I've always wanted kids and lots of them. I love the chaos and the unpredictability and the large noisy dinners. OK, sometimes I'm not truly loving it and lots of times I'm forgetting about one child's needs while I'm focusing on another, but I wouldn't have it otherwise. So it was with a bit of caution that I opened up Lauren Sandler's latest book, One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child, and the Joy of Being One.
Full Disclosure: I know Lauren and read it with the curiosity that one reads a friend's book but I wasn't planning on really loving it. And I certainly wasn't planning on "getting it."
But I couldn't put it down. The book -- despite what the cover says -- isn't really about only children. This is what it is: It's about relationships with our kids, our spouse, our parents, and most importantly with ourselves. It's also about how scientific studies are often publicized to suit our own notions of right and wrong. Or ignored, if they don't match our morals.
For example: In 1907, the popular psychologist Stanley Hall gave a lecture and said this: "Being an only child is a disease in itself." He said they are doomed to become selfish narcissists. Not to mention his notions meshed perfectly with widespread anxieties about profligate immigrants and their large families destroying American culture. Big families among the white upper classes were not only a good thing for the country, it was the scientifically sound way to raise healthy children. His words of wisdom -- based on nothing much really -- became the basis of parenting books pushing newlyweds to go forth and multiply. Twenty years later, another psychologist actually did a study that debunked the only-child myths. But, as Lauren writes, no one listened.
Lauren isn't proselytizing, she's just stating it like it is and telling us what has been found from the sound science and what hasn't and the bottom line is that none of us makes decisions on when or how many kids to have on the basis of any scientific study anyhow. Her voice is seductively honest and breezy. Here's a teaser from her introduction:
Here are some things I want: I want to do meaningful work. I want to travel. I want to eat in restaurants and drink in bars. I want to go to movies and concerts. I want to read novels. I want to marinate in solitude. I want to have friendships that regularly sustain and exhilarate me. I want a romantic relationship that involves daily communication beyond interrogatives and imperatives -- I want to be known. And I want to snuggle with my daughter for as long as she'll let me, being as present in her life as I can while giving her all the space she needs to discover life on her own terms. I want full participation: in the world, in my family, in my friendships, and in my actualization.
In the big picture, or at least from that paragraph, it seems that Lauren and I share the same desires for family, friends, work, and all the rest of it. Her home life is certainly more manageable than mine and she probably gets a lot more reading done than I do, and finds more time for solitude than I. (Or at least more time out of the kitchen). But I wouldn't trade my gaggle of kids for anything in the world. And she is probably thinking that my large family life is a nice place to visit, but she wouldn't want to be living it. As she writes in her book, there are all sorts of families these days and all sorts of ways to find fulfillment.
Follow Randi Hutter Epstein, MD, MPH on Twitter: www.twitter.com/randihepstein