Busting only child syndrome myths.
I remember being nine years old and telling my brother that I was going to have 100 children. Being a teenager, my brother obviously had the advantage of biology lessons that I hadn’t had yet, so he laughed and said, “Good luck with that!” My husband and I both have siblings we love dearly and share a beautiful bond with. How then did we decide to have just one child? When we had Aaliya, we both had this instant feeling of completion. There is no other way I can explain it. It was knowing deep in our hearts that she fulfilled our need to be parents. Did we have fears about having only one child? Sure we did! Myself more than my husband.
I would have endless conversations with friends and clients who are only children and eventually concluded that both sides had their fair share of advantages and worries. The answer to why we decided to have just one is partly due to the kind of child our daughter is, as well figuring out as parents where our strengths and weaknesses lie. With that in mind, let’s address four single child myths and how we squashed them.
Our 6-year-old is a shy child, but being shy doesn’t mean she lacks social skills. We ensure she has plenty of interaction with other children that aren’t restricted to just school. By not being overly protective and possessive, we allowed her to develop independence very early on. Whether it meant making friends, getting into fights or sorting them out for herself after, she has learnt to navigate relationships and friendships with adults and children alike.
Every time I see Aaliya with friends from school, I know she’s doing great. Those friendships weren’t assisted by me, neither did they rely on my relationship with the mother for them to sustain. Her school friendships have been a great way for me to assess her ability to make, manage and maintain relationships. We, as a family, always include Aaliya in almost everything we do, not because she is an only child but because we choose and want to. The sheer volume of time that she has spent with us, her grandparents and the great friends we have, ensures that her level of maturity in understanding social equations is tremendous.
Being Entitled And Spoilt
Most children today live in a world of excess that is hard to escape from. There is too much of everything. We as parents believed that our daughter should hear the word “no” once she was no longer a toddler. We felt that entitlement came less from being an only child and more from knowing that you shouldn’t get everything you ask for. With Aaliya, there is a very clear understanding that she will get something she wants only if she has worked hard for it or has demonstrated a need by showing continuous interest or ability in something for a protracted period.
We still fail many a time and end up with wants that have been entertained only to realise they’ve been discarded soon after they’ve been gratified. That continues to be work in progress for us, however, I know that rewarding her for her efforts has certainly worked better than just handing it to her. Saying “no” to a baby is very different from a grown child. Babies and toddlers don’t understand the concept of the word. However, children do. Whenever we use it, it is followed by an explanation as to why we feel something she desires can’t happen at that moment. It is a conversation where she feels she’s an equal and does have the right to explain herself. When, on occasion, she presents a valid line of reasoning for what she wants we, as parents, aren’t afraid to say, “Well, you know what, of course, sure.” This is a painful time-consuming conversation to have every time we say “no” to her, but is so beneficial in the long run.
I’ve come to realise that loneliness has less to do with people around you and more to do with how you fill yourself up as a person. You could be in a room surrounded by family and friends yet still feel alone. Our focus has always been on ensuring our daughter feels content with herself and validated by her own sense of worth, rather than it coming from an external source. Sure, it would be great to have a sibling to play with all day at home, I can’t deny that. However, she has developed a way of keeping herself entertained since she was very little, simply because she had no option. I made sure I was available to play with her when I could, but not all the time. I have made sure she did her own thing since she was little and that has fostered a strong sense of her loving her own company and dealing with boredom by finding the most creative ways of playing alone.
She, like any other child, is delighted at the thought of playing with another kid, but that doesn’t take away from her ability to spend time with herself when needed. Bear in mind that she is given 2 to 3 hours of TV time a week and zero phone/iPad time. So, this is alone time with herself, her imagination and her games. Loving her own company and innovating in times of boredom has been something we have tried to foster to the best of our ability. I am conscious to not continuously fill her day up with classes, playdates and guided activity. She always has free time in a day where she just does what she feels like, whether that’s art, singing nonsensical made up songs, talking to herself in the mirror, playing her instruments, enacting make-believe situations or whatever takes her fancy that day.
Sharing doesn’t come naturally to our 6-year-old. If given a choice, she would much rather keep things for herself rather than parting with them to share with another child. Although, the older she gets the better she is getting at this. Sharing, I feel, is modelled a lot on how she sees us as her parents behave. How generous we are as people, how we behave at the dining table with food, how we treat people around us, how eager we are to offer friends our chocolates when we open a box, how willing I am to reach into my cupboard and part with something I just heard a friend say she was thinking of getting and so on.
Whenever she has seen us do something worthy of emulating, she has almost immediately found an opportunity to do the same. The results are almost instant. Sure, she’s forgotten it in the heat of the next “sharing opportunity”, but constant reinforcement from us as parents is certainly showing results. It’s rare to be born into a family that is generous, warm and welcoming and not have the children emulate the same (only child or not).
There is just one genuine concern I have about not having given her a sibling and that is what will happen once we are no more. Losing your parents is hard on every child, no matter how old you are. Having a sibling buffers that pain a little bit, because that sibling and your parents are the only constant you have from the day you are born. It anchors you. However hopefully if we equip her emotionally well enough in these formative years, the need to be emotionally reliant on a sibling will not exist. More so all the only children I know make the best friends, because those friendships become the siblings they never had. They are fiercely loyal and invested in their friends.
Like with any decision in life, if you have made this one because you felt it is right for your family, your child will grow up feeling loved, wanted and whole. If you still crave a child in your heart, chances are your only child will pick up on that and feel like they are missing something. All children pick up on our feelings as parents, it doesn’t have to be verbalised, so if you feel complete with one child chances are the child will feel complete too.
As with every such subject, there is no right and wrong, we can only do what feels right for us. A child nurtured with love and understanding, and a child who feels heard and respected will never want anything he or she doesn’t have.