On Being An Only Child
Protected. Innocent. Antisocial. Spoiled. Lonely. Private. Independent. High-achieving. The list goes on in both positivity and negativity. These are just some of the words used to describe only children. Interestingly enough, the average size of a family is 3.14 people, indicating many families choose to have only one child.
I am one of those only children, and I want to say that, like with any kind of family, there are the good and the bad.
There are plenty of pros and cons in being an only child, and plenty of organizations have tried to hammer out specific personality traits of “onlies.” Just one of the biggest complaints about only children is they cannot share. My mom likes to tell a story of a time when I was about four or five, and I asked her for a sibling. Not that this question had any bearing on if I would ever get a sibling, but she politely asked me, “You understand you will have to share everything — your dad and I, your nana, your toys — with another person if you have a sibling, right?” After a few minutes, I responded like any five-year-old might: “Nevermind!” The thing is, though, it’s not as if I didn’t share anything at all. While I may not have had siblings, I made friends — and rather easily I might add — that I shared things with. I even had a friend with whom I would share half my lunch every day because we intentionally had lunches the other wanted, so we split lunches.
I often feel like my parents did a pretty decent job raising me, and I wasn’t always easy. But, while I would never trade my childhood for anything, I do feel some repercussions of being an only child.
1. I had (and still have) my immediate family entirely to myself.
This is probably self-explanatory. I didn’t have to compete with another child for their attention, and I never questioned who was a favorite. I also got to bond with each of my parents in ways specific to each relationship.
2. I matured quickly.
I was around adults a lot growing up, which means I learned to understand “adult language” a lot quicker than others.
3. I process quickly.
With any difficulty I faced, I was my own first defense, so I learned to work through details quickly on my own.
4. I adapt easily.
I couldn’t rely on a sibling’s previous experience in school or someone else’s presence, so I was on my own for life transitions. I socialized and made friends quickly and easily. I got over my homesickness in college quicker than some of my peers. Any time I moved — like when I got married and moved colleges and cities — or when I went from undergraduate to graduate school, the transition itself was easy for me because I already knew how to rely on myself.
Cons (or, rather, things I am working on now that I’m older)
1. I struggle with when to express my own thoughts.
When my parents would have friends over — Christmas parties for instance — and they would be immersed in conversations, any time I went over and attempted to get their attention, I was told “adults are speaking” or they would hold up their index finger. While I completely understand I was not to interrupt, they didn’t provide me an indication of when they would be finished or when I could speak. Now, I struggle with knowing when the moment is right to insert myself in conversations, so I wait until people are done speaking. Often times, by the time they are done, what I was about to say is invalid. At work meetings, I am often viewed as not having an opinion or as not being involved. It’s definitely something I am actively working on.
2. I tend to be selfish.
I think this is relatively self-explanatory. I tend to want things to go my way, and I sometimes think my ideas are the best. I didn’t have to consider anyone else’s feelings growing up, aside from my parents’. This has had a negative effect on my marriage, as I often offer up unwanted advice and I come off as not caring about my husband’s feelings. Growing up, I was told I could do anything I wanted. Well, when you get married, you have another person to consider, and I sometimes just hear “you can do anything” and forget about the other person.
3. I am needy.
This is probably not typical of most only children, but I was never alone growing up. My Nana took care of me while my parents worked — I never went to daycare or an after-school program (unless you count sports). This, too, has had an impact on my marriage. I often vie for attention and don’t understand my husband’s job needs his attention or that he can’t be with me all the time for everything. (In fact, I am pretty sure this is why we adopted my dog.)
4. I can be over-reliant on my family.
Again, self-explanatory. I call my mom for every struggle because she’s the only one I know who has been through anything I may be facing. I still think “I want my daddy/mommy” on some occasions.
5. I hate conflict.
The only people I ever had conflict with were my parents, and they, of course, had the final say. As a person with a master’s in communication, I know that conflict in and of itself is not bad. In fact, it is essential for healthy relationships. But I hate it. It scares me. But perhaps that is why I navigate toward it in communication — because I want so badly to understand it and be better.
While there may be some cons, I am glad I grew up without siblings. I got to become my own person on my own time. I didn’t feel pressured to live up to anyone else. When discussing my views on being an only child, both of my parents have jokingly told me: “we got it right the first time, so why would we want to take any chances?” I don’t know if they “got it right” — I’m flawed and far from being the perfect daughter. But I am glad they feel that way. If it weren’t for that decision, I would not be who I am, for better or worse.