One Only-with-an-Only Mom’s (and Writer’s) Response to Lauren Sandler

Author Lauren Sandler

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.”

Whoa.

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.

P.S.

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

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5 comments

  1. As one that wasn’t an only but had an only and was not able to have anymore, this title seems either purposefully hurtful or idiotic. In fact the “only” I have is lucky to even be here on this earth, so this book seems really shallow and not worth my time. I think I will go be my “selfish” self, Implying that I had any kind of choice in my “only” decision, and instead of reading her book, go cherish some time spent with my boy, just playing with him in his room, watching a movie as we snuggle on the couch, and reading a book together later today, with wonderful father too, of course. Much better time spent than reading a book some woman wrote to make money with an idiotic title like that.

    • Just to clarify, because I accidentally dropped the link out at some point, the book has an altogether different name than The Atlantic article.

      The book is called “One and Only: The Freedom Of Having an Only Child and the Joy of Being One.”

      I’ve put the name and link back in the article to clarify that the book’s topic is distinct from the article.

  2. I’m always amazed at how often people get caught up in this kind of debate, and I so appreciate your perspective. While this is great fun for the author of the book, The Atlantic and Jezebel (because all publicity is good publicity as long as they spell your name right), I bet if anyone actually did a scientific survey of female writers, they would find no real evidence to back up the premise. I have one child and I’m a writer, and it would be great to think that’s some predictor of success. But I can’t say I think the two things are linked, and I seriously doubt anyone will choose to have one child to enhance their likelihood of success as an author. But what fun to be at the forefront of all the hype – we can only hope our own books will spark such a firestorm.

    • Thanks, Katy. It’s crazy to me how seemingly literate folks can get all riled up from a headline.

      I figure having one child to enhance one’s potential success as an author is about as clever as having a second child solely to “give the other one a playmate.” Both are l-a-m-e ideas.

      Have a kid (or 2, 4, 7) or write a book (or 2, 4, 7) if you want to and can!
      My motto is “Happy Families Come in All Sizes.” (Same goes for books, btw.)

      I love the size of my family, but I have friends with larger families who are AWE-some women who do amazing things. There’s room for us all.

      Truly.

      And when the smoke clears on the Mommy Wars some day, perhaps whomever is left standing will celebrate that fact.

  3. Interesting premise for a book–looking toward the mother of an only rather than the only themselves (as well as mixing in the fact that she was an only also).

    I also am an only with an only *now*. (Firstborn was 2.5 yo when second born arrived with major problems; firstborn was 4.5 yo when second born died. And with 13 years thereafter “actively not preventing” [my husband’s term], not having any pregnancy occur–I’m definitely in the camp of those who would have loved to have more children, but having no choice other than to choose to be content with God’s choice of our family size.) I added homeschooling to the mix, and became an author during those homeschooling years, writing *Homeschooling Only One*. My firstborn graduated from homeschool in 2008.)

    I agree with the author here (on this site). The status quo/stereotypes should be shaken up and challenged. If her book is truly “a heartfelt essay about how [she] found inspiration in four female writers,” as she said on her Twitter account about the article in *The Atlantic,* it could very well be an interesting book with an uncommon perspective. If it extols the virtue of purposely planning on having only one child (and if one could truly control that) for the intent to be able to have enough “extra” time to focus on one’s career…I just don’t see the profit in reading a time-consuming book. That would make her (as an only herself) the epitome of a “selfish only,” or so it would seem.

    I choose to reserve judgment over the book until one has actually read the book (cover to cover). Not necessarily interested in seeking it out for myself to read, but if it comes across my path, I will.

    It’s interesting (from reading a few responses at Jezebel) to see how personal stories color each writer’s perception of what they read in the article or in the Jezebel commentary.

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