Happily Even After
by Stacey Noem
I am an only child. There are a lot of assumptions that people make about you when you throw out that statement. Sometimes, though, when someone finds out I am an only child they will say “Really? You don’t act like one.” I take that as a high compliment.
Being an only child with three children of my own is kind of like giving a teenager who learned to drive stick-shift on a sports car the responsibility of driving a semi-truck. There are probably some similarities, but you don’t even have a point of reference to begin to guess all the differences.
Sometimes I can’t begin to guess how my children feel about each other. I don’t know what it is like to have a sibling: to have someone roughly my size and age living in the same room or across the hall from me; to have someone that people compare my looks to when they meet me for the first time; to have someone who is also trying to figure out the same set of parents.
As an only child parent of three children I psyche myself out about issues surrounding birth order.
See, at some point in college I looked around and realized that my dearest friends were all oldest children in their families. And on some level that didn’t surprise me. I think there is something similar in the experience of the “oldests” and “onlys” that make it easy to get along. We were an easy fit with one another in regards to the way we made our way through the world—the way we made plans, our reliability, our certain sense of independence.
Also in college, I came to realize that frequently those with whom I had the least natural spark were middle children in a three-child family. Middle children are a challenge to me. If you ask me why that is, my mind goes to my perception that they frequently are vying for attention or are used to the family pivoting around their personalities. The extreme irony there, and it is not lost on me, is that an only child behaves or feels the same way.
So perhaps my challenge with middle children (again generally speaking) is that they hold up a mirror to those attributes of being an only child that I like least about myself.
In any case, I currently find myself mother of a three-child family and sometimes I get freaked out about my own children and their birth order.
Not surprisingly, I feel pretty solid and OK with Oscar. He is the oldest and first and we put all the crazy focus and energy into raising him that parents do for their first child.
Then we come to Simon – and this is where it gets tricky. I want to make sure he gets as much love and personal attention as Oscar got at his age (when there were no other children) so that his personality can develop and thrive on its own. BUT if I make a point of giving him special personal attention, doesn’t that mean that I am behaving in the way that will “turn him into” a “typical middle child” (concerned with vying for attention and having the family pivot around him)?
Do you see my conundrum? I don’t want to raise a “middle child” but in trying not to, I seem to end up contributing to “middle childness.” AND, he IS, after all, a middle child. No matter how much I may want to isolate the variables that impact his life and personality formation, the fact of the matter is that he has an older brother and a younger sister. Those details are part of his identity. They do (and should) impact who he is.
I guess what I am most concerned with is how they impact how I treat him.
Each of my children is completely unique. Their lives are forever different because they have siblings and I can’t fully grasp that. But they are each entirely their own special creation. A soul put in my care to raise and love as selflessly as I possibly can. Can you think of a better growth exercise for an only child?
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