You might wonder what I could possibly say about the only child as I am raising three children, not an only child. And if you have read this blog for any length of time you probably know I think the ideal number of children (at least for myself :)) would be four or five children.
However, I myself am an only child so I feel I can speak from my own experience on this subject! I have also worked with many families who have only children, and all of these families have had almost the exact same concerns regarding their child’s “only child status”: are they getting enough time with other children their own age? Are we doing enough to prepare this child to interact with their peers? Less frequently parents with an only child have asked me if they were “spoiling” this child? Will this child be prepared for life on their own or will they expect everything to go their own way?
First of all, I have to say that most of the only children I meet are really sensitive, talented children. Most of them are very attuned to adults and adult body language and how adults think and do things. Most of them seem to have very high vocabulary levels. Many of them are relaxed children who enjoy life. Some of them do seem anxious socially and have problems in this regard, but so do many children who come from families with multiple children.
I feel the question of “socializing” an only child to peers of the same age is often not an issue at all. I think it is important to the only child to be viewed as the same as other children in terms that the family as the basic unit of socialization is “enough”. There can be many opportunities within one’s own family for the only child.
In my own childhood, I had a large family where I was raised by and lived with my grandparents and my great-grandmother, my father and my uncle and my other set of grandparents were frequently around (and did I mention all my grandmothers’ brothers and sisters who showed up for a month at a time? My family was big into “Surprise! Here we are! We are staying for a month!”) I also had many cousins I was close to and stayed with for periods of time who treated me like a little sister. :) Part of my family were in business together, so that added yet another dimension of “togetherness” to the equation.
Possibly what is more of an issue is in socializing an only child to peers who are NOT of the same age as the child. The only child often seems to relate well to a child who is older, perhaps because that older child is viewed as closer to an adult, but may have trouble accepting the noise, attention span, and immature behavior of a younger child. They may not understand how to play with and include a younger child the way an older child from a family with multiple children does. Again, this is just my experience in working with only children, and it may not be typical of your experience at all.
Another area that I think *could*, (but again may not be in your case), pose challenges is that of a mother homeschooling an only daughter. I don’t think this is such a challenge in the younger years, but I do think sometimes mothers and daughters can really get into each other’s “stuff” the older a child is.
One area I think all parents in general need to be aware of is what is appropriate for the child developmentally and how to parent the ever-changing stages of childhood. I have seen only children in the early grades who were treated as much younger and less capable of doing things than they really were, and this may be because there was no smaller sibling around to gently remind the parents what small really looks like. :) Conversely, perhaps that only child seems so mature and adult-oriented that we forget that child really is still very young. To me, if you can figure out how to parent the only child, you can homeschool the only child! The parenting is the harder part!
There are things about having siblings that just can never be replicated for the only child, and I am not so sure that should be a goal. The only child is having an experience that is different than a household full of children, but there is value in the experience the only child is having as well. Why should we try to make the only child’s experience into something else?
If you are a mindful enough parent to be considering these issues, then I am sure all will be well.
I would love to hear your thoughts, challenges and successes on the subject.