The Case for the Only Child, Susan Newman
It feels a little odd, funny in a sad way, to reflect on this book in December, when I started reading it in March on a weekend away with a group of Mum friends. At the time I’d bought all the books on only children I could find, thinking that as it’s quite possible Percy will end up without any siblings, I should so some research into this over blindly plunging on. I have noticed that I research many tiny aspects of my life but in general have done very little about parenting; I have any idea of what sort of parent I’d like to be but haven’t spent any time actually researching the methods that may lead to Percy becoming a happy, sensitive and empathic human, and successful on her own terms. Nor have I investigated how I will grow into a mother who doesn’t depend on and miss her adult child without respite.
This book can’t help me with the latter fear, but it confirmed that most of the myths about only children are indeed myths. They are not lonely or difficult or odd or anti-social in any way. More likely they’re the opposite, and benefit from all sorts of oldest child perks in terms of wellbeing and achievement.
Susan Newman’s book is based on personal experience but also hundreds of interviews and years of expertise, as well as an acceptance of our changing families: there are more only children and more single parents, something we should embrace and adapt to instead of yearning for some non-existent model nuclear family of the past.
Theoretically I agree with this 100%, but it’s tricky to get past, in your gut, your own model family, as modelled by your own upbringing. I am one of three children, and big families look like loads of fun. I worry my family of three will be too dull for Percy, that she needs more stimulation, especially with such an introverted mother. I worry about this a lot. I am well aware that siblings do not provide happiness, and can stoke up hatred, this is something Newman covers skilfully and is important to bear in mind. You can’t guarantee they’ll be friends or even speak to one another as adults. Yet I still feel I would like to offer Percy another human to face the death of her own parents with.
I’d recommend this to anyone considering this subject, which will surely be more and more couples as our planetary and economic circumstances become ever more fucked.