Most of the parenting world seems to think so. Parent-friends have warned me of the perils of leading my son down the dark and isolating path travelled by the only child.
Apparently it’s a path frequented by the selfish, the ‘unsocialized’, the entitled, the sociopath, and the desperately lonely. This path will ultimately lead to a place of horrible responsibility, in which the adult child is burdened by geriatric parents. Life’s difficulties are faced alone, with no one to turn to (other than the parents, extended family, friends, pets, teachers and creative outlets).
Is this all speculation?
Armed with some incentive to find the truth (the current plan is to have only one child), I began a very casual and non scientific study that consisted of talking to friends. I wondered if people’s happiness was largely determined by the presence or absence of siblings. So, I asked those with and without siblings, and if they wished their sibling situation had been different. And, were they lonely and unhappy?
As it turns out, some people with siblings were unhappy and some people without siblings were unhappy. Some only children wished for a sibling, some didn’t. Some people with siblings felt bullied by their siblings, not close to them, or in constant competition with them. Others felt that their siblings were the greatest gifts their parents ever gave them.
Based on ‘the research’ it doesn’t seem like it’s the presence or absence of siblings that is the biggest determinant of happiness or ‘adjustedness’. In fact, it sounds like there’s not much you can do to predict how well adjusted your child will be, other than maybe trying your best to be a good person and a loving parent.
And, while my methods were fairly low tech, and I’ve certainly been wrong before, I did not feel like I was amidst a group of depraved sociopaths when I spoke with the only children.
As for me, the jury is still out on having a second child. There is no doubt that we’d love the second as crazily as we love our first, but that argument could apply endlessly.
And things are good right now. There’s nothing wrong. We don’t feel too stretched or too tired. We’re happy and life is balanced.
Of course, there are days when I cannot imagine anything better than having many more children. But mostly, there are days where I just want to feel that there is not so much at stake. That all kinds of choices and children and families can work out just fine. That there is no magic formula that I must follow, or else feel guilty and selfish, as I warily raise a sociopath.
So for now I’ve decided to embrace my ambivalence, trusting that the people best suited to decide these things are the people planning to raise the child/children in question.