When I was a little-un I used to play a game with my parents called “licky eww”. I’m pretty sure that my mum made this game up (I googled it to make sure). The rules of licky eww are that you poke out your tongue and the other person pokes out their’s and then you see how close you get to touching tongues before one of you inevitably pulls aways and says “licky eww!” Cue total hysterics.
When Jeff and I got together, I told him about licky eww and he could not mask his horror. (Just to make it clear so that DOCS aren’t called retrospectively, we never actually touched tongues!) But even so, the thought of playing such a game with one’s parents grossed Jeff out. Totally.
I got to see my parents being total goof balls more than pretty much any other kid I know, and I always thought this was something to do with me being an only child. That they had to be my playmates – part-sibling, part-parent.
I think it is fair to say that licky eww is emblematic of everything that is both right and wrong with the only child parental dynamic I am most familiar with.
It’s entirely possible that whatever topic came up for writing this week, my mind would have found a way of twisting it towards being about only children. It’s something that’s on a background channel in my mind 24 hrs a day to some extent at the mo. Jeff and I both say that we’re sure that Leo could handle having another sibling nine months from now, but that we’re just not…. quite. ready. Yet. So while I “get ready” I weigh up the pros and cons of only childness. Wanting to do the right thing for Leo, as well as the right thing for ourselves. The feeling deep in my gut says that we are going to have another one, but still I find the internal debate rages.
Here’s a little preview…
Only child – pros
- Maximum parental attention
- Parents become like best friends/flatmates/siblings
- No siblings to fight with/get beaten up by
- Due to lots of adult interaction and conversation, you find it easy to get along with/become friends with older people
- Don’t have to share (can either make you a very generous or a very stingy person, or mixture of both – so really this is neither here nor there)
- Family less stretched financially
- No sibling rivalry/fights
- Less family (and therefore more time for people you chose to hang around)
- Promotes strong friendships with people outside the family
Only child – cons
- Maximum parental attention (narcissism, solipsism etc.)
- Parents become like best friends – can be privy to stuff that is a bit too much ‘in the adult realm’
- No siblings to play with/love/raise families alongside/share memories with as you get older
- No siblings to gang up against your parents with/get toughened up by (I am such a wuss)
- Adults out-number children in the household. You’re living with a couple – can be a bit like a third wheel.
- Due to lots of adult conversation, can be a bit of a bore/not know how to have fun
- Less family (to hang out with)
- Sole responsibility for your ageing parents
- Even if you have lots of close friends – a best friend is not family. Blood (and saliva) are thicker than water.
Would you like to hear my saddest only-child stories? The first is that when I was about seven years old, I wanted to play elastics. Not having any siblings to play it with, I used chairs to hold the elastic, and eventually it flung off the end of the chair and smacked me in the eyeballs. My eyes swelled and closed over and were very sore. But the physical pain was nowhere near as bad as the pain of the self-pity I felt at having been reduced to playing a game with two chairs instead of two humans. This is honestly the only time in my childhood where I can remember wishing for siblings. The rest of the time I seemed aware that I had a sweet deal. I could go over to friends’ houses to play, but when I came home it was chilled out and all my toys were my own. There was no shouting or hitting or storming off or grabbing like I saw at my friends’ houses. Everyone in my household felt very reasonable and looked after the welfare of the group. (I’m trying my best to not cloud my memories with what I think now. I seriously had very reasoned logic as a small child… I remember before the age of eight (because we were still in NZ) wondering what I would do my PhD about when I was old enough. I decided I would do a study of how many ants a person killed in a lifetime by accidentally stepping on them. I was a serious bird.)
My other saddest only-child story hasn’t happened yet, but I dread it. Being so close with my mum and dad, I hate the thought that when they’re gone there’s no one left to remember them with. No fourth witness to all the love and fun we had as a family. That one brings tears to my eyes every time. I hope they live for many, many years to come.
In my twenties I became aware of the phrase “one’s a pet, two’s a family”. I fucking hate that phrase! In my adult years I intermittently offer counsel to women I meet who have only children and feel terribly guilty about it. I tell them that their children’s lives will still be rich and full and the women nod with flecks of tears in their eyes. Come on people! It’s not the end of the world! Surely though, only children must be on the rise in Australia – considering that men and women are having children later. The mind boggles about the cultural shift that has occurred in China.
Annoyingly for the conclusion of this story, but fortunately for humanity, I find myself thinking that the experience of only-childness is like everything else in life: swings and round-abouts. Neither a particularly good, nor a particularly bad phenomenon. I know some kick arse only children, and I know some painful ones, just as I know some people from bigger families who are rad, and some who are dullards.
As for Jeff and I, we’ll most probably get round to it, so please don’t take this as an invitation to nag me into (or out of) having another kid. Besides – I’m an only child, so I can’t handle any form of criticism 😉