10.22.2014

in defense of only children

a one-woman band, 1989-present 

I'm an only child. And you know what? I love it. However, society doesn't seem to love it, and I think that's weird.

I'm a fourth-generation only child. Not because that side of the family believes in only having one child, but because that's just the way things have played out for different reasons. To be perfectly honest, I don't understand the stigma behind only children. At all. What is it about us that makes us super-freaks to everyone sharing a bedroom? If I had a dime for every time I got the "oh, so you're a spoiled brat!" comment, I could pay off of the national debt. It's as though people expect me to also be isolated and weird, like the proverbial homeschooled kid. My mom told me the other day that someone introduced their daughter as "a good kid, even though she's an only child." What is that even supposed to mean?! And the thing is, I hear those sorts of things ALL the time. The snide comments and stereotypes abound. It's irked me for years, but the older I get, the more it confuses me, too.

In the interest of full disclosure, I did not like being an only child when I was younger. I didn't understand why I was the only one without siblings, not to mention the remarks and nasty things other kids said to me about it. My mom experienced the same thing as an only child, and she experienced it again from other moms when she became the mother of an only child. Every time I told someone I didn't have brothers or sisters, their reaction led me to believe that I had some great disadvantage in life. I can't tell you how many times I've been told I must have a very sad and lonely life. I've been teased, I've been pitied, and the older I get, the more ridiculous it seems.

A few weeks ago, I met a girl at church who asked me about my family. When I told her I'm an only child, she had a slew of questions for me. She has a baby girl and is afraid her daughter will be an only child because she doesn't think she can handle another difficult pregnancy (OH HOW I UNDERSTAND!). She was sweet and polite and asked really good questions about my childhood and how I coped with things. I've been chewing on that conversation ever since, and then when a girl I work with told me last week that I couldn't possibly understand true companionship since I don't have a sister, I figured it was time to set the record straight.

As I mentioned earlier, I didn't like my situation when I was younger. But I also didn't know any better. The older I got and once I more fully understood why my parents couldn't give me a sibling, I learned to accept it. As I grew and matured, I realized the kids who teased me had no idea what they were talking about. And once I became an adult, I realized how good it was for me to grow up without siblings.

At this point in my life, I can honestly say I am so thankful for the way I grew up. It made aspects of my childhood more difficult, but it shaped me into the person I am today. My favorite qualities about myself are all a direct result of not having siblings. My family moved several times when I was a kid. Each move meant starting a new school and making new friends. I am painfully shy, and I didn't have a sibling to lean on for support. I had my parents, of course, but I didn't have anyone to walk into a new school with. I did it all on my own, and I learned to thrive in each environment. I learned that when necessary, I can overcome my shyness and put myself out there. It toughened me up! Going through those experiences alone made so much more strong and resilient and able to take on other challenges in life. Alone, if need be. Learning that I could depend on myself gave me the courage to do things like transferring to a college in North Carolina on a whim. If I hadn't done that, I never would've met James! Who, by the way, is also an only child. I love that about him. It of course wouldn't have been a deal breaker if he had siblings, but there are certain things we inherently understand about each other, and that's such a comfort to me.

The "spoiled brat" stereotype annoys me the most. Anyone with brothers and sisters can be a spoiled brat! Did I get more attention from my parents since I was their only child? Of course. Were they able to provide more opportunities to me? Probably? But honestly, I have no idea. I have no idea how different things would've been with a sibling or two. But I do know that I grew up in an extremely loving and tight-knit household. I had my parents' full attention at all times. I was never able to get away with anything. And that's not a bad thing! It taught me accountability and responsibility. I spent a lot of time around adults and learned how to interact with them. To this day I have a stronger relationship with my parents than any of my friends do with theirs. I had more time and fewer distractions which allowed me to pursue my hobbies and interests, and yes, it was probably easier for my parents to encourage those things since I was the only one taking piano lessons. But I was also heavily involved in church and school activities and never lacking for social contact.

And as for being lonely? PLEASE. Not even close. I've never been one to have a lot of friends, but I very carefully chose my friends and always seemed to have a few that were so close I would never know we weren't related. Both guys and girls came over and blended right into my family, and at the end of the day, I didn't have to share my room or my clothes. Best of both worlds, I'm telling you! And as a kid, I played outside with the neighbor kids every day. But most importantly, I learned the importance of being able to be alone. My parents raised me to entertain myself and to not rely on things and other people for happiness and a source of entertainment. I know a lot of this is my also due to my personality, but I love being alone. I am never bored. I learned to value solitude from a young age. I learned to deal with my issues without distractions. I didn't have siblings to go to for advice, but my older and wiser parents instead. If I needed someone my own age, I called a friend. It made me fiercely independent, and that's a trait I wouldn't trade for anything. I don't need a gaggle of girls to accompany me everywhere I go. I've traveled overseas alone to stay with people I've never met. Obviously anyone with siblings can do these things, but I believe growing up without them really pronounced those characteristics in me. I grew up to be a grounded, independent, well-rounded person, so it baffles me when someone thinks I should be pitied for my lack of siblings. I never felt like I needed to go "find myself." I've always known who I am and what makes me tick. That's something I see in my mom and my husband, as well as other only children I've known. We march to the beat of our own drums. Not in a weird way, but we're not afraid of being who we are. Of course people with siblings can be the same way. I just know that for me, personally, and for those around me, growing up as only child enhanced those characteristics.

Sure, sometimes someone will write some sappy little ditty about how much they love their brother or sister, and I'll think that would be nice to have, but I also feel that way when I see a pair of boots I like. It would be nice to have, but it certainly doesn't mean I have a void in my life without it or that I should be pitied. Call me ignorant, call me whatever you want, but I in no way think my life is lacking because I'm an only child. I feel no void whatsoever. I've lived a happy and full life so far. My childhood was awesome. James would tell you the exact same thing about himself. The weird stigma behind only children is a complete mystery to us. I have never met a fellow only child who isn't completely normal and well-adjusted.

A lot of people like to remind me that the problem with being married to another only child is that our kids won't have cousins or aunts and uncles, and we won't have nieces and nephews. I understand that, I really do. Of course I wish I could give those things to my kids, but aside from a couple short years as a kid, I've never lived anywhere near my extended family. I've spent most of my life on the opposite side of the country from them. I love them and I love seeing them the rare occasions I do, but living so far away has allowed me to recognize that my kids will be just fine without a large extended family. They'll have their parents and their grandparents nearby, and that's what's important to me. And who's to say I won't have an only child? I would love to give this baby a sibling one day, but I can't predict the future. James and I both have no qualms about raising an only child. Society may have something to say about it, but I would never apologize for not giving my child a sibling, because there's nothing to apologize for.

I think it's awesome that some people have big families, and I think it's awesome that some people have small families. I believe God gives us the grace and the personalities to handle whichever situation He places us in. Some people are meant to go through life with their siblings by their side, and some people are meant to be a little more independent. Neither one is wrong and neither one is weird. It's just the way it is. And I happen to love the way things turned out for me.

13 comments:

  1. It's strange to me that people with siblings would even think to put their two cents in about "what it's like" to be an only child. How would they even know anything about it? I have siblings and my parents have siblings and I have more cousins than I can shake a stick at...but I don't think that BECAUSE of that, I am better off than anyone else without it. That would be asinine!!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. YOU WERE THE CUTEST. I hope Baby B looks like you.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Next time someone tells me I HAVE to have a sibling for Quinn, I'm just gonna send them here.

    ReplyDelete
  4. i think you turned out just fine ;)

    ReplyDelete
  5. I think all families are great. I'm super impressed by people who have 8 kids and impressed with parents who devote time to one (and as an aside, families who can't/chose not to have kids are worthy too). I'd love a medium sized family (3, maybe 4), but those things aren't all up to me. I'm the oldest of 3, one of my best friends is an only child- she's just fine. :) It's all about the village you have- biological or otherwise. If you've got people you can count on, you're good to go.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I absolutely loved reading this. Thank you for sharing your experiences, as I think many of us with siblings are actually quite curious about the life of an only child! All the "only children" I knew were kind, thoughtful, creative and wonderful friends to me! One of my best friends is an only child, and she is one of the most incredible, humble, kind and servant hearted ladies i've EVER met! So I'm so proud of you for breaking the stigma…keep at it girl!! xoxo

    ReplyDelete
  7. I've thought about the possibility of my daughter being an only child. I mean, I don't really have control over these things. I think she would be just fine, of course, and well adjusted, and smart, and whatever.

    I do wonder about the dynamics of not having aunts and uncles, but then I think... I'm not really close to any of my cousins or aunts or uncles, my daughter probably won't be because we don't live close to our siblings, so what does it matter?

    ReplyDelete
  8. I feel ya, girl! Ryan and I decided that we are probably only going to have one kid and everyone freaks out when I say that. I know what it's like to be only child and he knows what it is like to be in a big family. Both are great but only having one is what we feel is the right amount for us!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I knew you would understand, Jo! James and I might be right there with you. You guys will be such great parents!

      Delete
  9. Don't know companionship because you didn't have a sister?! I tell ya what - I have a sister and her and I were NEVER friends. Not even sort of friends. We avoided each other and were completely opposite people. THAT felt lonely. Having a sister but not "having" a sister, ya know? Now, at 28 and 33, we're sort of friends. In a polite, we can spend a few hours together once a month and have a pleasant time kind of way. Still not (and likely never) in a "my sister is my best friend" kind of way.

    ReplyDelete
  10. See, I'm pretty much convinced that no matter what your situation in life, people will say stuff. It is the nature of people to say stuff. They said stuff to you because you didn't have any siblings....and they said stuff to me because I have 6. The things I most vividly remember people saying: One friend said, "I'd kill myself if I had as many siblings as you do!" and an older woman who pulled me aside and asked, "How often do all of you kids get baths? Do you get enough food at home?"
    People say stuff. What we do is laugh at those people. I think, whatever our family background, we tend to like it just the way it is and wouldn't want it any other way. You love your sibling-less family and your inside jokes very much. I love my tons-of-siblings family and our jokes about the fact that how we're actually mom's slaves, not her children and I would have loved to have another younger baby sibling, I know my parents' would have too, but it wasn't in the cards.
    We figure we want to have 2 or 3 kids, but who knows? I'm not big on "planning"...

    ReplyDelete
  11. From one only child to another, I disagree. I had no social skills until I was 15 and I blame my lack of a sibling. Or my parents, but we'll blame my failed siblings because they can't stand up for themselves. I've straight up promised myself that I'll have more than one kid because the chances are greater that they can compensate for my social awkwardness or at least be little freaks together.

    It's people like you that give only children too good of a reputation. I'm still damaged!

    ReplyDelete

Talk to me! If your email is linked to your account, I'll respond to you via email. If not, I'll respond to you right here.