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From three to one: Parenting the only child left behind

From three to one: Parenting the only child left behind

It’s been a strange year. I’ve unexpectedly found myself the mother of an only child. Oh, I know having your sibling move out of home isn’t the same thing as never having them at all… and yet.

It’s really hard for the only child left behind.

My Lottie has gone from being one of three in a rather rowdy household to being a not-quite only. Both Max and Arabella have been gone this year — Max to university in Wollongong and Arabella off in a field somewhere doing her Army Gap Year.* Our home is quieter, more peaceful and… maybe just a little bit dull? We’re not used to being such a small unit, yet. 

* Yes, I know! I’ve been quiet on this as I’m still processing what it all means. But I will write about it one day, I promise.

At first we were practically whispering around each other, but a few months in and we’re much better at being ourselves again. Our new selves — the lonely only and her parents. It’s oh-so quiet. Shh shh. It’s oh so still.

So far, these are the negatives of parenting an ‘only child’ — an expression I’ve always found quite strange. Since when is a singular child an ‘only’. It implies that there are meant to be others (which is my case is true, but in the case of an actual only child, is most likely not).

The negatives

The only child left behind

Loathe the focus

Lottie hates the focus and I can’t blame her. Perhaps it’s because we’ve come from parenting three to just the one, but we are a bit too micro-managey and none of us can stand it.

What do parents of one child do to stop being such over-bearing parents? We don’t mean to, but there’s no one else pulling our focus so aaaallll the love is pouring into her in a way that’s just too much. It is possible to love your child away, I reckon.

Loathe the quiet

Music, sure. We have music on most of the time, but it’s not the same as people talking, yelling, laughing, fighting, screeching, sobbing and guffawing.

One thing I know for sure: teenagers are much, much rowdier than adults will ever be. Bart and I are just not bringing the noise like Max and Ari did.

It's hard to suddenly be an only child

Loathe the lonely

Lottie misses her siblings dearly (well, one sib in particular, but that’s a story for another day). She is used to having an in-built friendship group and it’s hard to adjust to having to find it outside the fam. She’s still finding her way.

The dog is equally lost.

The positives

That said, the positives of having just one child in the house even things out. And, honestly, they are exactly the same things at the negatives.

Love the focus

How pleasing to be able to direct our energy into the everyday wants and needs of our only child. That’s not to say that Arabella and Max aren’t requiring support — they are. Just not the everyday kind that a teen at home demands. It’s beyond lovely to have the time, energy and patience to be there for her exactly how she needs.

Love the quiet

And breathe. After 20 years of parenting I know this to be true: kids are loud, man. It’s so nice to be able to sit with my thoughts. To not have them interrupted every five seconds. I remember saying to Max one day, “Stop interrupting me!” and the confusion on his face as I hadn’t actually been saying anything at the time.

Love the lonely

Of course, I don’t love that Lottie is lonely, but I do love that she’s spending more time with us than ever before. It’s delightful to have her around. She’s such a joyful, funny, curious and engaging person to be with. Not that she was different when the other two lived here, but now we get more of her light.

All this has made me realise that parents of one child have possibly always had these delights. Time and peace to focus on their dear child, rather than trying to listen to them over the cacophony of the usual family life. I can see how nice that would be for a child, I really can.

There’s one other big positive, of course: extra cash. It’s so much cheaper to go anywhere with only one kid. Eat out, no problem. Go see a show, bring it on. Travel around, yep we can afford that.

That said, don’t get me started on how expensive it is to have your kid off studying in another city. Megabucks. Fortunately, our self-raising daughter has joined the army to counter-balance the cost of our rock-star son. She’s nothing if not considerate, that one!

Images by Marina Shatskikh