After a family dinner last week, my mother, sister and I sat around talking about being only children. My mother is an only child. I was “an only” until I was 12. My sister was alone in our parents' house after I left for college when she was five. We have a running joke that both my sister and I are only children which, although counterintuitive, feels true.
Now that I'm a mother to three young boys, I realize what a unique opportunity it was to grow up “only.” Raising an only child comes with distinct advantages and disadvantages. If you are parenting an only child, here are seven secrets to make the most of your time with your child.
1. Recognize the benefits of having an only child. Some people act like having an only child is the worst thing in the world. It's not. There are major advantages to having an only, including more one-on-one time with parents and less financial strain. Whether by choice or by circumstance, having one kid in the family comes with a host of benefits.
2. Be appropriately open about your family planning. Most only children wonder if they'll have a sibling someday. It's not necessary to explain your entire medical and social history to your child, but at least give him some idea of whether to expect siblings in the future. It'll ease his mind either way.
3. Don't let entitlement creep in. With all your parenting funds funneling into one child, some only children develop a sense of entitlement. Remember that just because you can buy your child something doesn't necessarily mean you should. Make your kid work for what she wants.
4. Tone down the adult speak. Only children sometimes have problems speaking to their peers because they're so used to talking with adults. Use age appropriate language with your child, and make sure he knows some popular culture references relevant to other kids his age.
5. Teach a broad definition of family. Unfortunately, kids say unkind things to only children. I heard repeatedly, “You don't have a family because you don't have brothers and sisters,” and, “What's wrong with your family? It's so small.” Teach your child that families come in all shapes and sizes, and give her the language to explain and defend her family to others. Like it or not, she will need it.
6. Provide playmates. Only children get things their own way. They don't have to share toys, rooms, clothes or parental attention—which can make it difficult to interact with other kids. Set up opportunities for your kid to play with his peers, whether it's through playdates, sports, scouts or another organized activities.
7. Develop a “forever family” mentality. When your only kid is older, he may feel disconnected without a larger family network, especially once you're gone. Teach your child from a young age that your family will always stick together and that he can always rely on you.
Speaking from experience, being an only child is both satisfying and lonely. Also, having the undivided attention of your parents is both a blessing and a curse. Don't forget that, in spite of how mature he or she may act, your only child is still a child. Do everything you can to make childhood a magical time, even if you're suffering because of infertility or less than ideal life circumstances. Your kid only gets one shot at childhood, so make it count.
Heather Hale is a fourth-generation Montanan, mom to three crazy boys, and wife to one amazing husband. She writes about passionate parenthood at moderatelycrunchy.com.