Every parent I know who has multiple children has said the same thing to me at one point: it is amazing how different they are.
For several years following the birth of our first child, Jim and I dealt with infertility issues. Since we now have three children, we obviously solved our problem. In the meantime, we suffered through the barrage of unwelcomed comments all parents of only children endure. These comments are usually intrusive and unfair. More importantly, they are dead wrong.
“If you only have one, she’ll end up spoiled.”
“Only children don’t know how to share.”
“How will she learn to get along with others if she doesn’t have any siblings?”
Despite being our only offspring for over 5 years, our oldest daughter is the opposite of all of these things. She’s selfless, kind, helpful, and many other qualities parents wish their children to be. She is patient and caring with her younger siblings and helpful to adults. She didn’t learn these traits from having siblings. She developed them long before the other two came along.
Ironically, the third one (1yo) is everything the first one (9yo) was “supposed” to be. Heaven forbid 4yo wants to sit in my lap and snuggle. 1yo will climb over him, screaming, attempting to pry him off. If that doesn’t work, she hits him and ends up screaming in time-out. She loves chopped strawberries until she sees a sibling eating a whole one. Then, suddenly, chopped strawberries are inadequate and only a whole one will do. If she is the first child to arrive in the nursery at church, her anger mounts as more children arrive to play with the toys or receive attention from the nursery teacher. If there is a communal bowl of snacks, she scrambles to it like a puppy who is one of several in the litter and shoves the food into her mouth as though she will starve if she does not get her fair share of goldfish crackers.
My 9yo, who spent over half of her life not having to compete with anyone for attention or possessions, is hardly competitive at all. My 1yo, who has always been one of three, has learned very early that there will always be someone else who will take what you want if you don’t get it first. 9yo was never the stereotypical only child (even when she was one), and 1yo is about as spoiled for attention as a toddler can get – despite having two siblings.
That these two completely opposite girls are exactly who they were meant to be has been a big lesson to learn. I cannot light a fire in 9yo’s belly any more than I can extinguish the one in 1yo. All I can do is guide them, support them and discipline them; and, of course, love them and their brother exactly as they are.