Folks are stirred up about a new Lauren Sandler piece, “The Secret to Being Both a Successful Writer and a Mother: Have Just One Kid,” over at The Atlantic.
To be honest, I chuckled out loud when I saw the headline.
It’s just awful.
For context, I came to the piece after I’d seen the Today Show piece featuring Sandler as she discusses her new book, One and Only: The Freedom Of Having an Only Child and the Joy of Being One.
After viewing the video and sharing a link to it, I had a great Facebook conversation. The thing that most resonated with me personally was that stereotypes about only children are the only stereotypes to survive political correctness. The video led to a great, much-needed conversation with people whom I love, women who have come to parenting an only for a variety of reasons. Some of them have, at one time or another, struggled with the stereotypes, which if you buy into them, mean that singletons are selfish, spoiled, hothoused, lonely, etcetera. Moms of onlies are guilty by association, by the way.
We onlies and parents of onlies as diverse as any other group, but we have been saddled with some nasty literature based on “science” long ago that set out to make us seem like freaks. That “science” is so deeply embedded in our culture that it’s hard to shake.
Which explains why I’m so happy to see Sandler take on this topic and run headlong into the inevitable criticism. I’m also a little jealous. Like Sandler, I’m an only with an only and and writer and I had the same idea for a book once!
Of course topic-envy is not the fan flaming the The Atlantic piece over at Jezebel. Folks seem to be so blinded by the headline (which was probably selected by someone other than Sandler because that’s how the biz works) that irate readers skipped over the ‘nut graf:
It was only when I was working on a book investigating what it means to have, and to be, an only child that I realized how many of the writers I revere had only children themselves.
And that’s what the piece is about. She’s talking about the coincidence that the writers she admires have made similar life choices. She’s moving beyond the stereotypes to look at realities and that’s a messy process.
I wonder, too, if the reaction is fueled in part of the lingering judgments our culture makes about parents of onlies being arrogant, self-absorbed careerists who care more about things than parenthood.
Let’s look at those synonyms for selfish shall we:
egocentric, egoistic, egoistical, egomaniacal, egotistic, egotistical, greedy, hoggish, mean, mercenary, miserly, narcissistic, narrow, narrow-minded, out for number one, parsimonious, prejudiced, self-centered, self-indulgent, self-interested, self-seeking, stingy, ungenerous, wrapped up in oneself [source]
The way I see it, those terms are so freely associated in our culture that if you say “only child” they are nearly synonymous. So forgive me if I suspect part of the controversy is the by-product of lancing the cultural boil. It hurts like heck at first, but then it heals.
More troublesome frankly for me personally than The Atlantic piece is the description on the book’s Amazon page. The publisher says that Sandler explains having an only “may be the way to resolve our countless struggles with adulthood in the modern age.”
That’s more responsibility than I want–to solve all the countless struggles of adulthood–laid upon my reproductive choices.
Plus, having one child doesn’t solve all of one’s “problems.” In fact, for women who want to have more children but who struggle with infertility, lose their partner while young, or suffer from a disease that makes carrying a child to term difficult, it can take time to adjust to the idea of being “one and done” involuntarily. These women are part of my tribe and an increasingly large part of the only community. Glossing over their experiences is callous and rude. I don’t like it, and as it appears as the book’s blurb, I’m guessing Sandler had more of a chance to edit it than she had with the headline.
But I’m still going to read the book, even if the the blurb makes me anxious. That’s because I appreciate and even applaud that Sandler is trying to change the cultural perception of onlies. It’s about darn time we did something about it.
I do wonder if she realized how messy this process is going to be, though. Perhaps she should have called Amy Chua and talk about life after you’ve outed yourself publicly as a “tiger mom.”
Just a thought.
Image source: The Today Show