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Tanuja Chandra

Being an only child, having an only child…

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I am, that rare species, a child who has no siblings. Back then, when my parents had me, this was far from the norm, in fact, it was quite the aberration. Most families in the housing complex I grew up in had a minimum of two and a maximum of five kids. My parents having me as an only child was not a decision out of choice. My having my son as an only child is.

Like my mother, I had my son rather late. I was thirty three when my son was born, after a fair amount of trouble trying to conceive. Unlike my mother who was a home maker, I was a career woman who had deferred trying for a child until I realized that I was having fertility issues. My spouse is one of five siblings, which is the other end of the spectrum from being the only child I was.

Parents around me were having a second child in quick succession and for a while I was plagued with the guilt that comes from assuming I was depriving the boy of an in house playmate, of a sibling to stand by him when we were ashes and dust, and all that. Our decision to not have a second child had nothing to do with these factors and everything to do with the developmental issues the child had when he was younger and the very real fear that this risk could be exacerbated as maternal age increased.

To me, not having been raised with siblings around meant that I had no idea of what having a sibling meant, for me to want the same for my child. I grew up very self contained, with an ability to keep myself entertained and amused with the resources I had—which included books and an overactive imagination. I made enough best friends to see me through childhood and adolescence. Did I miss the closeness of siblings and envy the bonds siblings shared, sure I did. But not enough to want to replicate it with the child. Do I realize that as my mother ages, I would be the only person responsible for her? I do. Do I wonder if my son would have wanted a sibling? Occasionally I do, but I realize for him, a sibling is someone being made available solely for his amusement.

Of course, there are those who warn me that he will grow up with a misplaced sense of entitlement, being accustomed to being the focus of all attention, that he will rebel because he will be the repository of all our thwarted ambition, that he will resent us for not providing him with siblings as he grows, that he will lack social skills because he will not learn to negotiate or deal with siblings and so on. For all these, I look to myself for the answers. Yes, I am a trifle introverted, but then the spouse grew up as one of five siblings and he beats me hands down for the antisocial introvert of the year title. What I have gained from being an only child is a wonderful sense of self reliance, I need no motivators to push me to do things, it comes from within me. I can be alone without feeling lonely, and I hope this is something the child gains from being an only child too. I take my friendships and my relationships with others seriously—I know I have to work hard at holding onto them, and paradoxically, I am quick to detach myself from toxic friendships or relationships because I have that curious ability to not need to hold onto anything that causes me pain or hurt. I also have that constant need for space and find it claustrophobic to be constantly in conversation or with people around me. I have a suspicion that the same is happening with my son, but that is okay.We “only” kids are able to step out and be sociable when we need company, and we can withdraw into ourselves to replenish ourselves when we need to. But he is also a very sociable child, the intercom rings all day at home with friends calling him down to play, or trooping in to play in our house.

Parenting a single child is definitely easier on me as a parent. According to a University of Pennsylvania study of 35,000 mothers, those raising only children were the happiest, with each additional child reducing a mother’s well-being. (http://ideas.time.com/2013/06/11/the-economic-reason-for-having-just-one-child/#ixzz2ZkLo3Qxm)

For me, the advantages of having an only child outweigh the disadvantages. I can give him more one on one time, I can invest more in his schooling and extra curricular activities, I can manage my own work day better with only one child’s school schedule and extra curricular activities needing to be coordinated. And not to be scoffed at, is the sheer cost of child raising in this inflation riddled day and age, perhaps with one more child I would have not been able to afford the education and the facilities I provide the boy.

No, I’m not advocating having only one child. All I’m saying that deciding to have one child is a valid decision, as valid as having two children or more. I believe each parent finds the best balance for their families, and does the best they can regardless of the number of children they have. But this is an intensely personal decision. What I do resent is people climbing onto their soap boxes and telling me I’m being selfish by not providing the child with a sibling. If I do decide to have a second child, I would have had one for me. That would be the only reason. Not to give my son ‘company’, as some well meaning folks advocate. I would rather he is comfortable in his own company—that would be validation enough for me.


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