The thing about being an only child is that people constantly remind you about what a negative experience it must have been. Some sympathetically tell you that it must have been so lonely, that you were missing out on something; others joke that you must have been so spoiled and loved all the attention. Alternatively, people will say something along the lines of, “You don’t seem like an only child.” I’ve been hearing these judgments and amateur assessments all my life.
There are many stereotypes about the only child, from being selfish and self-absorbed to lonely and poorly-adjusted as both children and adults. I guess when people tell me that I don’t seem like an only child, they’re trying to give a compliment. People are weird.
So is there any truth to the stereotypes about only children? Are they selfish, lonely, and have poor social lives? Not in my experience. Growing up, I was lonely sometimes. Bored. Maybe felt a little left out at social gatherings with my parents, surrounded only by adults. But I was also independent, resourceful and imaginative. I had lots of fun with my parents and on my own.
My parents included me in all sorts of interactions with diverse people. I discussed news and politics with my them and their friends. I learned about issues that I wasn’t being taught in school and researched out of pure interest. My parents never shielded me from anything that was going on, instead having age appropriate yet mature discussions. I also always felt I had the support of my parents when I needed it. I never felt alone.
I remember a brief period when I wanted a sibling. An older sister, something like Rayanne Graff. A cool bad girl who would introduce me to cool things my friends didn’t know about yet, give me serious cred at school, and maybe help me out with my coming to terms with my sexuality. But it passed. Really, I was very content the way things were.
And aside from being a bit awkward in high school (by this I mean a lot awkward), I think I’m neither selfish or poorly adjusted. I have a happy long term relationship, an active social life, a career I enjoy. If anything, the independence I gained from my childhood has served me well in all of these areas. That doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with issues, but I don’t think they have anything to do with not having siblings. Being an only child was not a bad thing. It was just a thing.
Probably some only children fit into the stereotype, but so do many who have siblings. I’ve met many selfish, self-absorbed people with siblings, as well as lonely and socially awkward people with brothers and sisters.
Having one child or many will not determine how they will end up. And there is a body of scientific evidence that leads to that conclusion. But there is still a stigma around only children that is slow to change. I know because I still hear the comments now into my thirties. If you meet someone without siblings, and it comes up, pause on your judgement — they’ve heard it all before.