Only the best! Why children are happier without siblings

Only the best! Why children are happier without siblings

EMMA KENNEDY

The Chinese government introduced the one-child policy in 1978. On the face of it, the argument was that by restricting families to one baby only, it would be alleviating social, economic and environmental problems in China.

At least, that was the official story. But I can reveal its real agenda. It did so because only children are brilliant.

According to a statistic, only children are 98 per cent more likely to succeed (a statistic entirely made up by my mum). This is terrible news for parents the world over who’ve made the calamitous decision to procreate more than once.

Close bond: Emma Kennedy with her parents Brenda and Tony

Close bond: Emma Kennedy with her parents Brenda and Tony

Parenting, as I have often cried from any available rooftop, is the hardest job in the world. I don’t know how you do it. I’d rather be stabbed to death with a plastic knife. Surely it is hard enough with one So why make it harder on yourself by having more

I imagine the basic starting position for any parent is that they want their child to do as well as possible. Well, bad luck everyone who has got more than one. Your multiple offspring are on a collision course with disaster.

Do not shoot the messenger, dearest reader. But in the name of fairness, I should declare that I am devoid of siblings.

Sometimes, when I tell people this, they raise their eyebrows and say, in a disparaging tone, such things as: ‘Well, that explains it.’

Explains what The fact that I am confident and have done all right for myself and have supportive and fulfilling relationships Oh dear. What an awful state to be in.

Psychologist G. Stanley Hall went even further and referred to the state of being an only child as ‘a disease in itself’.

So I have a disease. Perhaps they should go the whole hog and give it a proper name, in the manner of cancer or diabetes.

Over the years I have been subjected to baseless assumptions about me and my character simply because I am an only child.

‘Spoiled’ being the most common. No. I wasn’t ‘spoiled’. I had 10p pocket money and I got my first job at 14. I have worked ever since.

Wholesome upbringing: Emma says that she was never spoiled,

Wholesome upbringing: Emma says that she was never spoiled, “In terms of material possessions, I am no different from any other child brought up by two teachers” she writes

In terms of material possessions, I am no different from any other child brought up by two teachers. I got presents on my birthday and at Christmas, but that was it.

In terms of my career, my parents instilled in me a ferocious work ethic. In terms of achievements, I have been given nothing. I have done it on my own.

The only thing I’ve been spoiled with is my parents’ love. I speak to them every day and see them at least once a week.

Often, when I tell people this, they look at me as if I am mad or there is something wrong with me for loving my parents. I find this extraordinary. No, far better to have six children who never speak to you and see you only under duress at Christmas. That makes total sense.

The next one is ‘selfish’. Quite why anyone would automatically assume only children are selfish is beyond me. We are perceived in one homogeneous lump as being exclusively signed up to Club Me.

I suspect it is because only children are presumed to be unaffected by the world around them. Breaking news just in —only children have to exist within society in the same way as everyone else.

We are able to form relationships just like everyone else. And anyone who can form a relationship is capable of understanding the needs of other people. This isn’t the preserve of people with siblings.

Family life: Emma says she may not have had a sibling to grow up with, but she did have friends

Family life: Emma says she may not have had a sibling to grow up with, but she did have friends

Third on our checklist of insults is ‘lonely’. We didn’t have a brother or sister to play with, therefore, wemust be a bit like Casper the Friendly Ghost, wandering about asking random people if we can ‘keep them’ while giving off the faint aura of desperation and clinginess.

No. I didn’t have a sibling to play with. But I’ll tell you what I did have — friends. They are amazing. They come over and you get to do stuff together.

Afriend recently sat down with me and asked in all seriousness whether Iwas happy about being an only child. It was as if she was asking me what it was like to cope with a disability.

But she had an agenda. She has an only child and is concerned that if she doesn’t have another one, her happy, well-balanced three-year-old is going to mutate into a gorgon of bitterness and despair.

My experience of being an only child has been unequivocally positive, and I was happy to put my friend’s mind at rest. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have a sibling, of course, but rather than wondering what he or she would have been like, I find myself wondering if I would have turned out to be a fundamentally different person.

There is no way of knowing. But there are several things I know about myself and I am convinced they stem directly from being an only child.

First, I love my friends beyond words. I am fiercely loyal, and I suppose the feelings I have for those friends are not dissimilar to what friendly siblings experience. Except you can’t always guarantee that you are going to get on with your siblings.

Second, because I grew up without sibling rivalry, I have no professional jealousy. I’ve never looked at my peers and begrudged them their success. It never fails to amaze me how common this is.

The only negative I can come up with when I am quizzed about the downside of being an only child is that, when the time comes, I shall bear the burden of my parents’ old age on my own.

While this will be difficult and heartbreaking, I can think of no greater privilege than looking after the two people to whom I owe everything.

“Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have a sibling… I find myself wondering if I would have turned outto be a fundamentally different person”

My mother taught me to read, my father taught me to ride a bike. But beyond that, we were pals. They took me to the theatre and dinner parties — wherever they went, I went, too. I like being an only child, and I am guessing that others like being that way, too.

In 1987, there was a review of 141 studies examining personality traits associated with only children. It discovered that the spoiled, selfish, lonely stereotype has no base in fact.

But there was one thing they discovered that separates only children from their peers with siblings. Prepare yourselves, parents. You are not going to like it.

Only children were significantly higher in achievement and motivation, and it wasn’t down to spoiling; it was down to increased parental scrutiny. When the beams are on you alone, you pull your socks up.

And it gets worse for the multi-offspringed family. Author Bill McKibben, in his book Maybe One, revealed that only children also score higher when it comes to making friends, adjusting to new environments, self-control and interpersonal skills.

Yet despite all this, prejudiced assumptions about only children remain. But there is a reason China is the most successful country in the world. It’s because it is run by an entire generation of only children. Coincidence I think not. Let the world take note.

Guardian News and Media 2011.