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'The joy of being one': The case for only children

June 11, 2013 at 11:23 AM ET

Video: Journalist Lauren Sandler, an only child herself, has so far chosen to raise her daughter without siblings. She argues for the advantages of only childhood, which she researched for her new book, “One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child and the Joy of Being One.”

You’ve heard the rap about only children: They must be lonely, spoiled and self-absorbed.

If you’re the parent of one, your family size may become the topic of speculation and conversation. Why stop at just one kid? Wouldn’t he or she be better off with siblings? What’s the matter with you?

Lauren Sandler -- who says she loved growing up without a brother or sister, and is now the mom of a 5-year-old girl -- bristles at such chatter.

She debunks some of the myths of compact families in her new book, “One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child and the Joy of Being One.” (You can read an excerpt on TODAY.com.)

In a recent column for The New York Times, Sandler also tells parents to stop worrying about their choice. The article was one of the newspaper’s most e-mailed articles on Tuesday.

“We think that there is something wrong with only children,” Sandler told TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie.

“There’s nothing wrong and then there are some benefits, too.”

Studies show only children aren’t lonelier, Sandler said. In fact, only children tend to have a very strong primary relationship with themselves, so that solitude can be very strengthening.

They’re not more self-absorbed, either, since interactions with friends and classmates help shape them in the same way sibling relationships do. Only children also tend to have higher intelligence and achievement, Sandler discovered.

But besides defending their kids against unflattering stereotypes, many parents also find themselves feeling guilty that their children may be missing out on life somehow.

“Strangers will say to me, ‘Oh, you wouldn’t do that to your child.’ But I actually think it’s wonderful. We have a very happy family and I’m a very happy mother for it,” Sandler said.

Some families simply choose to stay small to avoid the economic burden of growing large, since children are very expensive, she added. People who want to have lots of kids will make it work, Sandler said, but she tells those who don’t that it’s OK.

Her advice to parents?

“Ignore society, pay attention to the research, but most of all just pay attention to your heart and do what you want for your own freedom and your life and your family,” Sandler said.

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