This post is sponsored by Responsibility.org as part of their Ask, Listen, Learn program. Now is a good time to start a conversation with your kids about alcohol!
Having an only child presents a unique set of parenting challenges that I never fully thought through until we entered the tween years.
Sure, there are plenty of things that are easier with a smaller family. Traveling is cheaper. No sibling arguments to referee. And it’s easy to get and give one-on-one time.
But my son, my only child, has a very different experience than I had as a child.
I was raised as one of four children, as was my husband. I was number 3 and he was number 2. That means we know what it means to be both the older and younger sibling.
As a younger sibling, you’re always inserting yourself in places you don’t belong: your sister’s closet, your brother’s room, and, of course, right in the middle of any friends they might have over. It’s how I learned the order of adolescence.- what high school friends are like, how tumultuous relationships can be, and the difficult dilemmas you often deal with.
As an older sibling, you’re showing your brother or sister who’s boss. You’re learning to assert yourself and find independence. And you’re learning that your peer relationships can be just as important as family relationships.
Whether it’s an older sister or younger brother or vice versa, having a sibling gives you a shared experience and can give you a built-in confidante when mom or dad doesn’t fit the bill.
But my son has no siblings and he has no at-home confidantes like I did. So it’s natural to assume that as he gets older, he may turn more to his peers. But with peers comes peer pressure.
He’s already learned so much from his friends (and their siblings). They practice ninja skills with a bo staff, they do crazy jumps off of the diving board, and they sit around theorizing about the multiverse.
But he has also engaged in some mildly inappropriate behaviors with his friends. Luckily, we have a close relationship that makes it easier to make course corrections and move on. And we turn it into a learning experience so that when more serious behaviors – like underage drinking – might arise, he is more equipped to handle it.
As he gets older, I do my best to maintain that close relationship. We swim at the pool together. We assemble LEGO sets together. And we love to check out the latest superhero movie.
But I am the parent and that means I have to make sure I’m not only his confidante but I’m also the one that guides him through new skills, experiences, and relationships.
Just the other day, I insisted he help me put away his laundry. He’s done it before but usually I’m folding it and he’s putting it in the drawers.
Out of nowhere, he asked me, “how do you fold a shirt?”
Growing up, I can remember my mother gathering all of the kids around to help fold laundry. It wasn’t something we were taught. It was just something we did.
With our small family, folding the laundry is something I usually take care of for him. I never thought about the fact that I wasn’t teaching him the most basic of life skills! So… I taught him!
Since that day, I’ve been challenging him more with every day tasks that I simply take for granted. No one taught me how to vacuum or how to weed a garden or how to open a pull tab on a can. These were things I did out of necessity or with the help of whoever was nearby to lend a hand. But he needs a little guidance and then he’s off and running with the biggest or simplest of new skills.
I now realize that my helping for so long might not have actually been helping him. So I’m challenging my son to step up his game with small assignments and tasks. And the best part is that he enjoys it. Instead of viewing these things as chores, as I thought he might, he views these things as moments of empowerment.
As he gets older, I know his confidence will be so important in helping him not only make smart choices but stick to them as well. These moments we’re sharing are really just small stepping stones on his path to independence and it’s just a bonus that it helps me out too!