Childhood: Perspectives from an Only Child

I find that the question of siblings is almost immediately brought up when meeting someone new.

What’s your name? What do you do? How many other times did you parents produce offspring?

And for me, it’s a pretty short answer.

None. Only child.

Usually, this gets a fairly big reaction. Probably because of all the articles discussing the stereotypes associated with only children. And since I outwardly display a lot of traits attributed to this kind of upbringing, i.e. assertiveness, maturity, and slightly introverted, I get a lot of “Oh that makes sense!”.

But honestly I never really minded the dismissiveness, because for me I liked how I was raised. During the fall I temporarily rented the guest room of a family friend who had two young children. And it really made me re-evaluate some of my opinions about growing up solo. So here are three positive and three negative things about being an only child.

Positive:

  1. Quiet Time: I grew up in a quieter household. My mom insists I was a very insistent child, but not very loud. Apparently, I took that inside voice rule to be my one law. My parents very rarely yelled at me for any reason, so as an adult I really value those moments I get to be contemplative. Summers spent in the company of my extended family who had multiple kids running around I noticed there was almost never silence, screaming was just a normal part of the dynamic. I still get startled by people yelling.
  2. Attention: I am literally my mother’s entire world. I know this because she tells me some form of I love you in almost every text, phone call, and interaction we have. We talk every day and there’s probably nothing I feel really uncomfortable discussing with her. She’s always so patient and supportive. I attribute this close bond to the fact we share many of the same interests and temperament, but I acknowledge that it probably has something to do with being the sole object of her focus as a parent.
  3. Finances: Let’s get controversial. Kids are expensive. And one of the perks of being the only child is being the sole dependent. I grew up in a great amount of comfort and indulgence, mostly due to the fact my parents only had to worry about my wants and needs. It would have been impossible to attend the kind of summer camps, family vacations, and go to university debt-free like I did if my parents had to consider another child in the mix. Plus I was an only grandchild on my dad’s side so guess who got all that sweet Christmas/birthday money? (Save that cash, kids. Comes in handy.)

And now let’s get to the flip side. Why it’s not always the best.

Negatives:

  1. Social: Being so comfortable with playing by yourself does have some downsides. It means I take a little while to warm up to some people and I’m less likely to just go out spontaneously. I’m pickier about who I spend my time with and notice I don’t tolerate people’s flaws as much as people from big families. That compulsion to be social just isn’t part of who I am. It takes a lot of extra effort to counteract this.
  2. Adult Support: My mother has siblings (my fabulous aunt and uncles) and has always been the baseline for how I imagine it would be like to have grown up with siblings. My mom and my aunt in particular really depend on each other when commiserating and gossiping. I feel like I have that kind of closeness in many friendships, but it would be nice to complain/celebrate family drama and memories with another person who gets it.
  3. Children someday: I know it’s strange to discuss kids in your early twenties. I definitely don’t plan on having any til I’m past 30, but I do want to be a mom someday. However, I’m convinced I could only handle one child, two would be a stretch, three would be insane. Like the idea of having more kids than I have hands terrifies me. If my insanely amazing mom could only handle one, how could I ever have more than that? Sometimes I worry if I’ll have a partner who wants a huge family that it could be a deal breaker. But for who I am and how I imagine my lifestyle to be for my family/ child: one doesn’t seem like the loneliest number.

What was your sibling situation like? Did you enjoy being a sibling/only child? Do you ever think about how many kids you’d want to have?

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