In the past week, I have heard the term “Single Child Syndrome” at least half a dozen times in relation to someone else. It irritates me unfailingly. Every. Single. Time. If you have no clue what I am talking about, you probably belong to the small minority who believes that your birth order does not necessarily dictate your personality and that other factors contribute equally.
To put it simply, the “Single Child Syndrome” or “Little Emperor Syndrome” suggests that children who do not have siblings, biological or adopted, are bratty, arrogant, bossy, selfish and lonely. Despite several studies that show that single children are no different from their peers from multi-child families, this stereotype just doesn’t seem to go away.
Perhaps one reason why talk of this gets to me is that I have been personally affected throughout the 30 years of my existence. In school, I was often labelled snobbish and introverted because I was not so comfortable talking to people. As I grew into adolescence, this stereotype only grew worse. People who knew me from childhood couldn’t fathom how the quiet and reticent child suddenly became a confident teen. This change was attributed to the imaginary “pampering” I received at home by virtue of being an only child. At college, my general outgoing nature and confidence was often perceived as snobbishness and arrogance. A teacher would often tell me, with the best intentions, that I would lose some of my arrogance only if my parents got me married into a large and difficult joint family and if I was in some way criticized by my in-laws. “Maamiyaar veetla adi vaangumbodhu thaan budhi varum.”
It’s not easy to survive such constant criticism for something over which I have no control. It was not my choice to be an only child and it’s not fair that I must bear the brunt of this situation. Secondly, being an only child in no way presupposes that one must have a difficult personality. As an only child, I often found myself cornered when people around me made statements implying that the lack of a sibling made me anti-social. Frankly, there is no way I can logically counter that argument because I indeed have no siblings and cannot really put myself in the position of someone who does.
Couples increasingly choose to have just one child. If all single children were bossy, arrogant and selfish, the world would be filled only with selfish people. There is absolutely no evidence that children with siblings are better adjusted socially that single children. Can we please stop judging others because their situation is unfamiliar to us or because we presume that they must have enjoyed a privileged upbringing because they happen to be only children. We have no idea what they have been through and we have no right to judge!