Friday, February 10, 2006

Parenting an Only

It's been a rather busy week. Two visits to the optometrist and two mornings at work.

'Work'? What's that?

I can't remember the last time I was actually paid to work. It must have been nearly ten years ago. Since then I've been a full-time mum, occasional academic, regular parent volunteer at school, community groups, etc, mainly in services for women and children, and only recently added 'eco-entrepreneur' to the list.

The nursery my son attended needed a 'helper' two mornings this week and I was asked to do that.

Did I enjoy it? Yes, it was great helping the children do things like put on their coats, encouraging them to complete play activities, and I don't even mind the mundane tasks like cutting out shapes from old cereal boxes for their glueing activites, washing up milk bottles, even cleaning the toilets (which is not my job at home).

But would I do this on a regular basis?



It has however given me opportunities to compare my son with other children.

For a few weeks now I have been fretting over the issues of parenting an only child and had even borrowed a book from the library on this topic.

The nursery context helped me to compare the behaviour of my child with these other children. (I had avoided making any comparison with my son's peers while he was that age. It would only have stressed me out!)

Are only children more pampered, for example?

Well, there was this middle child (MC) from a family I know. When it came to tidying up time, all the children helped. MC, however, simply refused to lend a hand.

I asked him nicely several times. 'No' was one answer he gave. The other was 'I can't hear you'.

The other teachers tell me that he does not ever help. The other children had also noticed this behaviour and told me in not so many words.

But MC is one of five children. How can his parents afford not to make him help tidy up at home?

Well, refusing to tidy up at school does not imply he does not tidy up at home, that is not the point.

The point is with one child, I have had the time to make him do things (tidy up, sort his toys, etc). If I had five, it would be far easier for me to do those chores rather than allow my child time to perform these tasks.

Tidying up and putting things away in a certain way is not an issue of making the house look nice. As a social anthropologist and going back to the basic issues of separating the 'sacred' from 'profane' in the area of religion (courtesy of French sociologist Emile Durkheim), I believe that knowledge comes from an ability to classify.

We classify Mummy from Daddy, darkness from light, cat from dog, and in making a child put things away in a certain order, we are actually teaching the child the technique of classification.

Books belong in one box, musical instruments in another, art and craft materials somewhere else. Then as the little one's territorial empire grows, it is building toys in this box, cars in that, science things in this and animals in that.

Next, the dishwasher. I used to put the cutlery basket (having first removed all the sharp cutting knives) on the counter and my son would, standing on a stool, put away the knives, forks, big spoons, little spoons, etc, accordingly back in the drawer.

One can even extend this to clothes that have been folded: Mummy's, Daddy's and child's.

I am no psychologist but I believe that by so doing, the neural networks (brains) of the young toddler get stimulated and the 'connections' multiply, enabling them to store (and hopefully retreive) more information in the long run.

Do note: Scientists classify all the time: solids from liquids, soluble from insoluble, metals from non-metals, organic from inorganic, the different animal and plant phyllum, family, genus, etc.

If I had m0re than one kid, it would be much quicker to do those things myself, thus depriving my child this opportunity to learn.

I will say more about parenting an only after I've finished reading this book. I would appreciate readers adding their comments on this issue because it is really close to my heart at the moment.

Back to Organic-Ally.


LAM said...

In some ways, having more than one child could be seen as easier then having just one. If there is only one child in the house then any attention the child needs (and it is always PLENTY!) must come from the parents, whereas if there are other children around, some of the attention can come from them. However, the real point I want to make is that whatever the number of children, it's a lazy mother (or father) who does all the work, rather than teaching the children to help. It is parents' duty, after all, to educate their children.

LSP said...

It will be interesting to know what other parents would say to Lam's comment that 'it's a lazy parent who does all the work' instead of teaching the children. My mum used to do all the housework and her in-laws (one auntie in particular) used to criticize her. Her excuse was she wanted all her six children to concentrate on school work. Having said that, I remember that I was always the one supervising the clean-up after play-time with my cousins as I was the 'oldest' in that group of cousins. So whilst I did no laundry (all by hand) or washing up after meals, I did look after my own toys, books, etc.

However I agree that we should teach our children to do these chores so that they could live independent lives when they grow up.

Lam said...

Hello Isp and thank you for your comments. Homework…well, that's another issue (there's too much of it in my opinion, especially for younger kids), but that aside, other reasons I feel kids should be taught to help with chores are (i) it gives them a sense of belonging, of responsibility, in the family, and (ii) it reminds them that parents are human beings too, with energy limits, and with lives and interests of their own which are just as important as the kids' lives and interests. It's a question of teaching respect for others, I think.