Monday, April 15, 2013

Parents,Latch Key's And The Case Of The Only Child

                 Growing up in a suburban/semi rural community as I did, one of the first things that I was asked when meeting other children my age was did I have any brothers or sisters. Never thought about it at all before hand. When I asked my mother and father why that it was that I had no brothers and sisters, they said that it was because I was an only child and that they weren't interested in having anymore children. That was an extremely satisfying explanation. When I did get harassed and bullied during my school years it was never for that particular reason. All the same, this would not be the last time that I would have to face the music in terms of being the only child in my own family.

                  My mother had two surviving half siblings. My father and his mother, on the other hand, had both been only children. As I grew older I began to hear them told by child psychologists and other adults, none of whom indicated they themselves were only children, that people who grew up without brothers and sisters would never have healthy social interactions with other. These were discussions I was not meant to hear. But I did, as most children tend to. Sometimes they made me sad to hear them. After a time, however I just became quiet about it. Until I was 11-12 years old that is. And it was time to make it clear that I, and others like me were misunderstood people.

              In many different ways its the root of many of the struggles I've endured with people most of my life. After all these years, the time seems right for me to set the record straight on how I feel about how much of society views only children. As this two year old Time magazine cover shown above illustrates, the concept of the only child in the world is completely misunderstood.  True there are economic factors in society that contribute to the acceptance of only children. However related political thinking results in only children's many detractors in the past. That opinion basically stated that an only child would eternally see themselves as the center of the universe and have trouble sharing.

            My own eyes paint a different picture however. The ability to share and be kind has more to do with cognitive parenting than siblings. When I came home from school or a friends house growing up, I could count on at least one parent always being home. I belong to the generation of the latch key kid. Most other children I knew were latch key kids. And they often had several siblings. Mostly younger than them. And between holding down jobs and attending to the other siblings, these peers I knew didn't often have anyone to go home to. And it had an effect on their behavior very strongly. Some older than me might've thought I was self centered automatically.  Some of that was because they seldom took the time to know anything about me.

           In fact it was clear that many of these latch key children had some of the worst behavioral qualities one could ever find. Even ones observable to a preteen such as myself. Many of them became hardened  bullies of the most frightening kind-even to the point where no authority figure in a school was able to discipline them effectively. All that an alleged "spoiled,arrogant and socially awkward" only child such as myself could do was operate as the community eccentric. And to a degree I did. Because most of the social structure of youth is based on social status and being part of a team. Probably didn't help I showed no interest, and often open disdain even then, for organized athletics.

         To this very day, I still feel very much like that desirous and somewhat insecure 19-20 year old. The person who has vital knowledge that could benefit others greatly, and could be a somewhat more productive participant in the dialog's talking place around them if given the chance. I am no longer convinced its only children who are the only ones considered truly hopeless. Its children in general. It seems today ignorance is expected of young people so, they consequently behave accordingly. People tend to believe that discipline, usually of the physical sort, is a solution to the problem. Being at the age where I could now theoretically have a preteen child myself, I now see the solution is parenting: a relationship between family and their children (or child) based on mutual trust. And even an only child who feels trust will very likely have a heart of goodness his entire life.

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