No one signs up to be the only child. Sure, some kids do pressure their parents into submitting to this family model; but at the end of the day, whether our parents will or will not reproduce does not lie in our power. Alas, I would say, when I was a little girl, since all I ever wanted was an older brother. Nothing could ever be done about it. I was and I am the only child and although, who knows, maybe one day I will have a little brother or sister (although biological odds are less and less in the favour of additions to my sibling count), I still will be an only child at heart. That’s just the way things are. I have been one for 25 years and old habits die hard.
I’m saying all of this mostly because I don’t quite agree with my own title for this post. Yes, I know I wrote it, but mainly because it is a part of an on-going series on things no one told us about BEFORE we signed up for something. I chose to move abroad. I chose to have a cat. I chose to pick up baking. I never chose to be an only child. I was just, haha, born this way.
So let me just address this post not to me, and not to other only children – although I do hope you find it relatable – but to all of you who never experienced the joys of being The One, with all its perks and all its downfalls. Just in case, you know, you want to have kids one day too.
Being the only child comes with a tag
Everything in life comes with a tag, but some things come with extra Ooooh. When people see how slim I am, their Ooooh means something along the lines of: So you are one of these Illuminati constructs that are not real women and exist only to body shame the rest of society (I often imagine and I fear I am not far from the truth).When I tell people on the Internet I am a blonde IRL, they go Ooooh and mean: That explains why you are so dumb at times. And being the only child has its own Ooooh: You must be a massive, selfish bitch then.
For some reason people’s associations of only children are not the best. There is no Ooooh for one of the two or three. I think the next one comes somewhere around 7, but that is just because it is so unusual, you know, to have that many siblings and be under the age of fifty. It’s a different kind of Ooooh.
There is nothing to being an only child that makes one evil; yet everyone acts like we’ve all signed up to be Slytherins and slaughter muggle babies. It is perfectly possible for the only child to turn out to be an egotistical pig, but, trust me, there are egotistical pigs who grew up surrounded by siblings. No rules here.
Sure, being the only child is a significant factor in one’s upbringing but at the end of the day, it is just one of many. Raising a little human being is a complicated process. I am sure all psychologists and psychiatrists, and parents throughout the world would rejoice if we decided on one true way to turn everyone into a first-class citizen, but there are just so many combinations of things that influence us, and the environment is only a part of the puzzle.
Moving out of home is tough
Unless one’s childhood was an absolute disaster, full of misery and misfortune only – I imagine moving out of your parents’ house is very hard at best. Sure, we all get excited about being independent, exploring this new life, living by no rules and doing all those crazy adult things like paying bills. But then the missing part comes in, and sooner or later we get soppy, and I am sure we have all been at least once in our life through a tough night of lying in bed and thinking we wish we were back home with our parents and life as it was.
But I imagine this time is even worse for our parents, especially if we have been their only child for a long long time. With a 2+ child family model, at least the separation is gradual – kids leave home one by one, and the chances that at least one of them will hang around relatively close are considerably higher. If the only child leaves, that is it – no more the thumping of not-so-tiny feet around.
On the only child lies the sole visiting duty. Calling duty too. When I moved out of my parents’ house for the first time, they called me at least once a day. If I had my older brother, they would call me every other day. That is what I imagine. Although, knowing my parents, they would just call us both.
Cling it or wing it
I always imagined that in a big big family, rainy days are not that boring. After all, the house is filled with other kids one presumably likes – or hopes to like. Being the only child presents a very different scenario.
There were only two options around: learning how to play by yourself or always stick around your parents. Finding a healthy middle is something I think a great many only children fail to do; a healthy middle in general is not something people excel at. It is just not that easy, you know.
I remember many occasions when I was just so sick of looking at just myself and my toys, that I would just hang off my parents for hours without end, probably driving them insane, participating in bizarrely boring tasks for kids, but if my friend were not around, adults were all I had.
There is no one there to share the blame
Being the only child means that everything is yours.
All the stuff is yours, all your parents’ time is yours, all the cat’s love is yours, but then all the responsibilities, punishments and expectations are yours too. And, trust me, I am not sure it’s all worth not sharing computer time allowance with anyone.
I often wondered – and I guess I can finally find out from you guys – if I was the only only child to feel immense pressure of being the only way my family’s dreams could come true through. I always thought that if I screwed up my life but had a sibling, at least they would be there to clean my mess and carry on being the Golden Child.
But I was all alone. Every mistake was just mine. There was no one else to blame. There was no one to push the uncomfortableness onto. No one to sacrifice themselves for the sake of my reckless life choices.
I guess the other way round one grows up feeling more responsible for others, and caring for them from their youngest years. I grew more responsible for myself, somehow.
No one has your back (by default)
An important part of being the only child is finding your own friends.
It is important for all the kids; sure, some are less sociable than others, but a big chunk of growing up relies on developing a way of fitting into the community. But siblings make for a great entry point into the world of friendship, hopefully in most cases.
Only children need to start from scratch.
There is also a different type of comradeship in blood relatives, I think, one hard to find and one that takes a long time to develop in other relationships. The sort of I’ll jump into the fire for you attitude.
Sure, siblings can be hell unleashed on Earth – but they should not be. They should be there for each other and, I believe, as difficult as these bonds can be, they usually are, at least from what I can see in the world around me. Although, I suppose, being the only child does mean one gets to skip the petty inheritance fights at least.
And most importantly, being the only child means doing it all by oneself
I think the greatest magic in human-to-human interaction is sharing the experiences and knowledge we inevitably accumulate throughout the years. I am a scientist, I have heard, and what else is science than learning by the experience of others? Precisely.
And one of the main ways kids learn is by sharing experiences with other kids. Sure, adults are always full of wise things to say, but who has time to listen to them? Peers know the things that matter. And siblings, especially the older ones, know things that help one survive.
Oh, the amount of times I wish someone lived a life with my parents before me and told me about all the limits I can push and all the regulations I can break without consequences! As an only child I had to learn all of these things myself – and for myself. Maybe if I was discovering new lands for mini-mes, it’d be different; but now all my valuable knowledge is as good as nothing too.
Now a question for all the only children around – did you wish you had a brother or sister, or were you perfectly happy by yourself? Or maybe, for all of us who were not the only ones – do you wish you grew up without your siblings? Don’t worry, we won’t tell!