Love your column. For a number of reasons, my son is an only child. I'd say it's part decision, part circumstance.
Some days I am at peace with this fact, and other times I am just worried sick about what I am "doing" to him. I've read plenty of very positive articles about only children and try to take the information to heart, but there's always 1 or 2 comments on said articles from adult only children who say they hated it/are resentful now, and that's what sticks with me, of course. And I feel like you never see an adult only child with an only child, which is both telling and understandable.
We are somewhat older parents (son was born when I was 37) so that feeds my fear that we'll be gone and he'll feel so alone in the world. He does have cousins close by, but I feel like they'll naturally be closer to their own siblings. I suppose it's ultimately up to him to forge the bonds he needs or wants to as an adult. In the meantime, how can I feel at peace?
From: Jane, Duxbury, MA
Been there, done that.
As long-time readers know, I have one child and, like you, knew pretty early on that there would be no more. So I'll share some personal history. I began writing Child Caring when Eli was 6-months old and, for years, I didn't -- wouldn't -- write anything about only children because I shared many of the concerns you raise. Writing about it was too close to the bone.
I can't say exactly when that began to change, but I know it had a lot to do with my son, who showed, early on, that he was a self-reliant person, someone who enjoyed his own company. At first, even that was a source of angst: Was that his really temperament or did circumstance force him to be that way? Here's what I came to realize: It didn't matter. He was who he was and my job, as his mother, was to figure out his strengths and feed into them.
Many of the ideas about the pros and cons of being an only child are stereotypes that were never valid to begin with and are without merit today. There's no magic to coming to grips with this, Jane, but there are plenty of adult only children who have chosen to raise only one child. There's one in this story of mine who suggests making a list of the pros and cons of the fact that your child is a singleton. Just seeing them, in black and white, is helpful.
It's also important to be honest with yourself about the two sides of parenting a singleton. For instance, aving only one child means you don't have to spread your resources too thin. That's a good thing, right? Well, not if he becomes an entitled brat.
With only one child needing your attention, both parents have plenty of attention to give. That makes for a super close bond, and shared values. Also a good thing, right? Ah, but that closeness can make it so hard for a child to not to disappoint that it can become a burden.
All parenting is a matter of balance. Parenting an only child takes a lot of thinking. OK, now hold on, all you parents of more than one child. I don't mean that in a self-righteous way and I certainly don't mean that parents of more than one child can get by mindlessly. Here's an example of what I do mean. In a family with two or more children, there's no question that kids have chores and responsibilities. It's how a family functions. It's how children learn about collaboration and cooperation and team work. We all know that. And yet.... When there's only one child, it's often easier to just get the job done yourself, rather than take the time and effort to assign a chore and supervise a chore and be the collaborator.
Here is some recommended reading. I personally found White's book really helpful.
Susan Newman's book, "The Case for the Only Child, Your Essential Guide," and her blog, Singletons."
Carolyn White's book, "The Seven Common Sins of Parenting an Only Child," and her website, onlychild.com.
Readers, I look forward to some constructive comments about being/raising only children.
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