I recently read an article about how more women are making the cognizant choice to have just one child.
What was once looked at as a rare mystical unicorn, the plight of an only child, has now become something parents are deciding is right for them. As an only child myself, there are many stigmas I have attempted to correct in my shortish tenure on this planet.
On the contrary, there are likely some fact-based generalizations I simply cannot discount.
Having an only child is selfish
My parents did not choose to have one child. They tried for years to have me, and they tried for years after I was born to have another child. They (well, my Mother) coined me her miracle baby (a phrase that may or may not have slightly gone to my head as a child and never really left).
Getting (and staying) pregnant is not easy and natural for all mommas, as I have had my own fertility issues and know several that have lived this very plight.
While my parents would have liked to give me a brother or sister, despite years of begging for a built-in playmate, I finally accepted the fact that it was going to be just me. And let me tell you, that acceptance led to a wide array of happy memories I would not trade for anything else in this world.
Only children are spoiled
Perhaps. But not in the ways you might think. While my parents worked very hard to meet all of my physical needs and yes, I likely had more toys and the latest kid gadgets than many of my friends, the actual term ‘spoiled’ has always rubbed me wrong.
My mother corrects folks that tongue-in-cheek use this term to describe that of her only child by saying: “She was, and is, well loved.”
Did I get all of my parent’s attention with little to no need of competition from another being (other than perhaps the family pet?).
Well, yes…I did.
And I will not apologize for it. It was a gift, one I treasure with my whole heart, and continually reflect on the many blessings I was given simply by being my parents’ only child.
Did I struggle socially to make friends and automatically know how to share, play fair, take turns, and include others, as most children learn at young ages due to the other siblings in which they share a home?
Well, yes…I did.
At times, I still struggle with the early social skills others nonchalantly develop due to having siblings.
However, my Mother worked at a daycare center when I was a young child, and she took me with her. I had a plethora of friends that I still think of today as my early siblings.
Thanks to those special early friends, I do not think I am some kind of freak that cannot handle my own in a public setting (a freak perhaps, but one that can hold a conversation).
Only children are lonely
At times, this may be true. I went to my friends’ homes and was jealous that they had playmates…all.the.time.
However, they were just as jealous that I did not have siblings which threatened to steal my toys, eavesdrop on my private phone conversations, or go to great lengths to gain attention when having friends over for a sleepover.
I had my own bedroom, my own phone, TV, and computer.
Again, not really. Just thankful for the ability my parents had to provide that which they likely could not have provided to two or more additional children.
I always had pets, which were more like siblings to me, in the absence of actual human siblings. They did not talk back, they were always up for adventure, and they never tried to steal my clothes when clothing actually started to matter, as a pre-adolescent young girl.
With as much time as I spent alone as a child, I developed a healthy (some might say, overly healthy) sense of imagination.
Did I have an imaginary friend? Of course I did. (But I will not divulge any information about her, as she wishes very much to remain anonymous).
Only children have an awkward relationship with their parents
This may be the furthest-from- the-mark stereotype.
While my relationship with my parents was, and is very close, it is far from awkward, weird, bizarre, or unconventional.
Sure, I have very protective instincts toward my mother and father. At this stage in life, I likely worry more for their safety, happiness, and ability to function in society, than they do mine.
Even at a young age, I was very protective of these highly responsible, cautiously conservative parents of mine. On the rare occasion they stayed out late at night, I would get extremely anxious if they did not return my typical ‘just checking in’ phone call.
Not to mention, I tend to have a fixation with any and all health issues which meander meander their way into those close relationships in my life, at the top of the list being my parents.
I have studied birth order in families and the significance it plays in the role of each child’s developing personality.
Only children are often said to exhibit many similar traits as older children.
They are often protective, creative, nurturing, responsible, and tend to take on the role of parent, at times with their very own parents.
I see this reflected in my own two sons. The older is more serious, studied, and a bit (more than a bit) of a perfectionist. Like his Only Child Momma.
My youngest son is laid-back, makes friends easily, does not get anxious or upset by much at all, and seemingly enjoys a stress-free peaceful life. Like his Daddy (also a youngest child).
I often look at my friends who have close relationships with their parents and wonder how on earth they are capable of sharing this level of devotion and attention with another soul?
As much as I wanted a sibling when I was a child, I am not sure I could have handled it, once I knew what I would be missing. I needed all from them, and I might be conditioned to still need all from them, in many ways.
Likely my biggest fear as an only is someday losing my parents. And not having a lifelong connection with a sibling in which to share that level of grief. I know I will not be completely alone, but just as it has become my two sons and me as a tri-fecta relationship post-divorce, it has always been my parents and myself, ‘The Three Maphies’.’
I try not to look too far into the future as none of us knows what it holds. But the mere thought of living this life without the two people that love me more than anything on this earth, is quite overwhelming.
Would I have been a completely different person had I not been an only child?
I may not have had as many relationship struggles. I may not have been the only child to leave a slumber party at 3:00 a.m. due to being homesick. I may not have the pesky OCD traits that rear their ugly head in times of extreme life stress.
However, I may also not have as closely endearing a relationship with my parents. I may not aspire to be like the two greatest beings on this earth in which I had the joy to have all to myself. I may not have a special place in my heart for animals, especially dogs, cats…and owls (the latter having nothing to do with my parents, just a quirky obsession I have with the large-eyed, head-turning, mysterious nocturnal beings).
I may not have the passion for self-expression and digging deep within my soul for answers I may never find. I may not know the pure joy and excitement of discovering my sons’ bizarre, ever-changing, and always tribal brotherly relationship.
I may not be the same person I am today if I were not an only child.
I embrace and love myself in a way that comes from having to entertain, forgive, learn, and actively participate in my own self-led journey.
If you think you are doing your child a disservice by “only” having one, think again.
That elusive magical unicorn of being an only child is most likely more well-adjusted, self-aware, and contentedly peaceful than you will ever know. After all, we have had way more time to ourselves to figure this stuff out…