Only child doesn't mean problem kid

This goes out to all the parents who have only one child.

I have a little boy.

He is the only child I have, an eight-year-old who is a bit of a troublemaker.

He loves getting into mischief with his pals, throws tantrums when things do not go his way and has a penchant for not doing as he is told.

But overall, I have yet to see evidence that his behaviour is worse than that of a normal eight-year-old.

That's my assessment anyway. Mothers who seem to feel differently.

After seeing my son get into scrapes and fights, many have informed me it is because he is an only child. I guess they were trying to console me, but they seem biased in their judgment.

In Japan, one of the world's fastest-ageing countries, many people choose to have just one child or none at all. The situation is the same in China.

In Tokyo, at the international school which my son attends, there are plenty of children hailing from different cultures who are the only child in the family. But rarely have I seen the parents shower them with privileges. More often than not, it is the opposite.

Naturally, we all want our children to grow up into well-adjusted adults who can make contributions of their own to society.

I would assume this to be a universal sentiment, not only among mothers with only one child, but among all parents.


Despite our best efforts, an only child faces a myriad of stigmas. He does not know how to share, he is depressed, lonely and self-centred. Some of these traits apply to my son - some do not.

But in any case, I must pleasantly accept the criticism and even be a little apologetic it is my fault that I have only one child, as I am a selfish woman who cares about only the material things in life.

I am actually a woman who has enough trouble as it is, going to work and raising a child, without having to face this kind of prejudice on a daily basis.

One upside is that I tend to be stricter in disciplining my son. You can ask him who he is most scared of, and he will invariably point to me. I never let anything slide, and I try to make sure he is more polite, more conscientious and more generous.

Yet the first sign of misbehaviour prompts other parents to lament his lack of siblings.

I come from a family of three children, and I have never felt that I am more accommodating than one of my best friends, who is an only child. In fact, I see myself as quite domineering because I was the eldest who always had her way.

There is one Japanese mother here with an only child who is on the defensive all the time.

She says she feels even guiltier than me because she does not have a job.

This is actually part of the reason why I work. It is the first time I have admitted this, but I do not want people to think I am whiling away my time since I have only one child to look after.

My point is this.


We live in an era when it is quite difficult for families to get on without double income. At the same time, the working environment for women is still pretty harsh.

If I had less trouble raising my son, I think I might have considered having another - as I have thought thousands of times before.

But when you have to grapple with the notion of quitting work every single day for the first two years of your child's life, it is really not easy to consider having another.

Recently, I read a column by a reporter at a Korean newspaper who apologised to her staff in print for getting pregnant with her second child.

Her words really resonated with me.

Why does a woman have to apologise for getting pregnant when the government is imploring families to have more babies?

In a broader sense, isn't she actually helping her compatriots?

Accept the fact that we are all going to see many more families with just one child. And do not be so quick to condemn these children and their parents, because not only is that uncalled for, but there is little scientific basis to do so.

I have perused many reports by childcare experts saying an only child actually has a lot of good traits such as high self-esteem and independence. He also has access to more material resources and enjoys a closer relationship with his parents.

These are my personal views, but I believe I am being objective in my observations about how judgmental people can be towards an only child.

Some of the prejudice may possibly be due to jealousy, as surveys show parents are actually happier with fewer children.

It could also be a simple lack of understanding. I sincerely hope that is the case.

The writer is The Korea Herald's Tokyo correspondent.

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