Please stop talking about how 'spoiled' only children are

Jan 1, 2015 at 12:00 p.m. ET

I try my best to raise an empathetic kid who is capable of gratitude. So if you assume that she's spoiled, I'm going to assume you're a jerk.

"Can I have this?"

It's a question my daughter asks me often, in the unabashed way that children do. Nine times out of 10 I don't even look at what she's holding before I say no.

I don't have to. I know what she's holding. It's a LEGO kit, a robot dog, a video game or an Elsa dress. And whatever it is, she isn't in dire need of it.

My daughter hears no so often that she's unfazed by it. She'll shrug, put the thing back and move on with her life. It is very, very strange behavior for a child that's so spoiled.

I know she's spoiled because people tell me all the time. Until I can get the tattoo on my forehead that says, "Unsolicited parenting advice wanted" removed, I will, like pretty much every parent, have to deal with everyone from close friends and family to near strangers telling me all about the child they don't spend as much time with as me. Such gems include:

"Only children are so spoiled, you know?"

"I'm glad I had siblings because I learned how to share."

"I had two/three/forty million kids because it was important to me that they understand the world doesn't revolve around them."

I had three siblings, biologically. Then I moved to a home and had 11. You might imagine that I harbor some bitterness about sharing all of my crap and wearing tons of hand-me-downs, and that I focused that resentment like an epic laser beam of projection onto my uterus.

You'd be wrong. I loved having a big family. Sometimes I hated it, but more often I loved it. I just don't think I learned any fabulous, life-changing lesson that can't be learned unless you're wrestling for space at the bathroom sink every morning.

Family size influences you a lot of ways, but I'm here to tell you that it isn't a guaranteed ticket to not having a Veruca Salt.

How do I know?

Well, I was selfish. Kind of spoiled. Sort of a "me, me, me" person. It's a lesson I learned in the Darwinian experience that is shared residential living. "She who hoards the toys gets to play with them before some dumb older brother breaks them." "She who shouts the loudest for attention will get the lion's share." Stuff like that.

On the other hand, my sister was like the Mother Teresa of Barbies and desserts, always giving hers up for the other kids who were shafted by virtue of being jive suckers.

All I'm saying is that children are autonomous people, not math equations. X plus Y does not always equal Z. Siblings divided by toys does not always equal sharing and grace. Any parent could tell you that. Every single child has the capacity to be a spoiled little mini-jerk, because they are kids and they want stuff. Hell, I'm an adult and I want stuff.

By the same token, every kid has the potential to be selfless and giving. I like to think my kid is. She practically gives her crap away at playdates, "for keeps," even.

As for me, my parents had no time for my shenanigans, wouldn't put up with them, and therein lies the rub. I don't want my kid to be spoiled, so I don't cater to her every whim. There is no bell that she can ring for the household staff. She is officially old enough to clean her toilet and fold her own clothes her damn self. She is not a fragile little flower incapable of solitude or selflessness. I want her to understand gratitude, so I teach her about it. She needs to understand that the world does not rise and set at her command, and guess what? She does.

My daughter isn't perfect, but being an only child doesn't make her a spoiled monster. And it definitely doesn't make her deaf, weird lady in the Target toy aisle, so can you please shut up and maybe keep your Very Important Opinions to yourself?

More on only children

An only child by choice
Is your only child a lonely child?
One and done: Deciding to have an only child