You may not know this, but a pecking order exists among moms. Though subtle and unspoken, women always know where we stand in relation to mothers around us. A few years ago, I discovered my place in the Mom hierarchy, which is right smack at the very bottom. Why, you may ask? Well, it’s not because I’m neglectful or domineering. And it’s not because I serve snacks with trans fat at playgroup, which I swear I never do. It’s because I’m mom to an only child.
When I first became aware of how other mothers perceived me, I thought it was a bit funny. Heck, I was even quietly relieved – look how little everyone expects from me! With an only child, offers to babysit children of larger families are met with a chuckle. And nobody wants my opinion about topics such as stress (moms of onlies apparently have no reason to stress), sibling rivalry or even grocery shopping. This, I thought, is fantastic.
But then I realized something. Sure, everyone sees me as “Mom Light,” which isn't a big deal. But the expectations on my daughter are ridiculously high. Her every move is refracted through the lens of The Only Child. She doesn’t share a toy: she’s an only. She’s whining or doesn’t want to participate in an activity: well, duh, she’s an only!
The fact is that all of myths around onlies have been debunked by hundreds of psychological studies. Yet here we are, still judging. I do it myself! I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard about a difficult personality and asked if that person has a sibling. Or when a friend complains about her sister-in-law’s selfish behavior, which she’s certain is caused by lack of a brother or sister, there I am, nodding supportively.
What's a mom to do? You’re probably thinking that I should start a national initiative to fight prejudice against onlies, or perhaps a citywide awareness campaign here in Chicago to raise awareness. But the truth is, we’re all judged. Whether it’s over siblings, pant size, religion, geography, hair color, nail color or shoe brand, there we are, dividing ourselves into smaller and smaller units until one day, we look around and realize that we’re all alone, trapped in lonely little cells of our own making.
Perhaps at some point we’ll be ready to poke our heads out of those tiny boxes and realize that the people around us, even the onlies, are more than the myths and labels we affix to them. That my little family of three is still that, a family. It may not be what one envisions during imaginative play in Pre-K or even during the decade after college, but it’s certainly more than outdated stereotypes, lazy descriptive shortcuts and low expectations. In fact, as I picture my husband, daughter, and I dancing around our living room on a Sunday morning with the hip-hop music blaring, I’d even say this: it’s pretty darn amazing.
~By Wendy Widom, Partner, Families in the Loop
Where'd I get the photo? Here!
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Filed under: family