When I would tell people that I’m the only child, their faces would light up with pure glee and they’d proceed to tease me about how I always get what I want — That I’m “spoiled” and everything my parents own goes to me.
That couldn’t be any further from reality. Or, at least, my reality.
Here’s a truth bomb — being the only child kind of sucks. You’re alone to deal with every family issue that comes your way. Sometimes you find yourself stuck amid problems that shouldn’t be yours to carry. Sometimes you’re forced to grow and become an adult several years ahead of your friends.
And that sucks.
It feels like your childhood is ripped away from you. It feels like you’re not allowed to experience your 20’s like the average, well, 20-something’s.
It feels like your brain is hurtling through time heading for the 50-year-old mark while you’re physically stuck at 23.
Be Perfect, or Be a Disgrace
Being the only child means that you have to nod, smile, and act the part of the “good daughter” because otherwise, you’ll be a disgrace to the family.
I’ve always been hard on myself because of this. If I don’t make my parents proud, who will?
But, ever since my mother passed away just forty days ago, I’m starting to care less and less about being the “perfect” child.
You know how some families are just toxic as hell? And you know how you’re in denial because of in-bred loyalty to your family that you simply refuse to believe that they could be toxic?
I’ve been there.
I’m still there, but the dark curtains are starting to lift. I’m starting to see the issues that have been permeating through my family that I’ve blinded myself to.
I’ve always put my family on a pedestal. It’s normal — we grow up thinking that our parents are perfect, faultless people, and we model our behavior after them.
But as you get older, as you mature, meet more people, experience more things, consume more knowledge, you’ll start to see the cracks in your familial relationships whether you like it or not. I’ve spent countless sleepless nights wrestling with my conflicting thoughts.
My family has always been the people that I look up to, but when the heroes that you’ve created in your head start showing any form of weakness — or even worse, commit actions that don’t add up to what “heroes” are supposed to do, you start to doubt yourself. You start to lose faith in your ability to trust people.
You’re Never Good Enough
The void that my mother left caused me to cling to the rest of my family members. But that didn’t last long, because no matter how much I help or do good, I’m always at the receiving end of complaints. I’m always singled out. Isolated.
No matter how good I am at home, there’s always something unsatisfactory. No matter how much I dream and set goals for myself, I’m put down simply because I haven’t graduated from college. Yet.
As if a college degree is the end-all-be-all. As if, in this digital age, you need a college degree to make money and be successful.
Don’t get me wrong — I can’t wait to earn my degree, but I hate how my family is trying to make me believe that my pathway is just one straight road. They’re unconsciously planting this seed in my mind that there’s only one path, and that is to be a slave to the corporate world in which the higher-ups only care about the money you make for them.
If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that life is never a straight road.
We as humans are wired to crave certainty. For instance, amid this pandemic, we lose our minds over the uncertainty of the future. We lose sleep over our job security; we wonder whether it’s going to be our turn or our loved one’s to be infected; we agonize over the perilous state of our investments.
I’ve always been one to stick to routines. My day-to-day is pretty straightforward: wake up by 9 AM, a bowl of oats and coffee (strictly no sugar) for breakfast, laundry, reading, work, followed by household chores, dinner, more reading, and then bed. A routine gives me certainty. I don’t need to wonder what I’ll be doing at 2 PM because it’s been the same for months, and I’ve been happy with it. Certainty gives me stability, and stability is what my mental state craves.
A healthy mind can’t be built on uncertainties.
For someone who is addicted to stability, figuring out after my mom’s passing that life isn’t a straight road — that there is absolutely no way to be perfect — was like a massive slap to the face. It should be obvious, right? I guess I knew it, but I’d shoved it to the back of my mind because I was too afraid to confront it.
Being the only kid means all these internal struggles, all these feelings of inadequacy, self-loathing, incessant rumination, over-thinking — all of this can only happen between you and yourself. I have friends that I can talk to who are very supportive, but I find myself keeping a distance simply because I don’t want to pour all my negativity on them. They can only try to empathize with me, but they can’t do anything to help nor can they fully understand the inner turmoil that keeps me up at night.
Because they haven’t gone through the same thing.
The reason why we confide in someone is not only because we need a listening ear to lighten our burdens, but we also crave the comfort from someone who has gone through a similar situation. We long to hear “you’re going to be okay” from someone who is certain that we will indeed be okay.
Being the only kid means you have to go through every single family issue alone. Sometimes you’ll wish you had a sibling to lean on. Sometimes you’ll wish that you weren’t born at all. Because to face certain things alone — like death and loss, financial ruin, betrayal — is not a position that I would wish upon my worst enemy.
The only thing that you can do is be strong, but I find that there’s a thin line between being emotionally resilient and emotionally numb.
Your Feelings Don’t Matter Here
When I talk about my mental health, about the things that bother me, and the internal fights with myself that I’m struggling with, there’s always someone else whose suffering is worse than mine. And that someone happens to be my cousin — my aunt’s prodigal, precious son who is ten years older than me.
When you’re being compared to someone who has ten years’ worth of life experience more than you, and you’re being told that your issues don’t matter — what can you say? Is there anything that you can say without destroying the peace?
I haven’t journaled in a while, but I just did tonight, and when I re-read what I wrote, I found so much anger in the pages that it shocked me. The words reflected snippets of the rage that I’ve been suppressing all my life.
Did I write all that? Doesn’t sound like what a good girl would write.
When you’ve spent your entire life trying to be perfect, trying to please everyone at the expense of your mental health, and it’s still not good enough — what do you do? When you’re being compared to cousins and relatives who are all years ahead of you and told that your emotions don’t matter — what can you do?
What can you do except lock yourself in your room, spill your anger into ink onto paper, seeing but not really seeing through a vision as unclear as your clouded judgment?
All I’ve done to date was to please my parents. It put a lot of pressure on me. A ton of strain. Many nights of beating myself up over “why haven’t I gotten a goddamn Master’s degree yet?” and “why the hell am I not running my own business yet?” and “I shouldn’t be watching Netflix right now, I should be looking for a second part-time job, damn it!”
It escalated to an emotional breakdown in the doctor’s office to sleeping pills and finally, anti-depressants. Being compared to those who have 5–10 years’ worth of life experience under their belt takes a massive toll on you. It drives home the fact that no matter what you do, you’ll never be good enough, so what’s the point in trying?
With the passing of my mother, who was always my confidante, best friend, and the only person who truly understood me in this family, I’m starting to care less and less about trying to fit into that “perfect” mold.
Because no matter how much I try, I’ll always be less than. Always less than.
I’m a chronic people-pleaser. I think that’s why I strived so hard and even took pride in the sacrifices I made with regards to my mental and emotional health.
But I think enough is enough.
How long can you last trying to please someone who is never satisfied?
How long can you last giving away bits and pieces of yourself before you find that there’s nothing left to give?
If someone tries to force you to think and act like an experienced, jaded 50-year-old when you’re still trying to figure yourself out in your mid-20’s, give them the finger and tell them to piss off. I’m pretty sure they, at 50, still have their own issues to figure out and the worst part is — they don’t even realize it.
I needed to lose my mom to realize the most important lesson of my 20’s — people will never be happy with anything you do, even your own family. Even if I were to be a world leader and give every one of them a free house, they’d still find something to bitch about.
The most important person to please in life is yourself. Only you will ever be fully satisfied and happy with your own achievements. So stop wasting time ruminating on “I should have” or “I could have” to please others.
Pour all that energy into what makes you happy. While you grow and focus on yourself, others may be disappointed with how little time you spend pleasing them.
But who cares? If they weren’t satisfied when you gave your all, they’ll never be satisfied with whatever you do, so forget it. Leave it all behind and be happy.