I am an only child. Let me start by saying that I wouldn’t change a thing. But, let me explain to you a little about my childhood and how being the only one has shaped my journey in marriage, motherhood and in life. It was only in recent years, getting married, having kids and reflecting on what what shaped the mother I am today that made me recognize a few things I bypassed as an only child. Some may say growing up an only child may result in a lack of companionship and competitive play, and may even result in becoming a more selfish person.
Only children have even been “diagnosed” in some cases to have only child syndrome. Whether I have that or not, I only see it as what made me who I am today and honestly see it as one of my strengths. I can be selfish. I need a lot of me time, but who doesn’t? Some other preconceived negative characteristics of the only child can be they are very shy, they are slower to mature, they lack competitiveness, can be attention seekers and face difficulty working in teams. The way I see it (speaking from experience), we only-children typically know ourselves very well, are self-sufficient, self-entertaining, content and well-mannered.
As a child, I preferred playing by myself. I didn’t have to fight for my parents’ attention. I wore weird clothes, listened to my parents’ music (metal and folk), I packed my own lunch and figured out dinner. I didn’t like team sports and I still hate group projects. I preferred staying inside, I drank coffee ever since I can remember, and I always thought my parents were cool (still do). I had a fun-loving childhood and never had many complaints, but a big part of me always wanted a bigger extended family. I was basically the only kid around at family gatherings, I spent holidays listening to stories full of medical jargon on my mom’s side, and the horrors of the restaurant business and politics on my dad’s. There was no kids’ table, and decorating for holidays was minimal.
My parents both worked very hard and were of service to others. My mom commuted for her job, and although she was home later, she had weekends off where we spent a lot of our time like the Gilmore Girls, eating Haagen Daz and chips and watching the same chick flicks over and over again. My dad did all of the grocery shopping, gave me rides when I needed them, was always home when I got there and came to watch anything I became involved with. I was a cheerleader, and he would come watch me cheer.
With busy parents, inevitably I was with my grandparents often. I was lucky to be close to both sets of grandparents and they took me everywhere with them. I spent a lot of holidays in Arizona and those are some of my happiest memories because all my family, not just the usual trio, would all be there. My dad’s mother went all out for family gatherings (and still does). My grandma is one of my best friends to this day; we both are sentimental, we love fancy dishes and we love a good party (which is usually thrown by us).
My mother’s mother is another one of my favorite people in the world. She is very stylish, loves her gin and tonics, is sassy like me and she has been my guru for motherhood. She raised three kids at the age of 15 in the middle of nowhere on a ranch in Montana. Whenever I think of complaining about being a stay at home mom, I remind myself that I have a dishwasher, a Target within three miles and… Netflix.
Both of my parents came from families with three siblings so my only child experience was my own. They said that when they had me that they were happy with just one. Come to think of it, it may not have been a choice, as the women on my mother’s side of the family inherited early onset menopause. My mom experienced it the earliest at age 26 right after she had me. However it went down, I ended up as the only one.
All of that being said, all throughout my rich and quirky childhood, somewhere inside me, I knew that I wanted to raise my family differently. I wanted my kids to experience big family gatherings, family dinners together, to sit at the kids’ table and have lots of cousins. I wanted to make a big deal of family gatherings (like my grandparents) all the time. I became a stepmom to my husband’s eight-year old son, Caleb, at the age of 22.
Totally unprepared, I tried my best to start putting some of these life-long thoughts into action. I was not a great cook, but I would try my best to make meals for the whole family. We would have family gatherings and I would watch in awe and 12-15 people would gather and my mother-in-law would pull off the most amazing meals. My cooking idol is still my mother-in-law (definitely worth aspiring to). My husband will tell you, and hopefully my stepson, that I’ve come a long way, and now we have family meals in our house regularly. My little kids have always thought I was great in the kitchen, but they will eat old crackers off the floor of my car.
So, I knew when I got pregnant with my planned first baby, Grace, that I wanted to be a stay at home mom. I wanted to be there and not miss what my parents missed with me. I wanted to celebrate the big things and little things with them. I haven’t been back to “work” since, but the job that I have is the most important job I’m not ready to leave yet.
Today I get to stay at home, raise my two girls and keep a watchful eye on my teenage stepson’s busy life. He is almost 17 and is quite an accomplished athlete and doing really well in school. Grace, my oldest daughter shows such different attributes than the ones I possessed at her age. She is so confident, so strong-willed, not an introvert like her mom. When I go to pick her up from school, she says “Five more minutes, mom.” I would have been waiting for my mother all day and been over the moon for her to pick me up.
Grace is most definitely not a four-year-old version of me. She knows that I will pick her up every day with a big hug and a snack waiting in the car. And while she is away at Montessori during the day, I get to spend quality time with my youngest, Elin. I watch her self-entertain as I had as a child, like caring for her dolls, cleaning up her toys or bringing me books to read to her. I love that she will know all about what is cool, what music to listen to and what not to wear (according to her big sister), she will be more apt to try the things her sister did because she’s always along for the ride, she will never feel alone because her sister will always be there. Having kids has made me branch out from my normal hermit style tendencies and embrace my weirdness. I never thought my first child would be so adventurous and curious.
I still catch myself thinking, if I only had one child it would be so much easier. Traveling would be less of a hassle, finding babysitters would be easier, money wouldn’t be so tight and I would definitely get to shower more often. I sometimes think maybe I wouldn’t yell so much – I am yelling things like, “Get off the countertop, stop playing in the toilet, where is your underwear, or put the dead bird down!”
Sometimes I get resentful when I’m making family dinners or doing endless laundry. I even find myself saying things like “When I was your age…..” (I’m sure you’ve all been there). They have all taught me so much, and even though I am still selfish about my me time, they love me anyway. And if they didn’t, they would never have clean undies again. So ultimately, being an only child has made me a hyper-aware parent because I can remember so vividly the things which I wanted more of. Every kid is so different that it makes me crazy that there is even a thing called only child syndrome, even if do identify with it a little. Nothing makes me prouder than saying I’m a mom of three.