Something a Little Different

Being an only child is a unique experience.

It has it’s ups and downs, it’s benefits and pitfalls, but, overall, it’s quite a trip.

Many people have a misconception that only children are “spoiled” by their parents, since there are no other siblings with which you have to compete for attention, material items, etc. Needless to say, you don’t have to be an only child to be “spoiled”. Being spoiled was certainly not the case for me, as I grew up in a dysfunctional, lower-middle class household, with parents who, well, hated being with each other. If there were ever two people that unequivocally should NOT have been married, it would have been my parents (Don’t get me wrong, they are both wonderful people, just not together.). It left little room for getting spoiled.

I know four other families of one child households, two with roughly the same economic circumstances as when I grew up, the others a bit more well-off.

As I have known them all for most all of their lives, I have found it rather fascinating to watch each child develop over the years, their ages now ranging from 8 to 18. And though each has his or her own distinct personality derived from differences in parenting, they all have very similar overall traits, most of which I recognize in myself (at least at one time or another).

Most are very quiet, especially the younger ones. One reason for this is that they never had siblings to compete for attention. No acting out, no yelling over one another at the dinner table, no sharing of rooms. The older they get, however, the more “vocal” (not necessarily outgoing) they become, due to “forced” integration through school and outside activities (which is a good thing.).

They are also very tough mentally. Most especially the ones whose parents don’t have the most “stable” of relationships. Only children have to “go it alone”: No other brothers or sisters to share in the burden of parental disputes. In these situations, it is very likely that, when problems like this arise, each parent tries to unconsciously get the child on their side. And since most only children have a parent they tend to “favor”, it’s hard to be objective at a younger age. You do learn to cope, however, and I’ve noticed a remarkable ability in only children to be very fair individuals. Even the younger ones seem to be a bit “wise beyond their years”.

However, this sometimes lonely, parental tug-of-war is a breeding ground for self esteem issues. Not having another sibling to share in these burdens, and not to be able to learn from each other, creates an atmosphere where the child sometimes just doesn’t know what to do or how to act, so he or she starts to doubt themselves. They are also the only one’s who get disciplined or punished when they do something wrong, and this, at times, invokes feelings of helplessness and confusion. Again, this is more prevalent in the child’s younger years, since the natural course of “letting go” of the parents sets in later on during adolescence, and he or she starts to “find” out who they really are, gaining some of this non-existent camaraderie from friends and other outside influences.

Only children don’t really think of themselves in the way outsiders perceive them to be. They naturally tend to be loners, and they are generally happy to be that way. In my case, I have always been like this. I enjoy the silence of being alone, spending time by myself, engaging in things which I deem self-fulfiling. It’s a pattern I’ve discussed with other adult only children of both genders, and it’s one that almost all, including myself, regard as something of a desired, special nature.

Most people we know are really just acquaintances. We tend not to feel the need to have to always do something with other people. We tend to have very few “true” friends, but the ones we let into our lives, we are loyal to a fault.

It reminds me of a qoute from George Washington:

“Be courteous to all, but intimate with few; and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation.”

All this said, there have been plenty of times that I’ve wished I had a sibling. Most of my family is dead. No cousins, nieces, nephews, aunts, or uncles. My wife’s family is wonderful, always embracing me as one of their own, so it helps a bit to fill a void. But, it would be nice to be able to share memories and childhood experiences with someone of your own family. Someone you grew up with, and watched grow up. And it would be nice to grow old with them, and to be at one another’s side when our time comes to pass.

Give your brothers or sisters an unexpected call. Tell them how much they mean to you, and how lucky you feel to have them in your life.

There’s some people out there that envy you.

Where are you goin', Billy boy, Billy boy
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