I receive many emails from mothers and sometimes fathers who are not sure whether to have another child or not, so I thought I would post this recent email from a younger only child adult. Whist ideally no parent gets divorced or looses a partner – leaving them alone with just a child for company. The reality is that it can happen, and will put an extra strain on one child who may not have another person to talk too. This is the ‘role reversal’ the writer speaks about. Having to ‘parent a parent’ can be extremely damaging to adolescent development, particularly when they are the only one to support a parent. This is because the young person cannot get on and develop the ability to psychologically separate from a parent who is relying on them emotionally. This will keep them in a semi-dependent state until the parent is ready to take up their parenting responsibilities again. Sadly some parents never do, and the result on the only child can be a sense of responsibility for that parent’s welfare and happiness, usually for the rest of that parent’s life. I will offer some advice for them at the end.
“I’m an only child and have always found it lonely. I have no one to talk to. It was even more difficult when my parents divorced as my mother took it very bad and would put all her problems on me. I was only 17 and trying to deal with being a teenager and school at the time. But I had to do a role reversal with my mother and I had no one to share it with. There was no one who could understand what I was going through at that time. As I get older I still wish I had a sibling, just someone who knew what my childhood was like and had shared it with me, it makes me determined to make sure I have at least 2 children.”
For young people, in particular, I would suggest they try to access support though school or College. Most educational establishments now, have counsellors who will offer support, so that these types of difficulties can be spoken about and worked through. As I spent many years setting up and managing youth counselling services in the UK, I do believe these offer a valuable service. They are free and easily accessible and do not require any sort of referral.
Anyone who has benefitted from this, as an only child, I would love to hear from.