Before she had her first child, as an only child herself, Lauren Sandler was the liaison to all things only among her group of friends ambivalent about expanding beyond their first-born. “People ask as though they want permission [to stop having children],” Sandler says. When she gave birth to her daughter, Dahlia, Sandler began reflecting on her friends’ inquiries only to realize a general lack of information on the subject.
Then Sandler received an email from one of her friends newly pregnant with her second child: “And I know how you feel about that,” her friend wrote, assuming Sandler felt put off because of her pride as an only child and the mother of one.
But when Sandler really thought about onlies, she had to admit to herself that she didn’t know how to feel about a second child. How could someone else know how she would feel? “I felt really frustrated at the shape of this conversation in the culture and in the absence of a major corrective to a long-term source of bad information,” Sandler explains. The fire was ignited; One and Only: Why Having an Only Child, and Being One, Is Better Than You Think is the thought-provoking result of her mission for the truth about what it means to grow up without siblings.
Sandler, a career journalist, is a researcher a heart. While searching for a new stove, she spent weeks of restless nights lying in bed researching different brands on her smartphone and emailing the findings to her husband sleeping inches away.
Equipped solely with her personal experiences as an only, Sandler began her research with the “God of only child research,” Toni Falbo at the University of Texas at Austin. She accrued dozens of black plastic binders filled with studies and traversed the globe documenting the personal tales of only children.
The research was overwhelmingly positive. Only children are not the “lonelyselfishmaladjusted” stereotype Sandler faced growing up, but often are more successful, ambitious and confident individuals than those with siblings. There was such a lack of damning evidence, in fact, that she called universities and said, “You have to help me find research with bad news about only children because I cannot, my research assistant cannot, the staff at Columbia’s Butler Library cannot. There must be something that is in the works or something that you can show me that will complicate this story.”
But no one could.
When the research found no bad news, Sandler hunted for horror stories in her interviews. Plenty of individuals had a miserable experience as an only and just as many benefitted wildly – and Sandler interviewed them all – but the data overwhelmingly stated that only children were equal to or better off than those with siblings. Any negative findings were an exception to the norm.
As the youngest among four children, I admit to Sandler that the number of siblings a person is given was never a concern of mine. But for her, and other onlies everywhere, the lack of brothers and sisters often defined her life and the public perception of that life.
“We are multi-faceted people, but we put more weight on this story if this is the story of our lives,” she says. “I wanted to try to balance that out a little bit.”
One and Only is not a parenting guide. No one-size-fits-all life plan is selfishly pushed on the reader. Instead, Sandler provokes a larger, more intellectual conversation that amasses the facts but allows the individual – now better informed – to decide for themselves.
After researching, reporting and writing the book, Sandler and her husband have chosen to keep Dahlia their one and only – although she admits the possibility of a second child in the future.
“We want to devote ourselves to our careers, our romantic lives, adventure and pleasure,” she acknowledges. “That is something that I have been feeling gets lost in this conversation of motherhood.”
Ian Floyd is a journalism major at the University of Texas at Austin and the Kirkus Features summer intern.