Bernice Sorensen has conducted research into the only-child experience in adulthood. Her research was conducted through interviews with adult only children at various life stages, and also emails to her only-child website. As an only-child I found the book enlightening. A significant aspect of being an only-child, is that your childhood is experienced in isolation. As an adult there are no siblings who have witnessed what you have experienced; and only a minority of people you contact would understand this experience, as only a small proportion of the population are only children For this reason I found the book refreshing, as only-child adults from around the world have had the opportunity to contribute to the research via Sorensen’s website and as a result of reading other ‘onlies’ experiences, I found I am not unusual, but quite normal for an only child.
Sorensen is also an only-child, and relates her experience alongside the stories told by her participants (who she calls co-researchers in the book, reflecting her own personal involvement in the study ). Through the book, Sorensen explores the stereotypes of the way the world perceives the only-child, and where reality is for the only-child adults in the research. Her study reveals a disparity between public stereotypes of the only-child and the actual experience – for example: the spoilt and privileged stereotype is challenged, as many only-children appear to be denied by parents eager to be seen not to ‘spoil’ them, and as a result many receive less than children with siblings. The stories told also give a ‘voice’ to many only-children whose experience has previously not been heard, and a rare opportunity to share in the experience of others.
The first two chapters explain previous research studies, and the methodology Sorensen used for this study. This part I found tedious but essential for professionals using the book. The remainder of the book is devoted to the only-child stories as related in interviews or emails to the website. Sorensen discusses individually aspects of the stories that relate to the only-child experience, drawing on her own experience (personal and professional) and past studies and theorists. Common themes occurring from the stories are discussed; these include aloneness, lack of connectedness, self-esteem and enmeshment with parents, and how these affect the lives of only-children in many areas of their adult lives. Many of the participants reported limited social experience growing up, and felt this impacted significantly when trying to establish themselves in the adult world. Also dealing with the ageing and death of parents is felt more acutely by the only-child adult, and this is expressed as a concern with even the younger participants.
I would highly recommend this book to all only-child adults and those close to them; and professionals in the counselling and health fields. Parents of young only-children would also benefit, as many of the negative experiences could be avoided with parental insight. E.