When Your Family is Small, Think Big
by Brieanne Dyas
Who has the power to wake you up at 4 AM and single-handedly cause you to cancel your Friday night plans?
It’s not your new boss; it is your only child. And, like bosses, only children can become pretty demanding if parents allow it.
The “me first” attitude is rough on all parents, no matter how adept at parenting they are. A demanding two- year- old rattles the smartest of women and the strongest of men. The six- year- old who steadfastly refuses to eat anything placed in front of her causes most parents high levels of worry and frustration.
“I can’t get her to dress,” says Arlene Unger, mother of one. “It’s not a question of disliking school. She loves school. She simply wants to procrastinate, to play in her room. It drives me crazy and she knows it.”
Power struggles such as Unger’s are especially difficult in only-child households. In the multi-sibling household, with so much going on in the morning, Mom or Dad can’t possibly meet every child’s demands. But for the singleton, Mom and Dad can be at the ready. They are more available, freer to give the attention the child seeks, and in Unger’s case, free to spend time arguing the intricacies of dressing oneself.
The Solution: Think Big
“In order to achieve a livable balance with one child, parents of onlies must think big; they must operate as if they had a clan,” says Dr. Susan Newman, social psychologist and author of Parenting an Only Child: The Joys and Challenges of Raising Your One and Only. “Thinking big means delegating reasonable responsibilities early on.”
When your normally angelic child writhes on the floor in a tear-stained, tantrum-throwing mess, the easiest thing to do is just dress her yourself. Resist, as this does little to encourage initiative or independent learning. Caving in can lead to subsequent tantrums, as your child becomes dependent on you to dress her, to buy the toy he wants, pick up her toys, prepare whatever meal he requests.
“The best recourse is a precise explanation of what you expect from your child and when you expect it done. Your outline should specify that the request is fair and cannot be argued. If it has a benefit to the child, tell her- brushing your teeth prevents cavities; drinking milk helps your bones grow,” advises Dr. Newman.
Your mission is not to gain immediate cooperation or 100 percent perfection, but to help develop your child’s sense of responsibility, along with instilling a feeling of pride at a job successfully completed. Assign tasks realistically. A four-year-old can place her cup in the sink; a school-age child can fill her backpack for the next day; and all children can turn off the lights when they leave a room.
The key to thinking big is to pretend that you had three other children in your household, every time you ask your only for help. Would you make four beds? How about four different lunches…or dinners?
Only Child: Not Your Only Focus
In addition to teaching your child to be more responsible and fostering a sense of independence, thinking big has an attractive benefit for you- more time for yourself. While this may feel selfish, it is necessary for the sanity of parents and the well-being and independence of your child.
When the need to become the director of your child’s life takes center stage, step back. Think of the reasons why you chose to stop at one child and the many benefits of only having one child. You also have the freedom to have your own life. “Parents who have interests beyond their child, are excellent role models of independence,” says Newman.
Thinking big is crucial to finding a suitable balance where everyone wins. While only-child households have to work a bit harder to find that balance, a successful outcome depends more on parental attitudes than on the number of siblings.
Avoiding Only Child Pitfalls: Tips*
- Thinking big means assigning your child age appropriate family chores.
- Keep your expectations in check.
- Set boundaries. Not only do children act and react better when boundaries are in place, but they will also know how to act when out of your sight.
- Define acceptable behavior clearly.
- Remember, you are not alone. The single child family is the fastest growing family unit in the US. Speak to other parents of onlies for advice on what works for them.
- Help your child build a social network. Onlies learn from friends in the same way they learn from siblings.
*Adapted from Parenting an Only Child: The Joys and Challenges of Raising Your One and Only (Broadway Books) by Dr. Susan Newman.
Brieanne Valencoure Dyas
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
is a freelance lifestyle writer whose work has appeared in Woman’s World, Tea Magazine, Philadelphia Style and D.C. Style. During her childhood, she was known as the reigning queen of the tea party circuit and has the manners to prove it. She currently lives in New Jersey
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When I met the love of my life, there was his previous live to be contended with. One consquence was him being a father. Becoming a step-mom was not on my list of most desirable experiences. Images of Cinderella and stories of moms with step children that would do anything in life to make their step-moms' live miserable populated my mind. Raven-moms and dragons, conditioning through fairy tales needed to be overcome. Not having gone into Jung and his school of thought at that stage, I completely missed the xxxx factor the fairy tales presented. It did not help that my step-daughter spoke Afrikaans and I only just managed fluent conversation in English. In hindsight not knowing what to do was a blessing in disguise.
What worked for my step-daughter and myself - I did not try to win her approval or closeness. I accepted her but waited for her to make the first step. She was three years old on our first encounter. I had no experience as mom (not in this live in any case) and no younger sisters or brothers that ever prepared me to enjoy and care for little ones. My "first" child, a step-daughter.
There are born mothers and other mothers. I belonged to the latter. Some moms are naturals. You give them any child and they instictively know what to do and how to embrace it like their own. They see a baby, they become "broody". I was not wired like that and it took a bit of getting used to.
I take my hat off to my husband. In an age where maintenance disputes mostly end up in court, a lot of fathers loose interest in pursuing contact after divorces. He never lost interest in keeping in touch with his daughter. Her mom also contributed to a successful outcome by teaching her child English and encouraging contact.
My stepdaughter has always been very well mannered. The proverbial good girl. Although a bit shy initially, her curiosity got the better of her and she did initiate the first couple of steps. Despite her openness towards me, I did realize how difficult it was for me to get in touch with the little girl inside. Somewhere along the line, I seemed to have stopped hopping and skipping. Barbie Dolls did definitely no longer entice me and hour long play with tattered pots and pans had lost its magic. Yet it was play and arts that got us tentatively closer. Drawing, making lamps out of papermaché-balloons and trying out hand stands and cartwheels on the grass. A bridge for the lack verbal communication.
Step-mom according to the law, I feel more like an older sister or a friend. Not even in my imagination would I like to try and take her moms place. She is growing into a young lady and although emotionally it was not always easy in the beginning she truly won my heart. I feel very blessed to have her in my live.
There are friendly dragons after all...
Carmen M. Schnider-Kemp
This is also a call for all you step-moms and step-dads out there. For those of us how maybe did not manage so well or are just brand-new at "step"parenting, I would love to hear from you. What worked for you and what did you need to watch out for? Your experience might help other parents to build a harmonious relationship with their step-children. Click on the Contact us link in the footer of the page and share your story with us.
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Wednesday, December 06, 2006 2:35 PM
Subject: Single parenting
Something I have taught myself and my two sons:
I am their mother and they were born from my body but I did not create them and I do not own them. They are individuals. They will make choices in life and they will have to face the consequences, good or bad. I have taught Duran and Slade that "mother" simply means:"guidance councellor here on earth chosen specifically for you by God".
My sons have never feared telling me anything, they have always come home from school, friends etc and have asked me something that they have heard or found out. They know that I will be there to unravel the mystery no matter how embarrassing it may get.
(Belinda's e-mail is protected due to extensive spam readers that harvest e-mails on the internet; if you would like to contact Belinda, fell free to e-mail me and I will forward your mail to Belinda)
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