They claim they are special. But who wants an only child? –– Not even themselves
Musa Jibril, Ejere Samuel; Ekeh Jeffrey
By Musa Jibril, Ejere Samuel And Ekeh Jeffrey
“I am special in many ways. I am a Ghanigerian, but more importantly, I am the only child of my parents.”
The braggart was a bear of a man, over six feet tall, heavily built and sooty-skinned with a toothy grin. There was a magnetism about him that made him likeable at a glance. His sense of humour so infectious it drew his audience into an absorbing camaraderie.
His first name was Olu, but he was also known as Kwame. We stood on the floor of +233 Bar and Grill in Accra, trading particulars and pleasantries in a spontaneous introduction initiated by our mutual friend, Nana Achampong, who at the time was the Editor of Weekend Sun.
Olu painstakingly explained his dual nationality. His father was a Nigerian teacher who sojourned in Ghana but was forced out of the former Gold Coast country by the Alien Compliant Order of 1969 that led to the exodus of many nationalities. He returned to Lagos with an Ashanti woman, mother of his then two-year-old son, but 14 years later, the woman returned to Accra during the Ghana-Must-Go purge that swept through Nigeria in 1983. His parents separated and married different spouses, but till today are united in the common fate of being “a pod with one pea” as neither of them had any other child in their respective marriages.
Over drinks, Olu disclosed more facts about himself. At 48, his aspiration was to become a “father of nations.”
“I have a son by an Ijebu woman,” he said of his first child whom he claimed was studying at Olabisi Onabanjo University. There were also two teenage daughters by a Togolese Ewe. His live-in woman at the time was a Fanti nursing their three-year-old daughter.
“Chalee, seven more women to go,” he bragged.
Of his future women, a roll call of his preference included an Arab, an American, a British and a Chinese. A joke, anyway. By his old age, he hoped to have a house full of children, by the time of his death, enough offspring, children and grandchildren, “to populate a small town.” He concluded with a big laugh.
His lady for the evening was a svelte Indian dressed in choli and saree who he did not introduce to us.
It was easy to discount Olu as a garrulous middle-age man, someone that loves to exaggerate, or a chauvinist with outsize ego, except that his pronouncement was belied with certain solemnity. Below his bonhomie, there was an undercurrent of inner rage that was difficult to miss.
Few drinks later, the catharsis came:
“Being an only child puts you under some pressure. My mother was eager for me to mature quickly and start giving birth. So, my first wife was forced on me when I was barely 18. My mother made it seemed I was obliged to have kids quickly and in large number. You see, that is the problem when you are the only pea in a pod. You are driven by parent’s expectations. They want to live their lives through you, use your life to correct their own inadequacy kraa.”
The Olu Kwame narrative could well serve as a preface to ‘the psychoanalysis of an only child in the African context.’ Given the predicament of the one-child parents, how tenable is Kwame’s assertion that an only child is special?’
A group of such individuals spoke with Saturday Sun.
Ayodele Oshikokhai, now in his late 50, remembered with nostalgia his growing up days in Okpe, Akoko-Edo Local Government Area of Edo State. The journalist who contributes to OpenLife magazine gave a sketch of the circumstance of his birth.
“My father was a successful cocoa farmer. Because his first wife never gave birth, he was forced to marry a second wife after years of childless marriage. It was a struggle before my mum was able to have me, and after my birth, they tried again to no avail.”
Reviewing his life, he underscored the benefits of being the family’s sole child. “Attention was focused on me in all ways. For example, the family’s fortune from cocoa was invested in my education. If we had been two or three siblings, that would have stretched the family financially,” he asserted.
He further dwelt on the indulgence that comes with having no competition for parental attention. “During my childhood, everything I require, they tried to give to me. While in secondary school, once I was given my school fees, I’d gather my friends, we’d go and spend it. My parents, though angry, would usually say, what can we do, he is our only child, and I’d be given another money.”
For the younger generation, being special has other facets, like Samuel Adama, a 17-year-old Kogi State indigene who said “the food at home is just for me, so I can eat to my satisfaction, unlike my friends who have many siblings” and Sadiq Abubakar, 17, who cherishedthe luxury of being able to “go anywhere I want to go and do my things without any disturbance”, unlike his peers who could hardly go somewhere without their siblings tagging along.
Special but complicated
A Saturday Sun poll asked three questions from parents who currently have a one-child family.
“What is special about them? Something special should make you happy and fulfilled,” said Damolekun Hunayin, a trader in Badagry market. “If you end up with one, your life is filled with anxiety and you are praying all the time. Any foolish thing they do almost gives you high blood pressure. What is worse is even in your anger you have to be careful how you discipline them. That gentleness on your part is what they mistake for being special, not knowing your fears are the reason for sparing or pampering them.”
Isidahomhen Idumonza, an Edo State politician based in Lagos, was blunt in declaring the idea of one kid unappealing as “it makes the parent vulnerable.”
Why an only child seems to mean the world to parents, according to him, is because such a child is central to “their hope and joy and is indeed their inspiration to forge ahead––it is for this reasons that an only child is pampered, loved and cared for. Parents practically live their life for the child.”
To the question, how does it feel to be a father of an only child, his response was succinct. “Half joy laced with a lot of carefulness.”
According to Cecilia Momodu, parenting an only child denies her the opportunity of being an average parent. “You are forced to give them special treatments,” she noted.
At 32, the single parent of a 13-year-old-daughter said, “I know I need to have another child. Having one child when you are not challenged biologically is foolishness.”
The complex side of being special
An only child can easily become spoilt. This is the verdict according to Oshikokhai. His perspective aligned with the viewpoint of Kwame who said: “You could be pampered and overprotected, in which case you end up not being well brought up; this almost happened to me on the part of my mother. On the other hand, an only child could come under harsh spotlight and undue punishment; this was my experience with my father who for every little mistake used the rod to tell me he would not have a fool for a child. He wanted me to grow responsibly overnight, and for the most part of my childhood, I was punished for some inexplicable sins.”
That is not the only pitfall of the sole child existence.
Another according to Oshikokhai is “a precocious awareness of the world around you.”
“Because my father was comfortable, there was a concern over who would inherit him and with that, a need for me to be ‘protected spiritually’ from evil eyes.”
At a young age, he was trapped in a dark reality where “some people might be working to see that the only child doesn’t survive, so they could take over the property of the man, and my father tried to see that all those negative forces were curtailed.”
He also warned of the tendency for parental doting becoming inimical to the growth of the sole child. In his case, he claimed to have been denied some of the kicks of childhood. “A seven-year-old naturally craves to be at the playground with his mates. But my parents objected to my going out to play. They monitored my movements to prevent any harm befalling me, according to them.”
According to Oshikokhai, his doting parents did him no good in the long run. “I would have been more successful than I am today had they not been overly protective,” he said. “When I had the opportunity to travel out of the country, they frustrated my efforts because they did not want me to be far from them. If we were about two or three siblings, they would easily have allowed me to go,” he rued.
Wunmi (surname withheld), a proprietress of a popular school in Shasha, Akowonjo, Lagos, also walked through life’s harrowing sole-child corridor. In a chat with Saturday Sun, she attributed her zero-sibling fate to her mother’s ignorance of simple gynaecology.
“My mum didn’t know a woman could be breastfeeding and miss her period. Afraid that she was pregnant while still breastfeeding, she went to the hospital to complain and a confused doctor placed her on a medication that led to compulsory menstruation and to early menopause.”
A backward glance at her life brought bittersweet memories.
Most memorable moments: “As an only child I always have huge birthday parties.”
Worst experience: “A neighbour tried to abuse me sexually and there was no one to talk to about it. I didn’t believe it could happen to me and it got me thinking all the time until it eventually began to tell on my academics in a little way.”
Being an only child imposed domestic inconveniences on her––“I did all the household chores all alone”––but what she found most unbearable was the unpalatable image ascribed to her against the backdrop of her parents’ fruitless effort at having another child. “I got blamed for everything not right, and that included their delay in having another child, you know the way the Yoruba think on such issue, people cryptically told me: Je ki Omo Orun o waye! (Give way to the unborn baby). It is not an experience I’d wish on anyone.”
Wunmi summed up solemnly: “Growing up an only child was not a pleasant experience for me. I felt lonely most times. Though my parents tried their best to give me all they felt I wanted, which were not necessarily what I needed. What I needed most was a sibling to play with.”
Samuel Adama, also, is plagued by his lack of siblings. “Although my parents gives me all I need, still there are moments I feel sad and lonely, especially when they are not around and there is no one to talk to. I long for a sibling only so I can have someone to interact with.”
He became acutely aware of the absence of a sibling when he was about 10. “It was then I began to see myself as different.”
Amudu Wasiu Hassan, 23, also, spoke of the distressing solitude of an only child: “At a very tender age, I realised I am different from my friends. Sometimes, I long for someone, not a friend this time, who I can pour my heart to.”
Hassan, like Wunmi, also complained about the domestic burden–– “All it brings you is more hard work”––in addition to a spectre of an unrealistic expectation which he summed up this way: “You have to be careful in everything, (because) you have got to make your parents proud as if you are millions of children.”
Bloomers of babies
If you are someone whose idea of family is skewed towards the compact range of say, two or three kids, you may have to be wary of ending with a spouse who grew up as a zero-sibling child. Only child is not one for a kid or two. They tend to be “bloomers of babies.”
From Olu Kwame who has embarked on a mission to procreate ‘a tribe of children’ to 23-year-old Amudu Hassan who told Saturday Sun “I will prefer a battalion of children,” the sentiment is deeply ingrained in the psychology of those of the one-pea-in-a-pod birth so much so it tends to be universal. Take for instance, the Sherlock Holmes actor, Benedict Cumberbatch who is famous for saying: “Maybe it’s because I was an only child, but I’ve always wanted kids.”
Even 17-year-old Abubakar already has such proclivity: “To grow up and have a single child? No, three children for a start.”
Adama who could not be number-specific offered an insight to his motivation to father many children: “I don’t want to have a single child because I don’t want him or her to have my experience as an only child.”
At 40, Wunmi is a four-kid mother, and Oshikokhai, also, a father of four.
“If anything happens to onechild, that is a tragedy,” said Oshikokhai who scoffed at the idea of one child. “It is not asking for too much to have four children.”
A sole child, he professed, is obligated to procreate early and as quickly as possible. “You have to marry on time. Those things your father could have done, you now do it for yourself and for him.”