I had this very interesting request to do an interview for a radio station in South Korea. You can listen to it here. You will need to scroll down to 3rd July: Only Child Anxiety.
The reason for the interview was a result of a recent series of accidents in Korea which have led parents worried about the safety of their children. The anxiety has been worse for mothers with an only child. Some apparently get so depressed they are not able to carry out their everyday lives. This has been particularly true for mothers who have sent their only son to the military following the tragic shooting incident at the GOP.
Of course when anyone looses a child they are devastated so in that sense it is the same for all parents whether they have one child or several. However, when you have only one child it can feel particularly devastating because all you hopes and aspirations for that child disappear and there is no other child to carry on the family continuity. Coupled with this is the loss of a sense of being either a mother or father. In my experience grieving can be even more profound for a parent of an only child because an important part of their sense of who they are ie as a parent, disappears. One mother, having lost her only son said she felt ‘as if my whole body is screaming for a child’. Perhaps this physical or bodily loss is greater for women who have gone through nine months of carrying and giving birth to a baby than men whose fathering is not such a visceral experience.
Some people are able to help themselves with this sense of loss by working with children or people of the same age, as their child was when he/she died. This may give some solace but it can take many years for that loss to be come less acute.
A loss of a child can have an enormous impact on the parents’ relationship and when there is only one child this can be even more severe and some people feel they can no longer remain together as they feel the ‘glue’ their child gave them is no longer there.
Equally, when there are other children they can be detrimentally affected by the loss of a sibling, both their own loss of that relationship but also they often have a sense of ‘losing’ their parents’ in the grieving process they are going through. Sadly this can mean that the child or children are left feeling a double loss. Sometimes this can be compounded by a feeling that the lost sibling becomes the ‘golden child’, and they may feel that they can never receive the same love from a parent as was felt towards this lost child.
Children who have been born subsequent to a loss of a child often feel subconsciously that they have to make up for the loss of the former child and feel a greater responsibility towards the parents’, whilst simultaneously never feeling they are good enough to make up for the lost child.
In the interview I gave, I was somewhat guarded at being drawn into saying it is much harder for parents’ of an only child, because I believe it is a devastating experience for any parent. You cannot quantify grief and it seems to me unacceptable to say one person’s grief is worse than another’s. Whilst the loss for the parent is enormous if there are siblings they will be grieving too. It would be good to know if grieving together might help both the parents’ and the child, but unfortunately in grief one is often locked into oneself and is not readily available to others.
My heart goes out to all those people who have lost children and I hope they are able to find peace.