Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Only Child Syndrome

I've come to the conclusion that, at heart, we all want to be only children. Deep inside each of us wants the full attention of our mother, father, God and anyone else we consider important in our lives. We don't want to share that attention with others. I suspect we're convinced that if we do, there won't be enough love, gifts, time, etc. to go around.

Two weeks with grandchildren now have reinforced that view. These particular grands are both boys, just 17 months apart in age, 5 and 3 1/2. They generally play together well, and there are those special moments when clearly the older one is looking out for the younger one.

However, they behave the best when by themselves having the full attention of parents or grandparents who are also doing exactly what the child wants done. They behave the worst when competing for the attention of the big people in their lives. And while they do have much fun together, they also pick on each other, and know very well how best to irritate and infuriate each other and get the other in trouble.

Those moments when they get that coveted undivided attention of parents also often lead to more discord between the siblings later--they seem to need to compare and boast about those attentions and see if they can spur jealousy on the part of the other.

Essentially, they are adorable little narcissists, just like most adults I know.

I wonder if this need to be only children--and I think it is universal--is the source is much of the religious conflict that seems to have characterized much of the world for known history. We will not wrap our minds around the idea that God might deal differently with different members of the human family. The negative implications of this only child syndrome lead to intense watchfulness to see if someone else might receive more favors, more attention, more perceived blessing than we ourselves may be experiencing.

As do children, we observe carefully to see if the cake is divided perfectly evenly--and if it is not, we grab for the biggest piece ourselves. As do children, we are quick to scream "It's not fair!" when it looks like a sibling is getting special privilege--or we are getting special discipline.

Children have great difficulty with the concept that parents can love all fully, but may have to treat each differently. But anyone with more than one child knows that each successive child in the family actually has different parents, because the parents themselves will have changed by what they have learned and by the different personalities of the children themselves.

We carry that difficulty to adulthood. We don't come easily to the idea that God might relate differently to different parts of the created world and and yet God still has profound love for us. These differences in relating do not change the essential nature of God or the nature of the redemptive process. It's just individual from person to person.

Somewhere deep inside most of us lingers a huge fear that we are going to get left out. And the best way to keep from getting left out is to knock down everyone else so we are the only one left. The only child, the one who gets all the attention.

How sad that we can't seem to be get past this and instead be willing and active participants in the process of seeing God's will done on earth as well as in heaven.

1 comment:

Angie Hammond said...

I really loved this article. Guess it is because I deal with children who want to be the only child in my classroom. I have to treat each with their own education program. Not an easy task when all have serious needs both educationally and emotionally as well.

I'm thinking that we all need to remember that while we can't always spread ourselves equally to everyone, that God is capable of giving each of us the love and care that we need and his love is without bounds.

Thankfully, while I'm not very good at giving everyone what they need, God is perfect at it and he makes up for what I can't do and gives me the ability to do the impossible.