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Something a Little Different

Being an only child is a unique experience.

It has it's ups and downs, it's benefits and pitfalls, but, overall, it's quite a trip.

Many people have a misconception that only children are "spoiled" by their parents, since there are no other siblings with which you have to compete for attention, material items, etc. Needless to say, you don't have to be an only child to be "spoiled". Being spoiled was certainly not the case for me, as I grew up in a dysfunctional, lower-middle class household, with parents who, well, hated being with each other. If there were ever two people that unequivocally should NOT have been married, it would have been my parents (Don't get me wrong, they are both wonderful people, just not together.). It left little room for getting spoiled.

I know four other families of one child households, two with roughly the same economic circumstances as when I grew up, the others a bit more well-off.

As I have known them all for most all of their lives, I have found it rather fascinating to watch each child develop over the years, their ages now ranging from 8 to 18. And though each has his or her own distinct personality derived from differences in parenting, they all have very similar overall traits, most of which I recognize in myself (at least at one time or another).

Most are very quiet, especially the younger ones. One reason for this is that they never had siblings to compete for attention. No acting out, no yelling over one another at the dinner table, no sharing of rooms. The older they get, however, the more "vocal" (not necessarily outgoing) they become, due to "forced" integration through school and outside activities (which is a good thing.).

They are also very tough mentally. Most especially the ones whose parents don't have the most "stable" of relationships. Only children have to "go it alone": No other brothers or sisters to share in the burden of parental disputes. In these situations, it is very likely that, when problems like this arise, each parent tries to unconsciously get the child on their side. And since most only children have a parent they tend to "favor", it's hard to be objective at a younger age. You do learn to cope, however, and I've noticed a remarkable ability in only children to be very fair individuals. Even the younger ones seem to be a bit "wise beyond their years".

However, this sometimes lonely, parental tug-of-war is a breeding ground for self esteem issues. Not having another sibling to share in these burdens, and not to be able to learn from each other, creates an atmosphere where the child sometimes just doesn't know what to do or how to act, so he or she starts to doubt themselves. They are also the only one's who get disciplined or punished when they do something wrong, and this, at times, invokes feelings of helplessness and confusion. Again, this is more prevalent in the child's younger years, since the natural course of "letting go" of the parents sets in later on during adolescence, and he or she starts to "find" out who they really are, gaining some of this non-existent camaraderie from friends and other outside influences.

Only children don't really think of themselves in the way outsiders perceive them to be. They naturally tend to be loners, and they are generally happy to be that way. In my case, I have always been like this. I enjoy the silence of being alone, spending time by myself, engaging in things which I deem self-fulfiling. It's a pattern I've discussed with other adult only children of both genders, and it's one that almost all, including myself, regard as something of a desired, special nature.

Most people we know are really just acquaintances. We tend not to feel the need to have to always do something with other people. We tend to have very few "true" friends, but the ones we let into our lives, we are loyal to a fault.

It reminds me of a qoute from George Washington:

"Be courteous to all, but intimate with few; and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation."

All this said, there have been plenty of times that I've wished I had a sibling. Most of my family is dead. No cousins, nieces, nephews, aunts, or uncles. My wife's family is wonderful, always embracing me as one of their own, so it helps a bit to fill a void. But, it would be nice to be able to share memories and childhood experiences with someone of your own family. Someone you grew up with, and watched grow up. And it would be nice to grow old with them, and to be at one another's side when our time comes to pass.

Give your brothers or sisters an unexpected call. Tell them how much they mean to you, and how lucky you feel to have them in your life.

There's some people out there that envy you.


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Comments (10)

I can relate to that. I ha... (Below threshold)

I can relate to that. I have work friends but I don't hang out with anyone but my wife.

I've always thought of myse... (Below threshold)

I've always thought of myself as an only child with siblings, as I am 7 years younger than my brother and 6 years older than my sister.

My own children -- the first two are 1 year apart, their little sister is 5-6 years younger. The older two seem to have more difficulty socially than the younger, but all are relatively happy.

The younger was an only child for her jr and sr high school years and she is the most social of all, so that doesn't quite fit in with the desire for "alone" time that I and my siblings all experience.

Perhaps the difference is the huge extended family on both sides?

Lucky you, Shawn. Imagine ... (Below threshold)

Lucky you, Shawn. Imagine if your partner's family dislike you for taking their sister geographically away from them, and her ex stalks you. Other than that, I find harmony with your description.

You described almost to the... (Below threshold)

You described almost to the letter my child's upbringing...and his life experience. He is a loner..and is perfectly happy being with himself. He grew up with parents who didn't get along...and divorced when he was 17.

He married late...is loyal to a fault to his close friends...has stuggled with self esteem issues and finds it hard to ask for what he wants...though finally he has learned how to do that better.

Thank you for your insight.

As the author of the book, ... (Below threshold)

As the author of the book, Parenting An Only Child: The Joys and Challenges of Raising Your One and Only,and someone who writes about only children for Psychology Today magazine, see http://blogs.psychologytoday.com/blog/singletons, I have found over the years that you cannot peg only children as this way or that. While siblings change a child to some degree, how a child turns out is more a result of parenting style and socio-economic levels than the result of being an only child.

Thanks for that. I was bles... (Below threshold)

Thanks for that. I was blessed with 7 brothers and sisters and there is always a special joy when reminded of a childhood memory I had long since forgotten. I will take your advice and call my brother in Denver today.

As a parent of an only chil... (Below threshold)

As a parent of an only child you have possibly answered some questions for me about my own son. I often wonder when he's playing alone if in fact he's okay? He says he is, so I guess I should believe him. I have a hard time understanding this because I have siblings. Whether we were beating the crap out of each other or playing nicely, I would not trade them in for the world! As adults we reminisce with our own children stories of the past and have a good chuckle. Not even a week ago our father passed. My sister has been my rock. Yes, I have other family to support me and same with her but we have both said through all this it would have been much harder without each other. This brings me back to my son to have more children or not? There's a part of me that feels guilty for not doing so. He may never know what he's missing but I do. In the meantime, I'll continue to watch cartoons with him and be his playmate.

I'm an only. My father and... (Below threshold)

I'm an only. My father and husband are, too, and my son may be as well. I can't speak for them, but I related to many things in your essay.

I am an only child and the ... (Below threshold)

I am an only child and the Mother of an only child. I can relate to everything you've related in this post.

Both my parents were professionals so we were comfortable, although nowhere near wealthy. They were also both joiners, which meant that I rarely saw them during the day, nor in the evening as they were out at various meetings and events. I learned at an early age how to entertain myself. For me, my friends and companions were the characters in my books. Reading was my salvation from loneliness.

As to being spoiled, I hate that designation. True I didn't have siblings I had to share with, but I also didn't get the toys and games that required more than one person in order to play. I became a jill of all trades, so to speak, when it came to individual activities. I spent hours playing jacks on the front stoop, or roller skating, ice skating, swimming, etc.

The worst, though, was having no siblings to share the blame or to break the ice when it came to growing up and expanding my horizons. You get the feeling that you must be the world's worst child because even the smallest insubordination or rule breaking was blown up into a crisis. There was no room for failure. And in my family, the motto was that children should be seen and not heard, so there was no opportunity to try out newly budding social skills and certainly no opportunity to show off any talents. A little adult who always came up short because there was no way as a child or even a teen that you could compete with the only people around to compete with, the adults surrounding you.

I married a man who was one of six and there are drawbacks to that too. I saw that those from big families tend to be very selfish about their own possessions, learning early to protect what little they had from younger siblings. This was a concept foreign to my experience, as I was always looking for someone to share with so that I'd have someone to play with. Also, they tended to have the attitude of "not my job." As an only, you are expected to evaluate a situation and jump in and do whatever job needs to be done at the time, whether the dishes, cutting the grass, dusting, do laundry, etc. Kids growing up with multiple siblings tend to look at everything as whose job is it and preferably someone else's.

I read this post out loud to my son and his first reaction was to ask "who wrote that, you?"

Shawn thanks for the insi... (Below threshold)

Shawn thanks for the insight.

My husband is like an only child because there was a big age difference between him and his other siblings.
He is introverted while I am slightly introverted. We are both very responsible and do whatever needs to be done. I grew up work first then play.

Being one of five children (eldest) I help out and still volunteer but I see in the workplace where some folks sit back and expect to be waited on hand and foot without doing their share and do not even seem to think about working together to solve problems. It would be interesting to know what kind of upbringing they had and how many siblings were in their family's and where they were (eldest, youngest, middle child) ... or maybe it is a generational difference?






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