Be careful not to smother an only child
Last week I talked about the changing family patterns. As a matter of choice, there are more families with a single child.
Reasons for this may be attributed to the huge cost of raising a child and providing the necessary ingredients of food, clothing, shelter, and education. Also, many adults are delaying marriage until their thirties or even forties. In the latter case, the biological clock will preclude the possibility of having several children.
Because many parents have asked to talk about the ways they can help their “only child” to have a happy, well-balanced life, I’ll relay some ground rules which may help them.
• Parents of an only child should be careful not to become too overprotective and smother their child. When this happens, parents run the risk of creating insecurity and uncertainty in their child by not letting the child explore the world about him, learning independence and self-direction. Parents need to learn that we all learn by making mistakes.
Sometimes parents of any only child become so engrossed in the child’s life that they build up resentments within the child that remain throughout the child’s lifetime. The only child can, in fact, become overly dependent and unable to make decisions. Should parents decide early in the child’s life to not let this happen, a large measure of control can be brought over this unneeded posture toward the child and a balance can be obtained.
• Parents of an only child sometimes place all of their hopes, dreams, and aspirations on the one child. As one parent put it, “we put all our eggs in one basket.”
Parents of several children may have one good athlete, one good student, one child with a good sense of humor, etc. But the parent of an only child may expect that child to be the best in everything and demand far too much. Parents must be careful about unrealistic and unreasonable expectations or the pressure can be stressful and psychologically harmful.
Consider the parent who placed this pressure on their first born, but let up when the second child arrived, then note the difference in personalities of the two children.
There are some real pluses for the only child, though. Only children are frequently high achievers and are very successful individuals in adult life because of high expectations and the attention and positive experiences they shared with their parents.
• Some parents of only children who would like to have had more children but were unable for one reason or another develop a neurotic and unhealthy attitude, which can negatively affect the child. They may frequently lament about how sorry they are not to have a larger family. This may give the child the message that their parents are unhappy with him, thus bringing real insecurity and negative feelings to the child.
Being an only child can be a very rewarding and healthy experience and has been attested by many successful adults. Each child should be considered on the basis of an individual in need of love, attention, and guidance.
Harold H. LeCrone, Jr., Ph.D. Copyright © 1993