When people ask me how many kids I have, I always say “just” one. I reflect further to think why I used the word “just” when I did not really need to. The change in people’s expressions when I say that I have “just” one kid is so unique and equally unforgettable. I am not sure if I am able to read clearly what their faces say. I find myself peeping into the minds of other parents who have more than one kid and wonder if they are thinking how much easier my life is, how much less I have to save up for my kid’s college education or how much more time I have on my hands because I am not juggling the schedule of after-school activities of two or more kids. Often their unsaid words translate to me as me being selfish or lazy, or they simple doubt my fertility as a woman.
It should not bother me I tell myself as I watch other moms or dads wait at carpools. I marvel at the way their three or four kids settle in different places in their car, before they drive away from the school building. There is a lot of space in my car, but I just have one spot to fill. Is that bad? I think again.
I hated it when my son got assignments from school titled “Write an essay about your brother or sister”. I would take the liberty and change it to writing about a friend or a cousin because he had no siblings. The teacher will not know, I would assure my son. But really, don’t they know only children exist? I vented in my mind. I cursed the education system for coming up with such topics that exposed my limitations as a parent.
I think I have been conditioned into feel guilty of having a single kid, of having deprived him of the company of siblings. I carry the burden of not allowing him the pleasure of having another child to snuggle into bed with, to share with or fight over toys with, to split the space in the backseat of the car with, or screaming, crying and having meltdowns with someone who is not his parents. I did not provide him with the experience of any relationship other than his parents. Was I not allowing him to grow normally?
“The sibling relationship is actually one of the best vehicles for children to learn how to navigate relationship struggles and to learn about conflict resolution as they grow up, so many single children will miss this opportunity unless they socialize extensively with other children or child relatives who serve almost as honorary siblings.” The words from this Psychology Today article stuck with me like words from the Bible. I worked extra hard to be extra nice to his friends and constantly texted and emailed other parents to set up play dates on a regular basis. School holidays, early release, teacher workdays, I always had some arrangement in place, some kid who was available, even if it was not exactly what my son wanted to do. As a parent, I had to fill in the blanks with a social life that would come closest to having a sibling.
I choose not to explain why I did not have more kids, but I believe I am always doing my best to fill in those gaps of emptiness that I forced myself to believe existed. No, my son does not have hand-me-down clothes or a bunk bed companion to chat with every night. No, he does not have to share his computer, video games or snacks. But, he is well-behaved and friendly, and knows to share and give when required. I guess that means he turned out OK, right?
There is no magic recipe for parenting. There is no formula for raising a single child or a dozen kids in the same house. There is no guarantee that kids with one or more siblings will have a better piece of the bigger pie or will deal with life in a better way.
I have learned each child carves his or her own destiny; a parent can only provide the tools.