Your Only Child Is Not Your Therapist
Having my only child is a great blessing for me, considering it was hard enough to get her here to meet me. I grew up in a home of four girls, me being the youngest, and life was colorful, loud, and chaotic until my three older sisters left the home — and me — behind when I was 12 years old. The three of them went off into the world, and essentially, I was like an only child at home. Still, having an only was sort of different to me because my daughter's childhood and home life are so vastly different from my own, but I have found the only-child relationship between me and my daughter to be amazing. The closeness, the one-on-one interactions, and the ability to give her the focus and attention she needs is wonderful. The bond the two of us share will be irreplaceable for life. But as she gets older, I see there will be precautions I will need to take as a parent in order to avoid putting too much on those sturdy girl shoulders.
And while this goes for all parents of one or five, only children especially may be more prone to be Mom or Dad's "friend" or confidant than a group of siblings. We all know that our children are our children and not our friends until much, much later on in life, but when you parent an only, you've got to consider a few things in order to keep your child as your child and not your therapist.
Your dreams are your dreams — but not necessarily your child's.
If you have a few kids, it's one thing to hope that perhaps one of them may end up a major league sports player. It's quite another thing to hope that and hope hard for your one and only child who might just be very talented at sports. But when you exude too much pressure or have too much invested in something that your child may not be as invested in, you're unloading a world of stress and pressure for your only child. If there's something on your bucket list that you haven't crossed off, why not do it yourself, rather than hope for your child to? And if it is something that's completely unrealistic for you to achieve, how about you talk to someone about that dead and dying dream? It's OK to grieve those. Just don't ask your child to pick up your dream where you left it.
Sharing things with an only child, especially as he or she gets older, may be very tempting. After all, you two probably have an unshakeable bond, but consider that some things don't need to be said. That even if our children ask us later on in life as they become adults, we have the judgment and wisdom to say that topic is off limits or not available for discussion. When my sisters left the nest, I often was the go-between with my parents, and at times, I heard things from both parties I could not unhear. As much as I loved the time I had, especially with my mother who spent way more time with me, one on one, there were some things I didn't need to know.
Just be sure that when you share things with your lovely only child that it is something he or she can bear to hear, bear to handle and digest, years down the line. If you really need someone to talk to, again, talk to a friend or therapist. What you say is potentially "not unhearable," so remember that!
Like any mother of any child, you want your only child to be strong and resilient. Since your only is also the only child to handle or manage home life duties and your only child to watch and see grow into adulthood, it can be tempting to give your kid more responsibility than he or she may be ready to handle simply because it is common for only children to be mature.
While you want to provide your child with the opportunity to take on, lead, succeed, and potentially fail, be mindful that you are not asking more of your child than he or she can reasonably do.
Yes, expectations are different than pressures or responsibilities.
To me, pressure is a feeling that one must execute something a certain way.
Responsibilities are giving someone set duties he or she must carry out.
Expectations involve someone having set feelings about how someone is going to think, act, and, at times, manage and carry those responsibilities and pressures I spoke about.
Sometimes, I forget my daughter is 5 years old because she tends to be on the high-average or gifted side of intelligence in certain situations. Because, like many only children, she is mature. Still — she is only 5. Parents must remember that despite a child's gifts or abilities, he or she is still a child, and as socially mature or as talented as a kid may be, having too many expectations of an only child can cause that kid to rebel, suffer, and feel bad inside.
Being the parent of an only child is such a gift, whether you couldn't have more kids or didn't want to! Make sure you manage your relationship with your sweet little one the right way, and years down the line, your bond will be stronger than you ever imagined!