Tuesday, February 03, 2009
Only Children as a Suspect Class?
The suggestion is in jest, of course, but has anyone else noticed how incredibly OK it seems to be to insult only children, even right to their faces? I'm an only child, and my son is an only child, and my son will almost certainly remain an only child (or, to put it another way, if he ends up with a brother or sister, that brother or sister will carry the name "Mistakey"), and people will occasionally say to me something like, "Oh, you're going to have another child, right?" or "Only children are so spoiled and weird" or "Why would you put all your eggs in one basket?" or something equally irritating. I usually do that thing that the sitcom characters do and look around me and then look at the speaker and say, "You know, I'm right here, right?"
Sometimes I also suggest that, just as I don't dilute my love for my wife by having other wives, so too do I not wish to dilute the love I have for my son by having another child. I usually say this only when particularly cranky, for some reason or other.
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As an only, I say "meh."
Posted by: James Grimmelmann | Feb 3, 2009 2:31:49 PM
I've long thought that one is the new none: In the past, married couples with no children were subject to scorn as too selfish or self-absorbed to procreate. Think here of the "DINK" slight (double-income no kids). But, as more and more people have come to talk about, and hence know about, fertility issues, the childless couple is off-limits, as others infer that their childlessness is not by choice. The couple with one (biological) child, however, has already shown itself to be procreatively fit. The absence of subsequent children is thus taken to imply a choice to stop at one, and all of the ascriptions of selfishness come to seem appropriate.
Academia, and perhaps legal academia especially, seems to me a place where the more-than-one-kid norm holds special force. After all, legal academia is supposed to be more lifestyle friendly than legal practice; a couple that can't handle more than one kid must then be less than fully capable.
Nonetheless, it seems to me that there are plenty of good reasons to stop at one, some of which go to the child's best interests, but others of which go to those of the couple, and are not for that reason any less compelling.
Posted by: prof parent of an only | Feb 3, 2009 3:06:21 PM
I take it your wife has adjusted to the dilution of your love for her as a result of having to love both her and your child simultaneously. Given that love is apparently finite, I mean.
But seriously, don't all people get slapped from time to time with negative stereotypes based on their family make-up? If you're not a spoiled and weird only, you're a stubborn prima donna first born, or a spoiled and dependent baby, or a maladjusted middle child. I happen to be the latter.
Posted by: anon | Feb 3, 2009 3:21:21 PM
The discrimination is just as bad or worse at the other side of the spectrum, for families with more than three children. They are frequently told that they are "weird," asked if they're Catholic or Mormon, the parents questioned about their knowledge of how babies get made, etc. I think this is just a classic example of people picking on people who are in any way different.
Posted by: Hanah | Feb 3, 2009 4:13:07 PM
My wife actually asked me if I had ghost-written this post. Can you please verify for her that I did not? Much obliged.
Posted by: Sam Kamin | Feb 3, 2009 4:36:55 PM
As the father of an "only" whose sibling's name could only be "Mistakey" or "Bubbe-badgered-them-into-it", I have not experienced this from anyone outside of family. I wonder if it depends on the child's age--our daughter is only 3 and her cohort's parents are just now having or just had # 2 within the past six months or so. So it is not as clear to an outsider that our daughter is it as it will be when she is six or seven.
Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Feb 3, 2009 7:34:57 PM
This is exactly the kind of self-centered rant I would expect from an only child.
Tangentially, when I was in law school, the dean seemed oddly preoccupied with birth order, and would often respond to an in-class answer with: "Ah. You're a (first/only/middle child), aren't you." I never figured out if he was guessing, or if he did some kind of (creepy) information gathering after deciding who to call on in class.
Posted by: Anon | Feb 4, 2009 3:58:15 PM
Put Jay Wexler on the Colbert Report: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/group.php?gid=65152585488
Posted by: Joseph | Feb 13, 2009 3:07:14 PM
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