Bernice’s Posts

by on February 19, 2011

Dr Bernice Sorensen

All the posts that I write are based on both my original doctoral research (see below for an overview) and the book I subsequently wrote: “Only Child Experience and Adulthood” which is available from Palgrave. It is also influenced by the work I do as a therapist and the stories that onlies have been kind enough to share with me, as well as the dialogues I have had with only child adults from all over the world. I hope their experience and my own will help you understand the complexity of growing up an only child.

There are two types of posts:

Those which are about my research and ones which deal with everyday only child dilemmas.

I also respond to emails sent to me that deal with important only child issues.

My Research – Why research only child experience?
In 2000 I began my doctoral research on the experiences of adult only children. My initial question arose from my own experience of being an only-child in a predominantly sibling society, where I was aware that having no siblings was seen as both a lack and an unfair advantage. This ever-present social aspect has undoubtedly influenced my sense of self and I was curious to see if this was true of other only-children. A childhood with siblings is the social norm, and this has resulted in pathologising and stereotyping the only-child experience. In an attempt to transcend this, I have explored what has revealed itself in the data, leaving me with two questions.
•    Firstly, ‘What are the psychological and emotional developmental implications when the primary mode of relating in childhood is towards adults rather than children?’
•    Secondly, ‘Does a person who has not experienced siblings, relate to other people differently?

I also became aware that there is a social stigma attached to being an only child that I believe impinges on the developmental process. I was curious to see how the social implications connect with the relational aspects, and how they in turn might affect an only-child’s sense of self. Whilst the data revealed that individually many of the phenomena are not necessarily unique to the experiences of only-children, the strength of my research has been in holding together the complexity of phenomena. Taken together, these do relate specifically to the experiences of only-children, and impact on both their internal and interpersonal worlds at the level of identity and belongingness. I chose to describe this matrix of phenomena as an only-child ‘archetype’ and identify it as originating primarily in a lack or absence of sibling encounters.

How to research experience? – The challenge was to find a way to look at both the social and psychological aspects of the only-child experience.

My research is a phenomenological investigation into the experiences of  adult only children using a qualitative approach. This means I did not send our questionnaires’ or try and target large numbers of adult only children. I was therefore not using a quantitative approach that seeks, with a series of questions, to gather data, which can then be analysed to confirm a particular hypothesis. Instead I wanted to immerse myself in the trying to understand what it is to grow up an only child through out one’s life-span. I was mindful that most research in this area is of quantitative design. I wanted, however, to discover my co-researchers experience to themselves, others and the world.

My research uses a flexible design incorporating heurism and narrative inquiry. These offered a way of being reflexive and co-creating stories with my co-researchers. In my final thesis I used a voice-centred relational model to reflect on how adult only-children feet about their experience and how they feel only-ness might affect their sense of identity. I also focus on how only children relate to others, their parents, peers and latterly significant relationships. Finally, I look at how aspects of the only-child stereotype might affect an only-child’s sense of identity.

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