Tonight my son shocked me into silence. (A rare occurrence, as my husband can attest.) I was reading Alex a book called “What Dogs Teach Us” or something like that (sage advice includes: “Take naps when you can…Practice good grooming habits…Don’t chase cars” — that kind of thing.) When we got to a picture of two Golden Retrievers bounding across a meadow with the caption, “Everything’s more fun when you share it with a friend” my son said, “Yeah, but that’s not true.”
“What do you mean,” I asked after a long pause, my mom antennae up and quivering a little.
“Everything’s not more fun when you do it with friends. I’d rather play by myself.”
My son, now 6, is an only child. I’m not even sure if people use that term any more — maybe I should say “singleton”? (That always sounds like a last name to me, though. Like I’m telling people that my son is a member of the Singleton family, and not really my kid.)
I get worried because Alex has a hard time sharing things at times, or understanding the concept of give and take. He also cannot stand to lose — at anything. Now I’m starting to wonder: Is this because he’s an only child? I know, probably almost every kid has a hard time with these things, but is it more pronounced when your child has no siblings to put them through the old rock tumbler of life? Sometimes I feel bad about the fact that there’s no one around to give Alex the reality check, no sibling saying, “Hey, it’s my turn now!” or “Your feet smell!” or all the things my brother and I used to yell at each other across the orange shag carpeting of our childhood living room. (Hey, it was the seventies. The only thing more popular than the color orange was shag carpeting.)
I wonder if being an only child is like being a celebrity surrounded by an entourage of people telling you that you’re great all the time. (And who wouldn’t love that? For awhile, anyway. Just sayin’.) Not only is Alex an only child, he’s the only grandchild on my husband’s side of the family. For the first three years of his life, my Italian mother-in-law actually referred to him as the image of the “Jesu Bambino” — that’s right, the Baby Jesus. (I swear to you I’m not making this up.)
So you can see where a kid might start to think that they were, oh, I don’t know, a mini master of the universe. And where they might have a harder time when they don’t get their way. We talk to Alex about the importance of sharing — and letting other kids have a chance to make the rules or decide what game will be played — all the time, but sometimes I wonder if it’s really sinking in. On the other hand, I have to say that our son has a lot of great qualities. He jumps into everything with enthusiasm, is kind to other kids, creative, and fun-loving. The truth is, I think he is secretly starting to feel like he’s the third, shorter adult in our family of three. It’s hilarious at times, but also frustrating, because I don’t think he sees that he’s turning off other kids when he acts bossy or is a sore loser.
A mom named Ann wrote to me recently about her only child, also a son, and had this to say:
We tend to go through periods from time to time when we really hit a roadblock with our eight-year-old not behaving or listening to us. He can be bossy, entitled, and sometimes downright rude with his friends (let me also add that he can also be a tremendous amount of fun, and is very creative, etc. Children are drawn to him.)
Boy, can I relate! Unfortunately I don’t have any answers yet…this is all new to me. So, any parents of “onlies” out there have any advice for those of us who are figuring this out as we go along? I’m all ears…
About Elisabeth Wilkins
Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.