By RITA AGGARWAL:
Last column on the ‘toppers syndrome’ enjoyed good feedback and today we have another syndrome for you to appreciate. Its about the single child syndrome and I am sure you know what I am going to talk about but do not brush it aside lightly for it is going to attract a lot of attention in the coming decade as more and more parents opt voluntarily for a single child. The demographic necessity of reducing the population to a one-child norm is good to reduce the burden on the Earth but seriously detrimental from the psychological stand-point.
Emotionally and psychologically, siblings are the best gifts our parents give us. Its so wonderful to have as many brothers and sisters, forget the troubles parents go through nurturing them! A large family with many siblings is a terrific support to all making for a sense of comfort and security. Imagine that in contrast to a nuclear family with just one child in the home - what a pathetic picture it paints of insecurity and loneliness. I don’t mind being criticised for this for when I remember my childhood we were at least three siblings within a nuclear set-up and what fun and company we had. Till today three of us and our families’ bond so well that we don’t need another person in the circle. I bless my parents for giving me a brother and a sister to cherish and adore. I can share my life with either of them whenever I feel like without offending them and feeling like an outsider or a burden.
What a fantastic resource pool of love and care. The single child is like an anomaly of sorts- single, alone, and most of all the single-point focus of the family. This singlepoint focus which I lovingly call ‘spotlight’ is what I am going to discuss. Whether the child lives in a nuclear set-up or in a joint set-up with grandparents the ‘spotlight’ is a source of serious trouble and distress for the child. I have seen many a child in this category and most of them are under serious stress. Anagh is ten years old and distressed because his mother never leaves him alone even for a minute. He enjoyed and loved the attention when he was younger and became dependent on his mother for everything. His mother went to the extent of feeding him his daily diet and seemed to enjoy doing that even now. His father objected but she had her excuses.
A trip out of school changed all that-his perceptions about himself went for a toss as he realised how week he was emotionally compared to his peers. They teased him for being a ‘mama’s boy’ and for missing his mother for everything. He wet his bed too during the trip and became the centre of laughter. He came home upset and angry and would get into fights with his mother or he would often cry and curse himself. His self-image was shattered with his experience of the first-ever outing. We realised that it was the mother’s own anxiety about her sense of loneliness and her son which made her behave the way she did. She plainly did not understand that her professed love for him was killing him so to say. She was effectively stunting his growth in many ways, even though the child was intelligent and doing well at school.
Take another example - Shruti was the apple of eye of the entire family. She lived with her parents, grandparents, greatgrandmother and an unmarried aunt who was a sit-at-home spinster. For the family they doted on her but for Shruti life was becoming miserable by the years as she grew up. She was under the spotlight of all adults which got translated into six pairs of adult eyes and one single child in the house named ‘Shruti’. She told me during her sessions that she could no longer cope with the six adults and their cross-questions.
She was interrogated by each and everyone of them with authority for her small actions of talking on phone, watching TV, number of hours in study and so on - they were all her close relatives and she was made aware of the relationship every now and then! She could not breathe freely in that home, her every action was noticed, noted and talked about! She was never left alone for a minute at home and was lectured by them on her role as single child and her duties of studying well, getting a good job, taking care of all family, and being obedient! A tall order indeed if you place yourself in her shoes! Parents must control their own sense of loneliness, anxiety and insecurities and high expectations from a single child. Its like having all the eggs in one basket and hence you tread dangerously for the loss, if at all, can be tremendous and all out. This creates a peculiar type of mindset for parents of single children. Besides caring for their own stresses and peculiarities parents must empathise with the child and give her enough freedom, understanding, a good healthy social circle and friends, and a life of her own. She cannot be tied to the apron-strings of the mother or the family and nor put under the ‘spotlight’. She has to fly away one day to fulfil her dreams and her sense of independence and achievement. And it is role and duty of parents to see her do it.