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Only Child

Updated on March 26, 2017

Being an only child is not a choice. I wonder if it were, how many would choose it

Children who grow up without siblings are unique in many ways. They are defined as precocious, spoiled, bratty, and intelligent. Some of those descriptors are true. Mileage may vary depending on the child. But for the most part, kids who have their parents all to themselves develop keen imaginations and listening skills. This is not to suggest that children who have siblings dont possess those traits as well. But these traits, as well as others, are prevalent among many onlies.

These are children who often have to find an outlet for the near constant living with adults. They need an outlet for "adulting" that they arent ready for full time. So they use their imaginations to fill in that gap. Smart parents of onlies find outlets for their child to be able to be around other children and they make the effort to find time for their only to be around cousins, neighborhood kids etc.

As an only myself, I would often lapse into the world of Broadway plays and dream of myself as some heroine in a far away land. I completed the escape from reality by singing and dancing to an imaginary audience held captive to my incredible voice and dancing ability, all in the space of my 9x12 bedroom. Precocious? Sure! But I developed a very strong imagination which has alternately served me well and at times, been the bane of my existence in my adult life.

Onlies are often accused of being "little pitchers with big ears". I heard that often while growing up and never quite grasped the meaning. I understand now that it meant that I was listening to adult conversations and the adults would often forget that I was there and when I was supposed to be "seen and not heard".

Oh but did I hear some juicy gossip while growing up! That's because onlies, when surrounded by a roomful of adults, tend to be overlooked as just a child. That's a big mistake if you are the parent of an only child. They tend to take in everything because as an only, they have no other kids to distract them. And they are used to their parents talking directly to them and usually in adult manners. It's hard for an only to not be taken as a small adult. And with that, comes responsibilty for the only child to often act much older than they truly are.

I also grew up hearing and then becoming sure that I was...a spoiled, rotten brat. Pretty heavy for a little kid to think of themselves as "rotten" wouldn't you say? A child with no siblings is naturally going to have more of everything from parents. More time, more attention, more assurance that the world revolves around them.

This "world revolving around them" thinking is difficult to avoid and can cause issues in adulthood if not handled properly. Because being an only and acting as though you are the be all and end all as an adult, doesn't fly well with a boss and colleagues. Beware of this if you are a parent of an only child.

I am not sure that blaming the child for any of that is necessarily fair as much as it it's just the way it is by decree of being an only. I doubt there are that many parents who deliberately set out to spoil their child rotten with the intent of making them a brat which other parents and children hate being around.

There is also the reverse psychology used by many parents of onlies to protect from over-compensating for being an only. And that is where the parent goes too far the other way to make sure the child knows that they aren't special and therefore do not deserve any special attention and/or love. Every child deserves all of those things regardless of the status of the family. I honestly think that being parents of an only child creates a far more difficult balancing act than being the parent of a multi-kid family.

Being an only child is a lonely existence. No matter how much time and effort is put into daily living from loving, well meaning parents. Kids who are onlies know they are different. And being different, when you're a little guy or girl, can sometimes be hard to handle.

I think society has done a big disservice to only children. I know that as a little girl growing up, my Dad, especially, did "spoil me rotten" according to relatives. What I do believe happens and this is the real issue in raising an only, is that parents of only children do give more to their only child, because they can. If relatives/neighbors/friends are playing comparison games, sometimes the automatic response is to say that the child is being spoiled. This is especially true if they are unable to provide as much for their own children.

Thats a wholly unfair playing field. Each parent has the right to decide how much money they want to spend and how they want to spend it, on their own children regardless of how many or how few those children are.

I hope things have come a long way toward changing since I was a little girl. I know that my Dad loved me, as they now say, to the moon and back. And one of the ways he showed that love was to give me things, often when I hadnt even asked for them. I am willing to admit that i came to expect things and when I didn't get them, I reacted negatively. So it's an up for grabs argument on whether or not I was to blame for being a brat or my Dad was to blame for loving his only child so much that it brought him great joy to show that love by buying gifts and presents. In any case, there has never been any doubt in my mind, as a child or as an adult, that I was loved beyond all measure by my Dad. And that cannot be a bad thing.

Perhaps the mistake lies in not dealing with the behavior of the child when it gets out of hand. What I do know is that I often felt like an outsider and even an outcast with some family members who felt that the way to get their point across, to my parents, about spoiling me rotten, was to take it out on me by their seeming disapproval of me.

Only kids are lonely when they are very young simply because they are alone much of the time. But as they grow older, that loneliness comes from a deeper place of knowing, that on some level, they are very different from many of their friends. Brothers and sisters are part of a lifelong union that an only child can never be part of and the reality of that, at a young age, can be hard to understand.

If I were to try to equate the differences between having siblings and not having siblings, this is what I would say and I say this after having been an only child for 66 years and also after raising 4 children of my own:

Only children have a lot of advantages. Its a given that they do.

Growing up in a house with brothers and sisters has many advantages too. As an only child, when my mother died 10 years ago, leaving me without any parent, I truly felt like, and still do, an orphan. Because there are no other people, alive on this earth, who I can talk to, reminisce with, or share stories of those growing up years. The closest I have to that are my many cousins and I cherish those who are still alive.

When I am around my husband's family, I bask in the closeness of their shared memories from having been children together. I do not have that. Nor do I have a sister whom I can truly relate to because we share the same experiencees as little girls. And I don't have a brother who teased me, hid my Barbies, pulled my hair or any of the other trials and tribulations that my sons did to my daughter as she was growing up and still do as adults.

It's a missing I can do nothing about and it's been a long time since I accepted it. But there are those days, especially as I grow old, when I would give anything to have a sister or brother or many sisters and brothers to just look at, as though looking in a mirror, and in some way, see a reflection of myself.


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