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Just one: Having only one child, by choice or by chance, has benefits

February 4, 2013
Kristy MacKaben - Mirror Moms , Mirror Moms

It's not as if Jackie Lund was determined to have only one child; it just happened that way.

As a single mom to her 3-year-old little girl Pamela, the last thing on Jackie's mind was having more children. She was no longer with Pamela's biological father and she was struggling to make ends meet by working three jobs.

Jackie wasn't necessarily looking for a father figure for Pamela, but one day she found one - Robert Lund. They met at a Maryland restaurant and fell head over heels for each other. Robert, who didn't have any children of his own, also fell in love with Pamela.

Article Photos

Mirror Moms photo
by Gary?M. Baranec
The?Lund family — daughter Pamela, 11, father Robert and mother Jackie — live in Altoona.

Jackie and Robert moved to Altoona seven years ago, and got married a couple years later, with Robert taking on the role of father. Then, one day, when Pamela was in second grade, Robert asked if he could adopt Pamela. He legally adopted her, and in the courtroom professed his deep love for Pamela.

"From that moment on, she called him 'Dad'," Jackie said.

Over their three-year dating relationship and five-year marriage, Jackie and Robert have talked somewhat about having another child. But, as Pamela gets older (she's now 11), the Lunds realize they are overjoyed with their life, and content with one child. (Robert is 40 and Jackie is 35.)

"We have a baby. She's our baby," Jackie said. "She's used to being our all."

More and more families are like the Lunds - wanting to raise only one child. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2010, 10.3 million households had exactly one child.

"I call the one child family, the new traditional family," said Susan Newman, social psychologist and author of "The Case for the Only Child: Your Essential Guide." "This isn't just an American trend. This is happening around the world in developing countries for the same reasons."

Parents of onlies say they have more money, time and energy to give to their child. And, they insist only children are often more mature, happier and more successful in school. Of course, there's always a downside. Only children often face stereotypes and will grow up without siblings.

One is enough

The reasons families are choosing to stop at one vary, Newman said. Women are getting married later, which raises infertility issues. Many women continue their careers even after they have a child, which makes having more than one child more difficult. Add with the financial stress of raising a child, it's no wonder some couples stop at one.

"If you have a middle income, you're going to spend roughly $286,000 to get them from birth to 18. That's kind of staggering," said Newman.

For Tim and Marty Jo Stellabotte of Altoona, stopping at one child seemed to make sense, since the couple married when they were both in their 30s.

Marty Jo experienced medical complications toward the end of her pregnancy, which were likely to reoccur if she became pregnant again.

"We weighed the pros and cons and decided to just have Morgan," Marty Jo said, explaining she has since become a big advocate of having only one child. Marty Jo grew up as an only child and understands the benefits first-hand.

"Morgan's [who is 6] perfectly content to be an only child, but anytime she asks about it, we just tell her that she doesn't have to share Mommy and Daddy's love with anyone else and she said she likes that," Marty Jo said.

Marty Jo and Tim both work full time and enjoy being on the go, so life with one child isn't as stressful as it might be with multiple children, Marty Jo said.

"It's not as difficult for both of us to manage full-time jobs and activities as I imagine it would be with more children," Marty Jo said.

The Lunds also are thankful they can spend all their time and money on Pamela, and Pamela relishes the attention.

"You get all of the attention from your parents when you're an only child. They have all of your time," Pamela said.

Dispelling the stereotypes

Spoiled. Selfish. Lonely. Bossy.

Only children are faced with a handful of stereotypes, all of which are unfounded, said Newman. The "only child syndrome stereotypes" started with a "flawed study," Newman said.

The study completed in 1896 by psychoanalyst G. Stanley Hall labeled only children as lonely, selfish, aggressive, shy, among other misnomers.

"Like all stereotypes, they stick and it's very hard to get rid of them. They're hard to shake," Newman said. "There have been hundreds of other studies of only children in this country and in China, and those stereotypes have not held up."

In many ways, only children are very much like children with siblings, and might even have a few advantages, Newman said. When looking at test scores, only children have a slight advantage over children with siblings.

"They have their parents' undivided attention and resources," said Newman.

Parents of only children usually have more time to converse, read, work on homework and travel with their child, which might account for the advantages. Sibling rivalry and favoritism are obviously not issues in a one-child family, and many only children are a little more mature because they are forced to interact with adults more frequently.

Because only children receive a lot of attention, parents must avoid the "fish bowl" scenario - where parents keep constant tabs on everything that goes on, Newman said.

Allow only children to slip up, without being hounded, and don't fall into the trap of doing everything for your child, Newman said. In a house full of children, parents often ask kids to help out. That isn't always the case with only children. But, children will benefit by helping with household chores.

"You want to encourage independence and responsibility," Newman said. Rules are also imperative.

She added, "You want boundaries in place. You want to foster independence and let them make their own decisions."

As far as feeling lonely, parents need to make sure they socialize their children early and often.

Amanda Caruso, licensed professional counselor at Blair Family Services in Altoona said that parents should constantly encourage positive peer interactions.

Little ones could join playgroups or spend a couple hours each week in preschool or daycare, and school-age children should participate in extracurricular activities and play with friends often. "Friendships should be encouraged," Caruso said.

"I would just really encourage socializing with other children, but that's one of those things that takes care of itself," she added.

As for Pamela and Morgan - they both have plenty of friends, and have developed into happy, responsible, caring little girls, according to their parents, who just can't say enough about their onlies.

"She's just a really good kid, and I feel like I would cheat her if I had another one," Jackie said.

 
 
 

 

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