We have a five-year-old daughter and are in two minds about whether to have another child. We see parents of single children working hard to involve the child in more social activities, plan play-dates with other children, etc. Yet, the absence of a sibling is a very specific void in the life of a child. What’s your opinion?
Yes, an only child, however loved and well-provided for, is deprived of one of the most important features of his/her emotional landscape: a sibling.
However, the only child is fast becoming the norm for many families. The decision is usually related to health issues, financial considerations, social consciousness about overpopulation, time/career pressures, and the urge to give that child undivided attention and the best of available resources. All valid reasoning, and the personal choice of every couple.
Of course, it means that parents of an only child have to work that much harder. In families with two or more kids, some emotional and social processes fall into place quite naturally:
u Sharing of parental love and attention
u Developing patience and tolerating frustration
u Coping with irrationality/unfairness
u Caring and responsibility for the other
When you grow up with siblings, such “corners” are rubbed off during the growing years, consciously as well as unconsciously. This prepares children to later deal with the outside adult world of cooperative living, team work, relationship building, social skills, etc.
There is one particular pitfall of bringing up an only child that needs to be sidestepped: over-focusing.
With all parental resources and energies being poured into one child, he/she often gets an unreal picture of her place in the scheme of things. Many only children grow up with a rather unrealistic sense of entitlement. They are brought up to think of themselves as little emperors and princesses, with rights and privileges that simply must come to them, not only from their parents, but from the world at large. For a child brought up in this atmosphere, adjustment to the realities of the outside world becomes difficult and sometimes traumatic, right from the first day of school. The 11-year-old whose dad got him a top-of-the-line cricket set, sitting all by himself with no one to play with because no one is “good enough” to use his things, no one will let him bat not-out all the time or be captain every day—is a telling image.
As the parent of a single child, you would need to, first of all, maintain perspective: Your child is part of a teeming universe of children, humans, plants, creatures and nature. Do notice, respect, and enjoy them, too—it does not mean that you love and care for your child any less. This kind of awareness in you will foster in your child respect and appreciation of people and the world outside of himself/herself, helping him/her to connect better.
Say “only child”, and people come up with stereotypical perceptions: spoilt, lonely, etc. But this does not have to be true. In fact, many only children—famous and not-so-famous—have proved all these notions wrong. They are well-adjusted, caring, responsible, sociable and successful people. Moreover, growing up without easily available company at all times, they are able to be happy and at ease with themselves when they are alone. These are people who have had the good fortune of sensitive parenting.
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