Happy to be an only child

IMG_2614As an only child, I was surprised to read a recent Seattle Times article in which the writer urges parents who have only one child not to panic.  Apparently the prevailing fear in this era of hyper-parenting is that the single child will have no friends, and without siblings he or she will be messed up for life. I’m thankful to the writer for reporting recent research that shows it’s possible for only children to turn out O.K.  Otherwise I might never have known.

When I was growing up, I remember one common criticism about only children from my friends: “You must be spoiled.” Was I? I don’t know.

What most people don’t understand is that only children have no basis for comparison.  My husband and I traveled to China with a couple who’d been divorced, but through a second marriage had added many grandchildren, nieces and nephews. They bemoaned the fact that in a country with a mostly one-child policy, children would not have the pleasure of siblings and they’d also miss out on cousins. They needn’t have felt sorry for the Chinese children.  These children will not feel bad. Everyone they know has the same history.

I checked in with a friend, another only child, who, like me, was surprised to learn that finding friends was a challenge for only children, and surprised that parents needed reassurance. Neither of us has ever felt a shortage of companions.

Most of my friends have siblings, and some have formed close-knit families. Some siblings’ lives take them in different directions and they find they don’t have much in common as adults. Rarely do friends ever talk about their brothers and sisters, so I don’t have a sense about who’s happily related and who’s not. Those who do talk don’t always have nice things to say. Sibling rivalry doesn’t end at age twenty-one. And, as I’ve written before, comparing yourself to others, especially making financial comparisons, almost guarantees the blossoming of resentment. Fights over what “Mom and Dad” really intended the kids to inherit even though they didn’t specify it in their wills are not uncommon. I was thankful I could handle my parents affairs without family squabbles.

But these are only stories I hear.  I really wouldn’t know.  I only know I loved being an only child and don’t miss any brothers or sisters I might have had. And I’m glad my parents never seemed troubled by raising only me.  My dad was thirty-seven when I was born.  He was probably relieved to stop at one.




About stillalife

I retired June 30, 2010 after working for 40 years in the field of education and most recently doing school public relations/community outreach in a mid-size urban school district. I wrote for superintendents and school board members. Now I'm writing for me and I hope for you. In this blog, I offer my own views coupled with the latest research on how to preserve our physical and mental health as we age, delve into issues most of us over 50 can relate to like noticing wrinkles and forgetting where we left our keys, discuss the pros and cons of different ways to engage our minds and bodies after we leave the workplace, and throw in an occasional book review, all peppered with a touch of humor, irony, and just plain silliness. Also, I'm on the third draft of my second novel since retirement.
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6 Responses to Happy to be an only child

  1. As a fellow only child and your friend during our formative years, I can testify that you were not spoiled. Neither was I. Parenting was so different back then – in the ‘olden days.’ And, as I recall, neither of us yearned for a sibling. We were very content with our ‘only’ status!

  2. Sharon Howard says:

    As an only child, I love this !

  3. Barbara de Michele says:

    As a grandmother, I note that a lot of our young parents worry about “socialization,” especially with regard to only and oldest children. I have a hard time wrapping my head around this worry, since in our generation it was perfectly acceptable to take a book and spend a day curled up somewhere reading. It was perfectly acceptable to have just a few friends, and independent lonerism was often praised. Think “High Noon.” And, on the other end of the spectrum, “Death of a Salesman” critiqued the kind of people who lived for the good opinions of others. However, I keep my mouth closed for fear of becoming that old woman who complains about everything the whippersnappers are up to.

    As a sister, just wanted to remark on “those who do talk often don’t have nice things to say.” A sibling is someone you’ve known since toddler-hood. You remember the time she put peanut butter in your hair as well as the time she shared her candy with you. You remember the time in high school when she stayed out all night with that biker guy and drove your parents and you wild with worry. When mom got dementia, she took on the full burden of care because she lived the closest. So you have all those memories, the good and the bad, layered and tucked away and ready to pull out every time you have another encounter So, sometimes, you do say not so nice things about each other (when she put the peanut butter in my hair I just knew she’d never understand my comments about Donald Trump!) Don’t take those critical remarks from siblings too seriously; it’s part of a life-long push-pull black-white, love-hate thing-a-ma-bobby. After all, we’ve spent a lifetime having a relationship with someone we didn’t get to choose!

  4. Shirley Shimada says:

    As the eldest of seven, I did envy my friend who is an only, but as I age, I really do appreciate my siblings. Our daughter was an only and don’t think she minded too much, but after her first child, she decided to have a second so neither would be so lonely.

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