is mainly self centred. There are excptions to the aforesaid observations but they are very few.

nellayappan said...

Wonderful! Great Lines!
“U don’t miss something that U never had in the first place. Perhaps that explains why only children profess to be quite so happy”.
You had clearly depicted the realities of today’s life in an earlier article “To be human is to be disappointed – and vice versa”. When disappointment is destined to be a regular feature of our life, we must prepare the minds of innocent children to accept and adapt to the kicks of life with its own set of special let-downs.
This can never be done by effectively by teaching them the theories of life. Any change in the attitude can be brought only through practice. The experiences a child gets when he/she grows with siblings can never be provided by anyone else. By choosing to restrict our self to a single - child family, we do more harm to the child as well as to the society.

Yas said...

This is one of the most tolerant takes I have heard or read on "only" children.

However, to say that they lose out on certain things is like saying that people who have never had alcohol in their lives are missing out on the pleasures of getting drunk. (Of course by alcohol I am only referring to its consumption in moderation i.e. with no ill effects on health.) Well every individual is different. It's simple: those who miss having siblings lose out on certain things. But those who don't miss, don't lose out. It's simple.

Just because most of the people relish their married lives or consider it necessary, it doesn't mean that people who stay single "lose out" by not getting married. Perhaps they prefer it that way.

It's unfair to call only children as lonely. They aren't lonely. They have friends, cousins or some relations that don't have any name. They too get the pleasures of becoming uncles, aunts, devars or bhabhis. They too get the pleasure of teasing their jija-jis or bhabhis.

Sorry for rambling on.
Jai Hind.