For mothers of an only child, the Yorubas have a plethora of sayings that make it so obvious that they have got only one child. I will not be repeating them here, because I refuse to reinforce such negativity.
At a point in my childhood, a couple, who were both doctors, had come into my family’s life. They used to live in the posh part of the neighbourhood where I grew up. In fact, they were the first and last persons (or family) whom I knew lived in that part of town. When I had the opportunity to visit them at home once (in the company of my mom), I was wowed.
They had a swimming pool, a nicely tended garden and airy space with light coming into the house from every angle. And they could open their windows and doors to let in fresh air without worrying about prying eyes, as the next bungalow was yards away, and they had only one daughter, Fadeke, who had the run of the place and was quite big for her age.
Even though, at the time we knew each other, Fadeke was younger than I was, she conveniently dwarfed me…but she was fun to play with. And she had loads of stuff to play with, some of which she showed me during that visit.
However, as much as this couple and their daughter are some of the warmest people you would ever meet, Mama Fadeke’s parenting skills were always subject to criticism by the adults, mostly women around me at that time. She was watched with eagle eyes as she spoke to her daughter, corrected her, treated other people’s children, and there were loads of moments when a momma would shake her head and say, “She’s such a spoilt brat.” Or “Is it because she is the only one?” or even tell Fadeke herself how her mom was going to have twin boys, who would put her in her place. Rather than be deterred, Fadeke would say Amen at the mention of twin boys. It was a prayer point for her, I tell you.
Mama Fadeke was one of the most secure people I have ever met, and it took me years to come to that realisation. She certainly knew she was being judged and that some went as far as saying she was no better than a childless woman, because she had only one child, but she never showed it in her interaction with these same women. If anything, she was more gracious to them.
Just as I was hitting the 20s, Fadeke and her mom travelled out of the country. Baba Fadeke had done the unforgiveable. He had come home with a 2 year old baby boy. That was the last camel that broke the back of their marriage.
The last time I saw her, she was crying and trying not to show it, constantly wiping at her bloodshot eyes, which gave her away.
It was weeks later that I learnt Baba Fadeke was apparently a very good womaniser, and had scored a goal with one of his numerous women two years before. Mama Fadeke left because she said she was sure there were more babies out there, and she didn’t want to be around when they showed up out of the woodworks.
She was simply tired of being referred to as the woman with the only child, and her daughter being called her shadow. She wasn’t a hovering mom, but it was a role everyone expected her to play, and eventually forced her to play, because in the end, that was all she got left of her marriage.
The last I heard from Fadeke, her mom finally had another child, a boy.
While Mama Fadeke finally got to shed her mom of an only child toga at long last, not everyone gets to do that, and you know what? It is absolutely fine.
While some mommas may be moms of an only child due to secondary infertility, and others are by choice, unfortunately our the society (especially ours) has conditioned us to imagine the ideal family as one with at least two children, preferably a boy and a girl, before you can say you are throwing in the trowel.
But the honest reality is we all own our own truth; yes, even in a society that seeks to shape us into its ideals. True, most moms of an only child never have to deal with constant stream of yelling, jumping, crashing noises and shrieks that will definitely come from having so many children running around the house, but she is a mom no less. It certainly doesn’t make me, a mother of four, better than her.
That is a hard pill for some moms to swallow, as they are so bent on playing the one judging game. One of such moms would probably tell a mom of one complaining about being tired something along this line; “You don’t know how lucky you are, just having the one. You should try having three kids to run around after! Then you’d know what hard work is!”
It gets so bad to the extent that the first pregnancy of a woman is sometimes even waved off as almost nothing compared to subsequent ones. Mommas, who turned us against each other so much that we need to put other women down to feel good?
It’s almost like being a mom to an only child is a mummy-lite version of motherhood, because I really don’t know how else to drive home my point. So, when a mom now has other babies, she enters the mummy 2.0 mode, and thus an advanced edition of a mother?!
In the end, motherhood is hard, no matter how many children you have. There should be no judgment of the woman who has one child, who can’t “control” their behaviour, but pity for the woman with multiple children with one acting up.
Being a first time mom is hard because nothing could have ever prepared you for the job you would take on. And you get to go through each phase of your child’s life with no experience to fall back on.
Life with a first or only child is all a learning experience. You don’t have other children to know how you did it last time (not that it would necessarily help), and chances are there are days when you don’t feel like you know what you’re doing at all.
We should be praising all women, building them up on their journey and supporting them where they are, not breaking them down.
Kudos to the moms of the only child, who are on duty 24/7, and have no “go and play with your brother/sister” get out clause.
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