My youngest son is the only one left living at home and it's hard not to over-focus on him. Any tips on how not to do this?
Well, he’s not the ONLY one left living at home, but he is the only youngster and you are wise to ask this question. The bright light of parenting that shines on the solo child (whether the youngest remaining or an only child since the beginning ) is both a blessing and a curse for the child.
The blessing is that they have you all to themselves, and depending on their age at the time, that can be a delight for them. If they’re older, all of that attention may not be welcome. Being the sole recipient of all parental attention can be intense. Some children miss the buffer of their siblings. Others are glad the competition is out of the picture.
So first and foremost, try and get a read on how your child is feeling about their solo status. It can be useful to run a few things up the flagpole. You might say, “I miss having your siblings around. How’s it been for you?” or “What do you miss most about your siblings being home? What’s the best thing about their NOT being home?”
But be cool about it. Maybe ask the question while you’re driving and not looking right at them. Or fold it into something you’re doing together so it doesn’t feel like they’re suddenly in the interrogation room.
The best way make sure you’re not over-focusing is to remember three things:
Being a parent isn’t just about parenting. You are modeling what grown-ups look like when they’re living their full, not-just-parenting lives.
Show them that you have that full life by living it. Pursue your hobbies, spend time with friends that doesn’t include your child. Do the things that you would do if you had never had children. It’s essential prep for the empty nest days. Take your bright light and shine it on all of the other things that matter to you besides your child.
If their bedroom door is closed most of the time, it’s likely your child is seeking a sense of privacy and independence. That means that when they’re not holed up behind a closed door, they are ready for more contact, but not necessarily a flood. Their presence in the kitchen while you’re getting dinner ready isn’t necessarily a tacit invitation to be thoroughly grilled or attended to.
Go with a light touch and let them lead. A few “anything on your mind?” or “what’s new?” queries are fine, but it’s also important to connect about regular stuff. It doesn’t all have to be about How They’re Doing or Helping Them Be Okay.
Tell them things about your own day. Ask them if they saw that viral cat video. Or simply just be in the same room without conversation. In other words, turn that bright light of parenting so it’s more ambient than direct.
Asking your child “how am I doing?” is oxymoronic in attempting to avoid giving them a sunburn with the bright light of your parenting attention. While some kids might welcome the directness, others might show you a deer in the headlights and feel overexposed.
A middle ground is to make a statement like “Any time you want to tell me I’m too much in your face, or not available enough, I want to hear about it.” And it’s fine to call it out like you see it and say, “Being the only child left at home is a thing, so let’s figure out a way together to make it great.”
Finally, try not to over-focus on your parenting. Just like your child is learning how to be the only child at home, you’re learning how to be a parent of a child who is the only one at home. Be gentle with yourself as you traverse this learning curve.