|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.