I’m an Only Child. So What?

By Stacey Goldstein

I do not have any brothers or sisters. Yes, I am an only child. So what?

It is okay with me that I don’t have brothers or sisters, so why is it often not okay with the rest of the world? Why do people often think they know everything there is to know about me simply because I do not have siblings? I don’t profess to know anything about anyone else because they are the oldest child, middle child, or youngest child of their family. Why should anyone profess to know anything about me based on one thing?

Only children get a bad rap. We’re supposedly coddled, tantrum-prone, attention-hogging, and always have to have our own way. Hearing someone is an only child often conjures up images of a child growing up showered in attention and being constantly praised, being told they can do no wrong. Yes, sometimes this is true. But often it is not. It’s not okay to stereotype someone because of their race or gender, so why is it okay to assume that all only children are the same?

My Story

I am an only child because my parents got divorced before they had a second child. Not knowing anything about me or my family history, you would likely assume that I had a particular type of childhood. A childhood spent going back and forth between two parents who both wanted to be loved more than the other parent. A childhood spent with my parents competing to be most popular parent, each trying to outbuy each other for the reward of my love. While I have no doubt that this circumstance happens quite often, this was not my story.

My parents were high school sweethearts. After high school, my mother went to college and my father went into the workforce. They married young, then had a child. Neither of them had the opportunity to be young and single. This was the late 1960s and early 1970s, so people settled down at a younger age. It was common to marry your high school sweetheart.

My parents divorced in 1980. Socially accepted rules of age, marital status, and what was appropriate had changed drastically by then. My parents were in their early 30s and free for the first time. Both of them quickly took to their new lives and got involved in the bar and dating scene. From what I recall, they reveled in it. They began to experience the bar scene that many single people today experience in their early 20s.

The bar scene distracted my parents from the fact that they were parents. This often left me to fend for myself. I taught myself the art of self-entertainment. I watched copious amounts of television, read piles of books, and made forts out of couch cushions. I grew up relying on myself for most things instead of being reliant on my parents. It was the only life I knew, so I never longed for a brother or sister.

I did not have the picture-perfect childhood one conjures up when you hear the words “only child.” Yes, I do not have siblings that I had to share the spotlight with. In my case, there was no spotlight at all. My parents were so wrapped up in themselves that I was often an afterthought. Basically, I raised myself. This was not ideal, but I think I turned out okay.

Why This Is Important for Me

As an adult, my everyday life often reflects my childhood. Growing up the way I did provided me with important life skills a lot of people do not have. I am fine spending large amounts of time by myself. I can easily be entertained by reading a book or watching a movie alone. I’m not someone who needs constant stimulation or companionship to be happy. I make my own fun. I greatly enjoy my quiet, alone time. I am so used to having it that when I am unable to squeeze in any alone time, I sometimes get anxious. I have come to need this time away from other people.

Also because of the way I grew up, I am relatively easygoing. I am able to roll with most oddball situations that may come my way, because that is what I did when I was a kid. I am used to making peace with things that are not ideal.

Yes, I am an only child, but I am fine. People are often surprised when I tell them I do not have siblings. Of course, I also get slanted compliments like, “you’re really good for an only child,” but overall, I think I am a positive representation.

Until recently, I did not give my only child status much thought. I do not have children, but many of my friends do. Most of them have just one so far, but all of them plan on having more. Whenever they talk about reasons they would like to have more children, they speak of the great importance of having brothers and sisters. They make it sound as if it would be a horrible fate for their child if he or she did not have siblings. What they seem to forget is that having a sibling for your child guarantees nothing. The children may grow up disliking each other and have nothing to do with one another as adults. I have seen this happen with a number of friends who have siblings. As adults, they simply do not speak to one another. It is as if their sibling never existed because they are not involved in each other’s lives.

Regardless of what I see among my friends, American families are shrinking in size. According to my Internet research (which you always have to take with a grain of salt), the average American family has gone from an average of 2.5 children in 1970 to 1.8 children today. More and more people are choosing to have only one child.

When you come across kids who are only children, or an adult who is an only child, please don’t act like this factor completely defines them, that you know everything you need to know about a person because of this one fact. We are not all the same, so keep your assumptions to yourself and give an only child a chance. It is likely that our demeanors will surprise you.

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APA Reference
Goldstein, S. (2009). I’m an Only Child. So What?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/i%e2%80%99m-an-only-child-so-what/0002513
Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.

 

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