Debunking “Only Child” Myths

The number of families having only one child has doubled since the baby boomer generation. So, why are more and more families planning to have only one child? What are some of the benefits and trade-offs of siblings? Is only “lonely”?

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Episode Transcript

Parent Savers
Debunking “Only Child” Myth

Please be advised, this transcription was performed from a company independent of New Mommy Media, LLC. As such, translation was required which may alter the accuracy of the transcription.

KC Wilt: A generation ago, only 10% of families had only one child. Today, that number is more than doubled. More and more families are training towards having only one child. Yet, only 3% of Americans think one is an ideal number. What are the myths surrounding only one children? Is it that parents do need to supply a sibling? Is only lonely? We’re here with Susan Newman, here to bunk the myths surrounding only children and this is Parent Savers, episode 27.

[Theme Music/ Intro]

KC Wilt: Welcome to Parent Savers, broadcasting from the Birth Education Center of San Diego. I am your host, KC Wilt. Parent Savers is all about helping new parents from the baby years through toddler years. So, download the free app. Sigh up for the free newsletter. Like us on Facebook. Send us an email or call our hotline. This is your show. We want you to be involved. So, we have amazing experts at our finger tips. So, shoot us online and we’ll get your questions answered. We also have a new option of joining our Parent Savers club where you can download the archived episodes and get exclusive content and more. So, I am a new parent myself. My son Carson is almost 23 months old. We’re getting to the phase where you stop saying that they’re months. [Laughs] And, I’m joined by two new parents here in the studio.

Johner Riehl: My name is Johner Riehl. I am 38 and a writer and I have 3 boys, 5, 3 and 1 year old.

Sunny Gault: And, my name is Sunny Gault. I am 34 years old. I am the host and producer of our sister show, Preggie Pals which is all about pregnancy. I have two little boys of my own. My youngest is almost 6 months and I also have a 2 year old and I am an only child.

KC Wilt: So, we’ve got the only child here representing…

Sunny Gault: Oh yeah!

[Theme Music]

[Featured Segment: News Headlines]

KC Wilt: Today on the news headline, “big brother? No, it’s the Parents!” and it talks about how we’re living in the society with Facebook and Twitter and all these things with the kids and how much do you parent it and how much do you not parent it. And so, there is things that…. There is technology now that can allow parents to track the physical whereabouts of their kids. They can monitor their driving speed. They can know if they’re texting while they’re driving. You can put your stuff in and find out everything that your child says on Facebook and they’ll let you know and they’ll let you….. do you think that’s too much or do you ?, you know, parents needs to give kids space? What do you guys think?

Johner Riehl: Yeah, I think….

KC Wilt: Especially, Johner, you know, you’re the techie guy.

Sunny Gault: Tech guy, yeah!

Johner Riehl: No, I mean, I definitely think that it’s important for parents to know what their kids are doing online and be aware of it but, definitely you need to make sure there’s boundaries that you don’t cross. What do you think Dr. Newman?

Susan Newman: Well, you also….. that you’ve built a trust between yourself and your child or children and by overly snooping, you’re breaking that trust and your children will not talk to you and they will not come to you. So there’s a really fine line that parents have to walk and ideally they’ll educate their kids and say, “okay, this is what’s Facebook. What you put on Facebook will always be there. Why you don’t want to Tweet, you know, whatever is going to come back to haunt you.” So, there I think you want to explain to your child. You can even say to your child, you know, age dependent, “I’m going to monitor you. So, I see that you are handling all these technology responsibly.”

Johner Riehl: Yeah, I think that’s a really important point. I think transparency in openness with your kids about what you’re doing and whether you want to be alerted to every Facebook post or kind of have a weekly check in. Say, “hey, I’m gonna check your weekly phone and see what the texts are,” that they know and it is upfront because last thing you want to do is surprise them and cause them to not trust you.

Sunny Gault: I was just going to say, it’s kind of like, when you go into the airport and they have those sporadic checks. It’s like, you know, you could get caught. You could get in trouble if you’re carrying something you shouldn’t be carrying, [Laughs] and that’s kind of how I view it like, you know, my husband is a police officer. So, we’ve had this talk quite a bit and our kids are still really young so we haven’t had to implement any of this yet. But, I’ve always said, “listen, if our children feel comfortable enough with me, you know, for example, on Facebook friending me, so I can see some of the stuff they’re posting, something I’m gonna check every day. You know, it’s not that I’m going to say when they walk into the door, let me see your cell phone. I’m not gonna give them a cell phone. [Laughs] That’s another story but, I do think parents sometimes go the opposite route and they want to be a friend. And I think that’s the danger zone. I think parents have to be smarter than their kids when it comes to technology because obviously we’re trying to protect them. You know, and we have to be one step ahead or you know, the stuff is constantly coming out, new technology and if we don’t know it, we’re putting our kids in danger.

KC Wilt: Well, one of the mothers in this article said she knows when her child is having problems with a boy or this conflicts among the friends but, she said being preview to that information and not using it is difficult. So, it’s kind of like, yes, knowing about it but, exactly what you said Dr. Newman is not abusing that privilege or the power and then there’s another part in the article where….. and this is kind of where I think I would fall align with that yes, at any moment I will check your phone. I will take this. I will look at this and then this teenager said in this article, having your parents monitor makes you think twice about what you put out there. So, just kind of, I have some friends with older children and that’s what they do. They have one email for the family. So it goes in and out through them. But, they don’t, you know, they trust their kids but the kids also know mom and dad have privileges to their email and then, at any point they can take their phone and text. They know that and as long as they grow up knowing that, you know, and the parents don’t use it. Exactly what you said doctor, they would use it to control their kids. And so they still give them trust so…..

Susan Newman: There’s one other point I want to bring up particularly for older children. You can talk about the news when a teen or a pre-teen does something absolutely absurd and abuses the trust that parents has given her or him. Talk about that, talk about the new technology to your child so they know that you are aware but also, the negative things that go on, on the internet. That will be good learning lessons for your child.

KC Wilt: Good point, good point.

Johner Riehl: Teach one moment, those are super important. Make everything as teach one moment.

[Theme Music]

KC Wilt: Today on Parent Savers, we have Dr. Susan Newman. She’s author of “The case for the Only Child” and she’s here to help debunk the only child myths. So Dr. Newman, why is it the decision to have only one child so difficult.

Susan Newman: Because our society has been set up for so long to… that the idea of family is two children that everybody feels this intense pressure. You feel guilty if you’re not giving your child a sibling. I mean, it could be your mother, your friends, even perfect strangers in the grocery check-out line, all say, “you can’t do that to your child. You can’t have just one.” So, it’s become kind of a numbers game. It’s more like the numbers war like the mommy’s war. And, one of the best kept family’s secret is that one child is very pliantly becoming the new traditional family. The one child family is growing faster than any other family grouping. So, your decision is difficult because grandparents want more grandchildren and because parents have been raised to think and believe that the big family is the happy family.

Johner Riehl: Why do you think we’re seeing more one child families? What do you think is contributing to the raise of that?

Susan Newman: Well, any number of issues at work. One, you have too big as one we as economy and the fact that women are starting marrying later and starting their families later. So, for example, the number of women giving birth at age 30 has doubled, at 35 has tripled and after 40, it’s quadruple. So, that’s one of the main reasons because, you know, after 35 you’re looking at possible infertility issues and secondary infertility with issues. So, that’s one reason. The economy is the other big reason and women today, there are actually more women working than men right now and women are working, for majority of them because they have to. You have over 70% of women working have young children. So, this holding down a job and time to raise a large family is not so easy. It’s pretty stressful. So, those are the things I see as the forces behind the single child family.

Sunny Gault: So, why do most people believe that a sibling is important? Why they believe it as essential to a child’s development? I mean, we all hear that the best gift you can give your child is a sibling. Why do people think that?

Susan Newman: Well, first of all because we’ve been blinding last literally into believing that siblings are socially necessary. They are intellectually advantageous, you or both and the reality is that siblings are not essential. And I have to add something here so people don’t think that I’m this crazy woman [Laughs] going off that you have to have one child. I am a parent of an only child. But, I am also the step mother of four children in two different families. So, I’ve done this both ways. I have had a large family and now I have one child. So, I really feel like I can be objective of the aspect. So, back to your question of siblings being essential, when you look at the number of siblings who fight and don’t get along, sometimes when they’re very young, it’s just the matter of temperament, they didn’t get along when the sibling arrived and they go on to their wives like that. From the point of view that siblings can chip away your self-esteem that makes them non-essential in my opinion. But, they’re also very good at…. That people don’t talk about the number of siblings who push and shove, you know, that’s up to 74%.

KC Wilt: You’re talking about my family right now but, if only my mom could have had me and not my brothers, I don’t know if that’s possible since I’m the 3rd child. [Laughs]

Susan Newman: It’s not possible.

KC Wilt: My brother would have had more likely chances to be an only child than I would have been. [Laughs] But….

Susan Newman: I mean, it really is true and it’s still not pushing and shoving and biting. They’re verbally aggressive and when you add in that verbal aggression and verbal abuse which is quite expensive, that has gone up to 85% and one 13 year old said, you can do nasty things to your brothers and sisters for no reason and that’s true. You wouldn’t think of pushing and shoving a friend. It just doesn’t happen. So, you know, for teens, there was a large British study. They went into 40,000 homes and the teens were happier with fewer or no siblings they had. So….

KC Wilt: Interesting.

Susan Newman: …that thing tells me that siblings are not essential and there’s also…. For a long time been this argument amongst scholars about so called tutoring the fact that the older sibling will have a higher IQ because he’s helping tutor his younger brother and sister. Well, the jury still add on that there….. they can’t find for absolutely sure if that work.

Sunny Gault: So, I can speak to this only child situation coz I am an only child and I know that there are a lot of people that say, “oh, if you’re an only child, you’re gonna grow up and you’re going to be spoiled and you’re gonna wanna always have it your way and….”

KC Wilt: That explains so much.

Sunny Gault: Doesn’t it? Really? [Laughs]

KC Wilt: I’m teaming.

Sunny Gault: I think most people would look at my life and say, in some aspects that I was spoiled. From the stand point my parents were able to provide more for me because there was only one child. But, spoiled in the fact of you know, being a snout about it and being a jerk, my parents thought me better. So, was I given more? Absolutely! But, I think it’s what you do with what you’re given and how you behave and obviously, you know, as parents it’s our responsibility to, you know, if we’re going to provide more for our children and give them more things and we have to teach them, you know, how to be responsible with those things. So, you know, I don’t think I’m bossy. I think I do take command more. But, I also think I know when to back off. For me it wasn’t just, “oh you’re an only child. So, therefore you’re this, you’re that, you’re whatever.” I think that there is a balance with that. But, Dr. Newman, have you found that to be the case too or are there studies that show that only children really do, you know, they are more spoiled and they do want things their own way?

Susan Newman: We have to back track for a minute to the late 1800’s when these…. They’re really stereotypes, you’re talking about. The only child will be spoiled, lonely, bossy. There was a study done in 1896 and the psychologist who did it concluded that being an only child is a disease in itself.

Sunny Gault: Wow! Ouch! [Laughs]

Susan Newman: Right, and he talks about, you know, the lonely child and he said that children…. Only children were mad at adjusting and they got sick more often and all the stigmas that are… were attached to only children today. Like, I have more imaginary friends have stuck. However, you have to look at… the study itself was faulty. One, but it was a whole different era. The play date wasn’t… the term play date wasn’t even invented and this whole idea of only children being spoiled, well, in today’s parenting plan, if you look around, a lot of children have much more than they need and it isn’t a question of how many children are in the family. It’s just the question of parenting style and even the selfish aspect of it. I’ve been studying only children for over 20 years and it appears that they are not selfish at all. They give… they will share their toys and that comes from savvy chance of one child who realize that to avoid the stigmas. They have to get their child out socially, orally so that they learn to share, they learn to lose a board game, they learn empathy for other children. They come to realize they’re not the center of attention. And when you talk about the label or myth “bossy”, they sure learn that fast because they know that friends are their sibling substitutes and they want friends and they want people to play with, they’re not going to be bossy and aggressive.

KC Wilt: So, I have one child right now and we’re planning to have a second but every once in a while I question that decision and but then, I think well, what about later on? I want lots of grandkids. How one child gonna give me lots of grandkids or I think what about when I’m old? Who’s gonna take care of me? So, what about those things? What about later on when parents are aging and they need care and they only have one child to take care of them and they live across the country? What about those types of things?

Susan Newman: Again, that’s another fallacy that parents fantasize. [Laughs] that their adult children are going to be best friends and they’re going to rally around that bedside of yours peacefully. When you talk to adults with siblings who have been in that situation, you realize that with siblings this can become very contentious. Who’s gonna take care of mom? Who’s going to arrange for extra support they need? Who’s going to go shop for groceries and so forth and only children realize pretty early that they are going to be the ones responsible and its parent’s job before they’re aging and ill to make sure they’ve made provisions for their child to help. But also, this is what friends are for or this is what your only child’s partner or husband or wife is for. This is why you cultivate a strong relations for your only child with his or her cousins so that if you have all these backup systems in place, it doesn’t feel so oppressive to the only child. And, many only children in my research said, “my parents did everything for me. This is the least I can do for them.” But the one thing you don’t want to think is that all your children are going to happily be there coz it’s usually one child, if you have several tends to be a female child and the one who is closest in proximity to you who gets the blunt of it and the others, she complains about her brothers and sisters who are not helping.

KC Wilt: Well, thanks so much! When we come back, we’ll talk about the benefits to having only one child and how to respond to society’s pressure to have more. We’ll be right back.

[Theme Music]

KC Wilt: We’re back on Parent Savers with Susan Newman, author of “The case for the only child” and she’s here to debunk the only child myth. So, Dr. Newman, what are some benefits to having only one child?

Susan Newman: Well, there’s any number of benefits. I mean, but you can look at this two ways. You know, people who have any number of children will tell you that that’s better and those who have one child will tell you that they like it. But, there are going to be only children like children with siblings who mourn and groan that they didn’t like their childhood for one reason or another. It’s that grass is always greener mentality and it’s human nature to think that we want what we don’t have. But, in terms of benefits for only children, they have all their parent’s time and attention and they have all the parent’s financial resources and the time and attention shows up when you’re looking at intellectual ability and in motivation. Those are the two areas where only children in testing are a little bit higher. So, actually I was talking to a psychologist in Texas and he was saying that he had many parents who having one child specifically for that reason because they could give their child more time and attention which means more reading time, more intellectual stimulation and they felt that would benefit their child academically. But, really it’s not the number of siblings who are in the household that turn out…. That determines how your child turns out. It’s actually how the parents parent and what parenting style they use no matter how many children they have.

KC Wilt: I was thinking about that when you were talking about in the last segment, about older children pushing younger children and all that stuff and same type of thing, you know, like, you can have a hard situation with lots and lots of brothers and sisters and not like it and it’s because the parents don’t regulate or discipline. But you can also have the same situation with only having one child with, you know. Any number of things that parents are not attentive, you know, then there’s going to be difficulties in both scenarios.

Susan Newman: Yeah, and the sibling rivalry, it’s the sibling pushing, shoving and verbal abuse issue, what happens to a lot of parents is they pushes aside as typical sibling rivalry.

KC Wilt: Yeah, totally, totally in my house.

Susan Newman: and they don’t pay attention. So that’s when it can develop into this lifelong siblings not getting along.

KC Wilt: Oh yes, my mom will be like, I used to be sad on when my mother would say, “you know you like it, you know you like it.” but till this day, my, I have two brothers and one brother didn’t talk to me for 7 years. We got into an argument when I was 21 and then my other brother, he’s older and doesn’t know how to talk to us. I mean, we see them and I get on better with their spouse. So, it’s one of those things that I totally come up in that situation. I love my brothers because I’m supposed to but, I get a lot better along with a lot other people than my siblings. [Laughs]

Susan Newman: And you’re proving my point.

KC Wilt: Exactly, exactly! I totally, but when I look back on it, if I’m going to have more children, I love my parents and did do the best of their abilities. But, I would do things different. I don’t believe in that whole sibling rivalry, exactly what you said because I was a product of it. I don’t believe that sibling need to attack each other, you know, punch each other, tickle each other, any of that stuff. I believe that there needs to be boundaries in that and we need to protect your children from each other, really. [Laughs] In some ways of having the only child, how does it affect a woman’s employment?

Susan Newman: Not well! Women have a tough time in spite of the fact affected role. There are lot more women in the work place but, in terms of maternity leave, there’s always someone waiting to take your spot. So, that’s very nerve racking. There is a distinct motherhood penalty. Children have men advance in the work place but mothers pay a huge price. When they did studies about the gap between mothers and child as women, mothers star at a salary of 7% lower than woman without children. So, over the course of the career as that females that have multiple children, you are losing 5% of salary per child. So, and in certain fields the percentage of loss, financial loss is even greater. For example, for women lawyers, it’s 10-15% less than women without children. So, you know, a second, thirdly, fourth child absolutely affects it, your income and your advancement. The other aspect of it is there is a certain point at which going to work is no longer beneficial and that’s usually if it’s third child. That’s because child care is so expensive. If you don’t have a mother in law or mother or father or father in law or an aunt or an uncle around to help you out with child care, it becomes prohibitive to go back to work.

Johner Riehl: Does it turn out then that may be families with only children end up better ahead financially down the road because they only have one child coz they didn’t have all those costs associated or the mom could continue to work and they could have more income?

Susan Newman: Well, you can flip a coin on that one because the more money you have, the more you spend. You know, according to department of agriculture and all the government processes that studies that kind of thing. So, you having one child allows you to give your child more. How you spend that more is up to you. A lot of people are choosing one child right now because of the college cost down the road. They are afraid they can’t afford to send to children the college.

Johner Riehl: I feel like we’ve covered a lot of great topics in fact. But, lets say KC decides after this, you know what? We’re only gonna have one. What are some of, I guess, the best things when someone does talk her in the grocery store line and pressure her to come on, you need to have a couple more. What are some of the best come backs for people that decide to have only one child for them to tell other people.

Susan Newman: Well, my favorite one is “I don’t ask you about your personal life, why you asking me?” [Laughs] That usually….

KC Wilt: Shut’s them up?

Susan Newman: Shut’s them down, right there. You know, it depends, you know, to whom you’re speaking. You know, except to parent and you’re having infertility issues, you don’t want, you know, you may or may not wanna discuss it. Or, you want to be as truthful as possible. You can say we’re trying or you can tell, let’s say you’ve, KC has decided to stopping at one, she can say, “mom, dad, sister, we like our family the way it is. We’re happy. We’re stopping.” You know, it’s not an easy discussion but, it’s certainly is easier with strangers than with family. But, being faithful is what I think is the easiest way to answer it. Then you can simply say, “we’re not sure. We’re thinking about it.” And, that will push people away temporarily.

Sunny Gault: You know, I had a really good childhood and a lot of what you were saying Dr. Newman was true for me because I didn’t have siblings. My parents and friends were kind of my surrogate siblings. I had a really, really close relationship with my parents that exists, you know, even today. I had a core group of friends growing up that, you know, you know, I’m still in contact with them and we still do stuff with each other. Even though, we live on opposite sides of the country. I have to say though despite what I went through growing up and how, you know, happy it was, joyous it was, I knew, you know, I have two boys and it was a very conscious decision to not have only children which may sound weird because it worked so well for me. But, I think it’s one of those things that the grass is always greener on the other side. You know, I don’t think having an only child works for everybody and I’m not just talking about the parents, I’m talking about the child. Sometimes, it’s just in your personality and sometimes you are forced to may be take on personality traits. You may not normally do. But, I don’t think it works for all kids. You know, I think some people regress and in, you know, maybe are little more what say? Introverted? Introverted as a result! I knew I couldn’t be in order to survive. I knew as an only child I, you know, I think it’s the reason why, you know, I started my own company and that I don’t work for somebody else. I never expected things to be handed to me kind of thing. But, with my own boys, there’s part of me that really wished as I grew up with someone that I could talk to now-a-days. I’m not so concerned, you know, my parents are getting to the retirement age and my concern that, you know, I’m not going to be able to take care of them, no, because like Dr. Newman was talking about, I’m relying on my spouse for that. You know, we’re going to work through this together. I don’t feel like I’m alone in that element of it. But, I see my little boys playing together even now, 6 months and 2 years old and I am so envious of that and yes, they’re gonna go through times where they’re going to drive me crazy. I get that. Okay!

KC Wilt: There’s a lot of work for you.

Sunny Gault: It is, there’s a lot of work for me but, when my 2 year old and he does this all the time, runs over to his 6 month old brother and just hugs on him and loves him. First of all, but, you know, it’s such a wonderful thing and but, part of me is jealous. I’m just like, I so wish I would have had that. Now, I’m sure my life wouldn’t have turned out the same way.

KC Wilt: And it may not have happened like….

Sunny Gault: And it may not have happened that way. And, who knows? May be my boys will go through something where they’re not close when they grow up. Which as seeing that now, I can’t imagine not having both of them and even more children. I’m not planning on stopping anytime soon. [Laughs] So…..

KC Wilt: The only is so lonely because she provides care only for herself. [Laughs]

Sunny Gault: Anyways, that’s my own perspective. I had a great childhood growing up but, it’s not something I want it for my own family when I started it.

Susan Newman: You brought up any number of points that I do wanna say something about. One, I’m just throwing out is that only children visit their parents more often and I’m just gonna leave it at that.

Johner Riehl: My wife wouldn’t do that. That’s an argument for my wife. [Laughs]

Susan Newman: But, as far as….. when I was doing the research for “The case for the only child” what I found was more and more contrary to what you’re saying Sunny, is that more and more only children right now are having only children. They liked and loved their childhood as you did and I don’t know, that may be a function of the economy and having to work. I don’t know the answer to that. But, they are thrilled to have one child. And then when you talked about being an introvert, that’s a trait that can happen, your middle child, for example, can turn inward because they’re not getting enough attention. That’s just a function again of the child’s temperament and the parenting. It’s not a question of how many children are in the house.

Johner Riehl: Yeah, I think that’s a good point. I mean, every kid ends up different and, you know, like, different situations or what I’m taking away from today is, you know, there are lot of stigmas attached to only children that we really may be need to not have those. Like, not necessarily saying one is better than the other but, that, you know, only children isn’t bad.

KC Wilt: And that’s really how you parent. Alright, thank you so much Dr. Susan Newman for helping us learn about the benefits of having only one child. If you want more information on being a parent to an only child, go to today’s show on our episodes page on the website or visit,

[Theme Music]

[Featured Segment: Ask The Experts]

KC Wilt: We have an email from one of our listeners. She says, “My name is Jamie and she’s from Los Angeles. She’s pregnant with her second child and her first child is almost 4. My husband and I are very concerned coz we don’t want our older child to be jealous of the new baby. She’s the first grand baby and has been the center of attention ever since she was born. So, do you have any suggestions on how to prepare our older child for their rival of her new sibling?

Susie Walton: Hi Jamie, this is Susie Walton from Indigo Village. The couple I give is when the baby is born and she comes to see you for the first time after the baby is born, be sure that you or and your partner not hold the baby in your arm. So, she can come right to you and you could hold her and do all that, you know, and just hug her and, you know, don’t say, I wouldn’t do it, “Oh! Here’s your baby.” Just let whoever or your grandparents or somebody hold the baby and just checking with her and your 4 year old and also you’d wanna like, may be have like a baby doll for her to give her in that moment and what I’m basically telling you is low key the new born. Eventually, she’ll be like, “oh! The baby” or something like that and that’s fine but, the best thing is not to get her all excited and think she should be excited about the baby. If she’s excited let her be excited on her own time. Okay? And then in general, right now, before the baby comes you want to get her started with new things that can help you out like, you can call her my new assistant, my helper, but don’t say good helper, just say, you’re helper or you’re my assistant. Start giving her responsibility ASAP. So, when your hands are full when the baby comes, she’s not gonna feel like all of a sudden you’re making her do this stuff because you don’t want her to be around or you’re too busy for her. Okay, congratulations on baby no.2 and feel free to call back if you have any other questions. Thanks, Bye!

[Theme Music]

KC Wilt: That wraps up today’s episode. We’d love to hear from you. If you have any questions for our expert about today’s show or the topics we’ve discussed, call our Parent Savers hotline at 619-866-4775 or send us an email through our website, or Facebook page and we’ll answer your question in an upcoming episode. Coming up next week, we’re talking about attachment parenting. Thanks for listening to Parent Savers, “empowering new parents everywhere.”


This has been a New Mommy Media Production. The information and material contained in this episode are presented for educational purposes only. Statements and opinions expressed in this episode are not necessarily those of New Mommy Media and should not be considered facts. Though such information materials are believed to be accurate, it is not intended to replace or substitute for professional medical advice or care and should not be used for diagnosing or treating health care problems or disease or prescribing any medication. If you have questions or concerns regarding your physical or mental health or the health of your baby, please seek assistance from a qualified healthcare provider.
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