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Consumer Reports


Number of ‘onlys’ growing

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | (KRT) DALLAS For 7-year-old Anna Goldenberg, it's fun to be an only child because her parents have more time to spend with her. When it's time for friends, the first-grader has cousins to play with.

"People tell me I get more stuff, but I wonder if that's true," says the Plano, Texas, first-grader.

The number of families with only children is growing, according to the 2000 U.S. Census report. About one in five kids younger than 18 is an only.

"It's clear to me that the white picket fence, a boy for you, a girl for me, is not the norm anymore," says Dr. Susan Newman, author of the updated "Parenting an Only Child: The Joys and Challenges of Raising Your One and Only". (Random House, $12.95).

In most cases, the only child is well off, Dr. Newman says. However, "only-kids" sometimes get saddled with negative stereotypes: spoiled brat, misfit, lonely only, self-centered. Still, when we asked onlys to tell us about their experiences, the more than 200 who responded generally said that one is a positive number, plus or minus a few details.

Twelve-year-old Ian Newman (no relation to Dr. Newman) says that being an only child is rewarding and challenging. "On the upside, I don't have to share space, time for TV, toys or attention with another kid," Ian says. "My parents and I go places together whenever we want.

"My parents picked me up from school one time and we flew to Disney World for the weekend. And they always have time to help with my homework and play with me."

The sixth-grader at St. Mark's School of Texas also knows the downside. The Dallas boy will never have nieces or nephews, and he sometimes gets lonely not having a sibling to play with. "I'll never be able to go to my brother's house for Thanksgiving," he says.

Still, Ian says he wouldn't change a thing about his life.

Jules McGee, 13, says it's not true that only children can do anything they want whenever they want. At least, that's not her experience. "I still have to ask my parents if I can have the last piece of cake," she says. The perception that onlys are selfish bothers Jules. The Plano teen shares with her parents, and they taught her to consider others' feelings, she says.

"I love being an only child, but it does have its disadvantages," Jules says. "Sharing chores is not an option for me. I have to clean out the kitty litter all the time. If I become bored, there's no one to hang out with. I also have to take the rap for everything because my parents can't blame anyone else."

Kaytee Cowperthwaite, 16, of Richardson, Texas, used to dwell on the sibling factor. She wanted a big brother to watch over her. The high school junior used to watch as her friends in day care walked out in sibling pairs. "I felt left out because I didn't get to share in the sacred feeling of being a sibling," she says.

Kaytee now sees her friends as extended family. "My best friend will be there for me, and my children will have (her as) their aunt and (her kids as) cousins. We may not be in the same family portrait, but I imagine the love will be the same."

Friendship is a big thing for Ali Schloeman, 9. Ali mostly likes being an only, but it's not so great that the only kid she knows in her predominantly adult Krum neighborhood is 5.

"But my house is quieter, and you get more attention. When I was 5, I wanted a brother or sister, but when I went to a friend's house with a younger brother, well, I didn't like it."

Any family role can have problems, whether it's an only child, oldest or baby. Dana Schmucker, 13, a Plano seventh-grader, says that being an only "can be the best of times and the worst of times. I mean, how horrible is it when you get to go shopping for all the latest? On the other hand, I can never get away with anything."

There are cool things about being an only, but name-calling definitely is not cool, says Emily Edwards, 12. The Coppell middle-school student hated it when people would say to her face that she was "a spoiled little bratty only child." Third grade was the worst, she says.

"I remember we had to write a paper on the good and bad things about having a sibling. Yes, I had to do it, too. I was the only one who didn't have a sibling.

"The teacher said, `You'll just have to do it anyway.' I tried to tell her that I could write about the good and bad things about NOT having a sibling, but she made me stick to the assignment."

Unlike Emily, Dallas teen Kristin Durant has had mostly positive experiences. She credits her parents with keeping her grounded. "My parents didn't give me everything I wanted, made me learn to share, sent me to timeout, taught me how to respect everyone."

Both her parents grew up with siblings, says Kristin, 15. "So how did they come up with having only one child? They don't even know."

Kids who are "onlys" can learn a few things from adult only children. Sharing, a huge issue with onlys, came up early in marriage for Mary Beth Harrington, 38, of Dallas. Harrington, a director at the Volunteer Center of North Texas and an only child, recalls an argument with husband Rick, one of seven kids, over cereal.

"Two weeks after we bought the cereal, I went to get a bowl and found it gone," Harrington says. "I complained that I had been saving the cereal, and Rick laughed. In his big family, the rule was whether you are hungry or not, if you want something, eat now or it will be gone."

The Harringtons have a daughter and son, and parenting issues sometimes reveal Harrington's inexperience with siblings, she says. "One day, they were running down the hall, and my son hip-checked my daughter into the wall. I got upset and asked my husband, `Why would he do something like that?' And my husband said, `The opportunity was there.' "

Jeanna Mead, 39, of Fate, Texas, is an only child and a mother to multiples. She grew up in Dallas near Buckner Children's Home and recalls being lonely and begging her parents to adopt.

"When I went to school, I was so jealous of the other kids that seemed to have a Waltons lifestyle." Her four children are very close in age, she says.

Mead still gazes wistfully at greeting cards that read, "To My Brother" or "My Sister, My Friend." It is especially hard now that her mom is ill with cancer.

"I have two wonderful sisters-in-law from my husband's brothers. Still, I wish there was someone that shares my memories," she says.

Dallas retiree John Ciemnieski, 66, says that all his life he has wondered whether he was better off as an only child. "I have heard over the years from close cousins that I was a spoiled brat. I admit that I was. My mother doted over me."

As an adult, he found that he had better change his ways if he wanted friends, he says. "Would not being an only child have prevented me from having two divorces and (being) afraid to try again?" he says. "I can't say I've been unhappy. We'll never know."

Holly Mueller of McKinney, Texas, now in her mid-40s, never thought of herself as spoiled, but as mature. "My parents always had such high expectations for my schoolwork and my social behavior. As a result, I was very well-behaved and outgoing. I could converse and interact well with adults."

Margaret Hastings, 74, of Grand Prairie, Texas, also was a mature kid. Hastings grew up during the Great Depression in Iowa and attended a one-room schoolhouse, where she was one of two onlys.

"During my high school years, I never felt a part of the crowd, although I was active. I remember thinking how silly the teenagers were. Years later, when I returned for class reunions, my classmates said how much different I was when I was in high school. I could only think, `Well, you have grown up, and I can have a conversation with you now.'"

The death of her parents was particularly hard, Hastings says. "On the other hand, there was no one to squabble with about who gets what."

For every negative, there probably is an argument for the other side. That's what makes the criticism hard to take, says Ann Burt, 51, an only raising an only. She and her husband wanted to have one child.

The Collin County, Texas, mom gets angry when she hears people say that onlys are "selfish, spoiled, arrogant and maladjusted. My 14-year-old son is social and extroverted but also content to spend time by himself," Burt says.

"Growing up by yourself or with a large family doesn't determine what kind of human being you'll be."

MORE ONLY KIDS

In her book "Parenting an Only Child: The Joys and Challenges of Raising Your One and Only," psychologist Susan Newman calls the single-child family the new traditional family. In 1972, there were 8 million to 9 million only children; by 2001 there were 16 million, Dr. Newman says.

The number of only children is expected to grow. This is why, she says:

_More women are working out of economic necessity.

_The cost of higher education keeps climbing.

_The cost of raising a child continues to rise.

_Only-child myths no longer hold up to scrutiny

_More single women are electing to be moms, and one child is more manageable.

_Women are having children at an older age, and sometimes are unable to conceive a second child.

_Many women still do most of the household chores even if they work.

_Adoptions are increasingly difficult, cutting down on the ability for parents to adopt multiple children.

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