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The Loneliest Number? Confessions of an Only Child

Updated on January 4, 2012

Parental Advisory

If you are thinking about having kids, there are a lot of questions you probably have. How many kids do you want? What kind of environment will they be raised in? Or probably most importantly what if you and the person you have a child with don't stick it out? While these are very realistic concerns to deal with in a relationship, the first question always seems to be easy until it happens.

I don't have children but I was a child myself and growing up an only child was a fun, unique, and sometimes wild experience but it's mine. And as the years have gone by, I get asked the same questions. Don't you love being an only child? Did you wish you had a sibling? While there have been times where the answers have changed for me, I can't regret something I can't dictate.

But I can be honest about the myths of being an only child versus the reality and what you probably want to know when planning a family.

Family Portrait

I was born an only child, but I'm not the child of only children. Both my parents come from significantly large families. My dad was the second oldest of seven and my mom was the second of five children. While they had the experience of growing up in a big family, their respective responsibilities and challenges shaped their outlook on life and family.

When I was younger, I had the benefit of having a lot of family around. I stayed with my grandparents during school vacations and played with my cousins on weekends. Of course, I wasn't always surrounded by family so I did spend a good deal of time alone. But all in all the interactions I had helped shaped me and developed my skills set.

There were times I thought it was hard being me, but like anyone else I came to realize that my circumstances could be worse. I never questioned if my parents loved me or why they loved me, they just did. Being a kid is one of the few pure joys in life and I'm glad to say while everything didn't work the way I wanted, it worked the way I needed it to.

Advantages to Single Life

Independence: One thing that was awesome for me was the independence I developed early on. My parents never told me or asked me to be like anyone else, so as a result I had a strong sense of self. When I was middle and high school, I didn't feel pressured by the desire to fit in and while that did cause some trouble it kept me out of it more often than not. Peer pressure never really got to me so it has helped even into adulthood not to feel like I belong to a group or cause just because it's hip.

Always Favored: Most people I know have siblings and rather or not it's mentioned, they always struggle in the shadow of another sibling. It's not that parents particularly want to like one child better than the next, it's just a fact of human nature. By being the only child, I never had to compete for attention or act out in such a way to feel accepted by my family.

Unique Interests: I knew some siblings who had to do certain activities or join certain club because they had to do the same thing as their sibling. Not that that's bad, but your right to choose is taken away before you knew you had the possibility. I got involved with a lot of different things as a kid and that was only because it was something that I liked. In the same vein, my taste in music, movies, and television wasn't dictated by a certain person.

Observant Instincts: In many ways, it's a habit of repetition but really it's just knowing how to be nosy without looking like it. When I was in school, I would always observe behaviors, patterns, and details just to get through class. And when I wasn't in school I always had my eyes open to what was around me. It helped me become a good writer as well as a good judge of character.

Creativity: Most only children I know have some sort of creative spark within them. Famous or not, it's par for the course. Spending hours in your room can either lead to infinite genius or infinite insanity. When you don't have someone else to be around, your mind can take you to places that you never knew existed.

Disadvantages to Single Life

Loneliness: There is a difference between loneliness and being alone but as a child it's hard to sense that. On several occasions during my childhood, I wanted what my cousins had: a natural confidant. They could talk to each other about their parents' quirks, the crazies at school, and just everyday things that adults aren't always keen to or interested in.

Social Awkwardness: I struggled with social situations for a long time and in some ways I still do. But for the most part overcoming my shyness and my inability to communicate as clearly as possible took a lot of effort. And sometimes it was the lack of self-awareness in knowing what not to do in certain situations.

Selfishness: I can't begin to say how much I would like this not to be true, but it is. When you only have yourself to worry about for the first eighteen or so years of your life, it's hard to see life through the eyes of others. It's not that I had so much trouble with sharing my possessions, but the actual idea of seeing beyond myself enough to know there was someone else who had the same issues and concerns of life I did.

Moving Target: I know bullying isn't mutually exclusive to being an only child, but I think in many ways having a sibling helps you deal with the quips of other kids. I wasn't keen to knowing how to defend myself besides my mom's requisite ignore them. Had I had a partner in crime, I could have at lest gotten a good punchline out of the deal.

Lack of Swagger: This kind of goes with being a moving target. Part of the reason I was bullied was because I wasn't always hip to what was going on. I didn't speak too much slang, I didn't know how to hang, and I had really bad bangs. While this isn't essential to being a kid, it would have helped that I had more of a youthful edge to get along with my peers than not.

One and Only

As I've grown older and more insightful, I've seen how life has changed around me. While there are many things that have changed, some never change. My parents are the same two people and I am the same kid they had all those years ago.

Like I said at the beginning, being an only child is a gift that keeps on giving. I've had room to be my own person while at the same time I've had a harder path to self-awareness and social adjustment. But that's my experience, it's not every only child's experience.

What happened in my formative years helped shape who I am, but it doesn't define me exclusively. Just as I am an only child, I'm also a female, a minority, and so on. These things shape my experience but at the same time they are still labels.

If you are a fellow only child, I'm sure you have your own experiences and I will be very glad to hear them. Thanks for reading and for stopping by!


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    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Ron,

      Thank you for coming by and commenting! It's always interesting to hear different perspectives of other only children.

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 5 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      As a fellow only child, I enjoyed reading this hub. You've really thought about being an only (more than I have) and have some insightful things to say. I do identify with many of the points you make, and now you've got me wondering if onlys generally share similar characteristics. Thanks!

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thank you so much Ishwaryaa22 for coming by and commenting. I agree that being an only child helps you see life differently and does help you grow in a different way.

    • ishwaryaa22 profile image

      Ishwaryaa Dhandapani 5 years ago from Chennai, India

      An insightful & engaging hub! I totally agree with all of your points, especially moving target and lack of swagger as I had such experiences in the past. Being an only child has enabled me see life in a different light. It has helped me grow as a person. You presented your views very well in this well-written hub. Well-done!

      Thanks for SHARING. Useful & Interesting. Voted up

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thanks Glimmer Twin Fan! I really wanted a sibling. My cousins were my age and they had each other even after we went home from playing. I think of it in this way as I get older, if you are lucky and have the opportunity, your siblings can become your oldest and most trusted friends. But I don't lack either way so I consider myself lucky regardless.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Claudia Mitchell 5 years ago

      Alecia - My daughter is an only child and we have thought about this many times. Your hub hit the nail on the head. She seems to be thriving so far and she is almost too independent. I've asked her if she minds being an only child and she says she doesn't. She's only 9 so her answer may or may not change. Really enjoyed this hub.

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Millionaire Tips,

      I think the same things can be said about people with siblings. I think one of the biggest things is that there is a sense of loneliness but at the same time it forced me not to rely so much on other people to do or achieve things. I think in time she'll come to appreciate having good parents above and beyond anything else. Thanks for coming by and commenting.

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 6 years ago from USA

      I am not an only child, and really appreciate having my siblings around. However, my daughter is an only child, and I often worry about her missing out, especially as she gets older. She will be the only one responsible for my care when I get too old to take care of myself, and that seems like a huge responsibility to place on her. Thanks for this great list of advantages and disadvantages. Hopefully for her the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Sam! Thank you for coming by and commenting! I always appreciate your comments and feedback. I hope I can continue to give you great hubs as well.

    • sam209 profile image

      sam209 6 years ago

      Great hub as usual Alecia! You and I certainly have similarties as far as being the only child! You're definitely one of my favs to follow!

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Au fait,

      I definitely see where you're coming from. Both my parents are the 2nd oldest in their respective families and there are significant gaps between them and their younger siblings. As a result, they really didn't bond until their siblings grew up.

      But I agree the resources I had as an only child definitely helped me develop faster than if I had even one more sibling. I had a great childhood so I don't think I could complain but as you get older you see the other side of the coin as well. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 6 years ago from North Texas

      I was #5 of 5, but there are several years between me and the others. Sometimes I think I got the worst of both worlds. My sibs were all grown up and gone by the time I was 10, the first ones leaving before I even started school. Sometimes they seem more like aunts and uncles than siblings. Sometimes it's hard to believe we all grew up in the same house with the same 2 parents.

      I can see what you say about not having to conform to what other siblings are doing if you don't have any. I'm so much younger that I can see that I have much more independence from the "fitting in" issue than my sibs who mostly seem to act as a group and worry about each other's opinions of each other even though we all live miles and miles apart.

      I don't worry about their opinions of me and when they try to manipulate me the way they manipulate each other, it has no effect. I've been standing alone most of my life and they've been a group for all of theirs, so they seem to have no idea how different our experiences have been.

      Anyway, I think like everything in this world, there are advantages and disadvantages to being an only child and to being one of several. One big advantage is probably that parents have more resources to devote to an only child because there is no need to divide those limited resources by 2 or 3 or more.

      Interesting hub. Voting you UP and interesting!

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hey Flora, I've had relatives in similar situations as yours and it does almost feel like they're only children mainly because their siblings are old enough to be their aunts/uncles and so on. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image

      FloraBreenRobison 6 years ago

      I can tell you as a person who has one sibling with a large age difference between us as we have the same father but different mothers that I tend to have experiences as if I were an only child but I am not.

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thanks Ubanichiijoke!

    • ubanichijioke profile image

      Alexander Thandi Ubani 6 years ago from Lagos

      Quite interesting rendition. Lovely outlook, great article

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      HI Ruchi,

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I understand your reservations about having another child. While it's a good idea, you are right about needing to spend time with your children. And two professional parents don't make that easier. Best of luck with everything and thanks again!

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Sarah,

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting. Sometimes it's hard but I think you're taking a great step by putting him in daycare. I know that helped me as a young preschooler. Thanks again!

    • Ruchi Urvashi profile image

      Ruchi Urvashi 6 years ago from Singapore

      Great work. I have one child and I feel some pressure from family and friends, to have second child. However, I feel that one child is good for me and my spouse. Reading your experiences was an eye opener. I will stick to my decision as I feel that when both husband and wife are professionals, there is less time and it is good to spend that time with one kid.

    • sarahgaden profile image

      sarahgaden 6 years ago from Massachusetts

      I liked this article. I have one son and it is unlikely I will have more children. Sometimes I worry that he'll feel lonely, but I also know there are advantages to him being an only child. I think being in daycare is a help in learning to share at this point in his life.

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Kelleyward,

      I think it's all about perspective. I don't see anything wrong with being an only child and at times it's great but like you said there's an up and a down to everything. Thank you for commenting and stopping by!

    • profile image

      kelleyward 6 years ago

      enjoyed reading this hub! I have a friend who has one daughter and I see much of what you talked about in her. As with anything in life there are both limitations and advantages. Thanks for sharing your story!

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Cogerson,

      I think you have a good point about a big family but I think it's easy to be comfortable in a smaller family too. It's all about your experience and the insight you gain from it but I think you do have an advantage in experiencing both. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

    • Cogerson profile image

      UltimateMovieRankings 6 years ago from Virginia

      Thanks for an interesting look into how you grew up. I really like how you included the positives and the negatives off growing up as an only child. I am one of two children..but have managed to have 6 kids as a grown I feel I am seeing both sides...the side I grew up with and the side my kids are growing up with....I would say having a big family is better than a small family...but that is just my opinion. Voted up and very interesting.

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      I had to get used to sharing and compromising as I got older as well Jeannie. That's why I wanted a roommate in college so I could actually break the selfish habits that have formed over the years.

      I agree with having to deal with parents now. My cousin's an only child an was pretty much solely responsible in dealing with his dad's illness and death. I know it will happen and that I have a good network of extended family but it's going to be hard to have to do the heavy lifting myself. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

    • Jeannieinabottle profile image

      Jeannie InABottle 6 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      I am an only child, too. I know what you mean about being selfish. I am used to things being my way and only my way, and it is difficult to try to adjust to that. Even in adulthood, I find it is easier to live by myself which can be bad.

      What I've learned as I've gotten older is the worst part of being an only child is when your parents get older and are not as healthy, there is no one to share the responsibilities. I constantly worry about my parents now and wish I had a sibling to help me through this. At least I have many cousins and aunts and uncles, too. I think when parents grow up with many siblings they are less likely to have a lot children themselves.

      Great hub and voted up!

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Nia,

      I see where you're coming from as well. I had a dry humor as a kid but it was just a result of being aloof at times. I've been skeptical and a loner at times as well but my sarcasm is a result of me just figuring out what works for me. Yeah, I think there is an only child code just like there is anything else but that's not all we have to offer. Thanks for stopping by!

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Joshua,

      I have family members who are siblings and that's something I've noticed as well. I don't think it's intentional, I just think it was circumstances as well as environment that produced tensions. As we grow up, I think we all become appreciative of what goes on but you're right, you always had someone to hang with. Thanks for stopping by!

    • NiaG profile image

      NiaG 6 years ago from Louisville, KY

      Well you know I'm one. A few of your disadvantages were different from my experience but they are probably only due to personality differences that weren't shaped from being an only child. I'm pretty sarcastic and have always been since I was younger so I always had a quick quip ready. And though slightly shy growing up, I was somehow never too awkward for socializing. But everything else is spot on! Very relatable hub!

    • JoshuaDR profile image

      JoshuaDR 6 years ago from Charleston, SC

      I enjoyed your hub, voted up. I have a younger brother and at times we both felt like we were in the others shadow. One thing you def avoided was the jealousy associated with having siblings. The good side though is you always have someone to play with and my brother and I have grown much closer as we got older.


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