I just got off the phone with my brother, a single parent (with live-in girlfriend) who has a seven year old daughter. He's feeling frustrated lately, feeling like the bad dad, because he can only handle about 30 minutes of sitting on the floor with his daughter before he gets bored. I had to laugh a little at that -- I'm lousy at sitting on the floor. But I'm lucky to have a spouse with a slightly higher-than-average tolerance for it. We talked about finding a low-cost evening activity for his daughter a couple of times per week, to get her through the long winter. Even with school taking up so much of a child's day, being the only child can be challenging. I'm raising an only, with my spouse; my sister is likewise sharing custody of an only child. We think a lot about what it means to raise an only child in today's culture, where social isolation is much less common, at least in urban Minneapolis and Dallas areas.
There are so many myths, theories about parenting an "only." I've never noticed anything really wrong with my only-child adult friends (nothing easily attributable to their lack of siblings at any rate.) Conversely, as an oldest child, I know other oldest children and do tend to see patterns of behavior there -- so maybe I just lack the frame of reference. I've heard it's selfish to have just one child -- who will they play with? I've heard that in this world, on this planet, the only hope of equitable distribution of resources is for us all to keep to one child in the family. Which is more true?
Certainly my family is one of togetherness and apart-ness; all of my siblings are actually half-siblings, and my father's children really don't know me at all. There's ten years between my brother and I, seven years between my sister and I, and now that Heather lives in Dallas the cousins see little of one another. That grieves me. I'm often surprised at how fragmented we are as an extended family, given the early years of childhood when Grandma was alive and my mother's very large family (ten siblings, each with multiple children) gathered for all the holidays in Grandma's tiny home. All that change when Mary died, and my brother and sister barely knew those happier days of running with packs of cousins.
I think now about the economy, about our money situation at home. Just a minute ago I signed H. up for music lessons on Saturday mornings, just to give him more to do with other kids (and because the class is conveniently located in my workplace.) My brother would like to do something like this for his daughter, but there's not much where he lives that's affordable. It's a transitory society, a conundrum, where our conceptualizations of family haven't kept pace with economic reality at all. There are many examples of this. How long before parents can be assured their children will be guaranteed food, clothing, companionship and safety? How much longer can we wait?