A mum-of-one busts four myths about only children

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As the mother of an only child I have been repeatedly asked when I will have another child, and have experienced many thinly veiled digs on the same old tired themes: that I am selfish and my child will be sad, lonely and spoilt.

So it is time for some good old fashion myth busting because, let's face it, if it wasn't for that we might still think the world was flat.

Myth 1: "The only child is maladjusted"

This was said in relation to my partner when someone discovered he was an only child.

The sad, maligned and maladjusted only child myth can be traced back to the early 1900s, when Doctor G Stanley Hall claimed that "being an only child was a disease itself". It was claim that was echoed widely, and as late as 1969 Alfred Adler wrote that only children "have difficulties with every independent activity and sooner or later they become useless for life".

These accusations, although later proved to be utterly baseless, stuck like mud. Even though new research has emerged to lay waste to these earlier unsubstantiated claims, people continue to insist that only child are abnormal.

Research has shown that almost nothing separates the psychological profiles of only children from those with siblings, and for those areas where there was a point of difference – self esteem and connection to parents – only children came out ahead!

Myth 2: "The only child is spoilt and can not share"

This was said by a teacher I work with in relation to a student with a complex psychological profile, as if a lack of siblings can explain everything.


Only children are rarely viewed with a wider lens. If an only child does not hand over a toy it is quickly chalked up to a permanent personality failure resulting from lack of siblings; if another child does it, hunger, tiredness and mood are considered.

But some child analysts note that it's usually children in busy households that display a greater reluctant to share, resulting from being forced to jostle for possession of toys and attention.

Again, there is no evidence to support the claim that only child are spoilt and over-protected, and National Child Development studies show that only children are as independent as other children by the time they reach adulthood.

Myth 3: "The only child is lonely"

There are many variations of this refrain, from the mother expecting twins who said it would mean they would instantly have a 'real family' rather than having to wait for the second sibling, and from the constant questions of when we would have another to provide our child with company.

Solitude should not be confused with loneliness. We have a cultural inability to recognise and value the benefits of solitude. While humans have a natural need to affiliate as social beings, we also need space and quiet to recharge and provide self-care. Only children are often best equipped to find this balance.

It has been shown that neither the presence nor absence of others dictates whether we will experience loneliness, and surveys of only child reveal that very few associated being an only child with loneliness.

And yet this is probably the most persistent of the myths.

Myth 4: "The parents of only children are selfish"

Okay, so this one is not a myth so much as pessimistic.

Separate, for a moment, those who can not have another child due to fertility, age, illness or finances, from those of us who choose to only have one child. Aspects of such decisions can indeed be attributed to selfishness, but it is worth unpacking the negative connotations around this.

Parents who make decisions with their own needs and happiness in mind are not harming their children. Having an only child has allowed us more freedom and flexibility, and I'm okay with the fact that we placed importance on that.

It is also worth noting that deviations from traditional family values and structures – be it same-sex parents, having only children or being childless by choice – are often criticised by conservative forces who are unable to celebrate choices and diversity.

None of this is to suggest people should have only children – each to their own, I say. It's just that perhaps we should stop criticising those that do on the basis of inaccurate and outdated myths.