31 Jan Only the Lonely
Have you ever wondered how your upbringing would catch up to you as a parent? I never put much thought into how being an only child would impact my parenting style until I gave birth to my second child. It was then that I started to feel like I had reached unknown territory. This family dynamic didn’t match anything I had lived through. I now understand how my status as an adult only child has significantly shaped the parent I’ve become.
Being an only child, there were certain guarantees in my life: my toys were always mine, fighting was a rarity in my house, yelling never occurred, and all my milestones were firsts and lasts for my parents. There are no do-overs when you’re the only one; whatever you’re taught, you don’t get to see a sibling try it another way. Most of the sibling relationships I encountered in my youth involved a lot of bickering and yelling, lots of name-calling, and tremendous amounts of tears. Despite witnessing all these moments, I still didn’t quite understand what it was like to have a sibling. If I ever got sick of seeing my friends fight with their brothers or sisters, I’d simply go home to a relaxed and quiet environment.
As the years passed, I grew accustomed to having things in my own order. Dr. Kevin Leman (2009), described that only children are “very thorough, deliberate, high achiever[s], self-motivated, fearful, cautious…can’t bear to fail, [have] very high expectations for self (p. 18).” These traits don’t disappear once only children, also called “lonely onlies” by Leman (2009), have children of their own (p. 19). These traits are almost heightened and make it harder to understand how to cope when life gets more chaotic with multiple children. Once I delivered our second child, I could tell my need to succeed at parenting got more intense. I cut myself less slack, tried to do it all, nearly crumbling at the attempt. I accounted these actions to being raised by such motivated, strong-minded individuals. Never did I take a moment to think it was the only child in me that made me reach for this “super mom” status. And I think I should point out that the urge to be this impossible ‘super parent’ was not something I desired, it was something I couldn’t control.
That brings me to the topic of control. I’ve grown to accept that as an only child, I am accustomed to a certain level of authority over my life. I never had an antagonist take away my toys, start fights, and push my buttons. I was usually able to control my home environment quite easily and without much resistance. I knew things in my room wouldn’t be disturbed, clothes would be in their place and I could always have my parents’ undivided attention. But once I became a parent, I honestly felt in the midst of a tornado, without the ability to escape. When I only had one child, looking back, it was easier to pick myself up and get things in the order I desired. Once I brought another child into our home, I felt my anxiety increase. I needed order and peace. Little did I know, as my children would get older, the peace would dissipate and the order would be out the window for good. Quickly after delivering our second child, I made my husband’s home office into a playroom. I needed to feel things were in their own place, organized, and less chaotic. Since then, I’ve worked on getting the playroom clean hundreds of times to simply see the Tasmanian devils, also known as my children, come in and wreak havoc on my hard work. These are the moments where my husband has to calmly say, “Last night you did a great job getting it in order. Let’s leave it at that.” It takes all the fibers in my body to keep from losing it. I’ve also caught myself on multiple occasions apologizing for the disorder of my once very put-together home, just to have the person say, “Sorry for what? Your house always looks good.” Little do they know my house would be immaculate if I could get enough hours in the day to put things in place.
The newest chapter my children have entered is sibling rivalry. They will yell, whine, cry, all for the sake of a toy. This is another moment, as an only child, I don’t know how to handle. I sometimes say, “Listen here you two!” Both kids will look at me. What do I say next? I don’t have any history dealing with this type of ‘insanity,’ so to speak. Most of the milestones in their lives I have a reference from which to take note, but this one I am easily ‘flying blind.’ I have no idea what I should say or how I should act. I’m constantly looking to my husband, who has a brother, and asking, “What comes next?” I need a user’s manual that explains how to deal with instances like these, because nothing in my parenting portfolio has prepared me for this stage of life.
That’s probably why, when people have their babies, I gush at the little infants who peacefully lay still and asleep while their parents wish they could fast-forward to when their child can walk and talk. I like order, routine, lists, and perfection. They are things I strive for, but as time has passed, I’ve been able to come to terms with the fact they aren’t necessary to get through life. I set my goals very high and most of the time I can see they are unrealistic. I have to remember the same goes for my kids and I easily forget that my children are exactly that, CHILDREN. I’ve had to take a step back and focus on what’s a necessity and what is a desire when prioritizing my demands. Parenting is ever evolving and inherently chaotic, because our children are not the same day-by-day. I am aware of these facts, but the only child in me will always try to take hold of the wheel.
Leman, K. (2009). The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group.
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