Growing up, I would always hear people talking about how their siblings would either steal their stuff or have their friends over and annoy the living daylight out of them. I would hear how siblings would scare them about the eighth grade. Sometimes, it would be the opposite, and I would hear how siblings inspired my friends to want to be just like their brother or sister who graduated. And of course, a common complaint, one that would be the most annoying of all, for me, was not having available bathrooms in the morning.
For me, the situation was different. I never got into fights. I would always have my toys and games for myself and didn’t have to share. I had my own room and bed to sleep in at night, and a nice, peaceful, unused bathroom in the morning. It’s not because I was a selfish sibling, but because I was not a sibling.
Being an only child has its ups and downs. Although I used to complain about it a lot back in grade school because almost all my friends had siblings, I realize that it’s actually not that bad. I know many of my friends would call me lucky for being an only child, as something they wished they were. But for those who have always wondered what it’s really like to be an only child, here are some of the things that I have experienced being the sole offspring of the family.
- You get almost all the attention from your parents
Most obvious is that parents have all eyes on you. There is no “just because we don’t always pay attention to you doesn’t mean we don’t love you”. Also, any time I wanted something that my sibling would have also wanted, I didn’t have to argue with them over it or be forced to share. Don’t you even think about touching my PS3 controller when I’m not around.
On the other hand, always getting attention from my parents did work against me at times. They were stricter about my curfew coming home, they would always check in on me to make sure I was going to class and studying (they still do that now), and there were always times I wished I had a sibling to redirect the attention to when I suffered a tragic fate, like failing a test.
What comes with this is the overwhelming emotional feeling when my parents drop me off to college every semester. Who will they take care of when they get back home? Me, of course! I have not had a single day when I don’t get calls and texts from my parents at least 5 times, and me not being the rebellious type, I always answer. I know, it’s “sweet”, but not so sweet when you’re in class and the professor hears your phone go off! I do go home on weekends, but since I only live 20 minutes away, it’s an awesome feeling, like I never really left, and coming back to my own soft bed!
2. You do get lonely, but not often
Whenever I invite my friends or cousins over, I easily have some of the most memorable experiences of partying, dancing, and playing ridiculous games. At the end of the night, it’s all over. There is not a single human soul close to my age in sight.
Often times, I do wonder what it would be like just to have one other person sleep in the same house (not counting sleepovers, of course), and whether I would want them gone or be happy that I still have someone to talk to. However, with the advent of social media now, getting lonely is not as common for me. I can go on group chats and post random selfies or memes just to show how great of a time we had, or pick up on a conversation that we didn’t finish.
Also, being alone again at night gives me time for deep introspection and made me more aware of what I liked to do when no one else was around. Inevitably, that time comes for everyone at some point, and for me, reading a nice book, or watching Netflix, would be relaxing, or, now that I am in the intense pre-med stage, being alone means I could be more productive with my study time.
3. You might be a bit socially awkward, at least initially
However, being alone also meant less room for face to face interactions, and like any skill, good interaction takes practice. Without a sibling, I may have tended to come off as being more isolated, more self-centered, and not aware of basic social cues when I interacted with my friends or classmates.
But having close friends and extended family around to guide me really made things better. I have been told I am not like most other only children, in that I am not totally antisocial, I try to listen to others’ opinions, and am not spoiled or selfish.
4. You might not know how to stand up for yourself, or understand how the world really works until much later
While my parents did teach me good manners and prepared me, or attempted to prepare me, psychologically for where I am now, nothing could really make me ready to defend my own opinion intensely when met with disagreement. I am not even sure if I have a real opinion sometimes. I often found myself in conversations with friends nodding my head in agreement over something I clearly would have disagreed with, but not sure how to go about convincing them. My parents taught me to be polite and mature, which wasn’t hard for me to grasp with my being around adults almost all the time, but disagreeing with someone may have inadvertently been included in what I considered impolite or immature. Slowly, I am realizing now that it’s okay to have an opinion different than others, and that engaging in debate occasionally may actually be healthy and fulfilling, and improve my knowledge of present day events and world conflicts.
Speaking of present day events, I am just now realizing how intensely competitive the career path I am choosing is. After expending all my energy and time into getting my academic record to where it is now, I realize that many of my pre-med cohorts are doing that, and also getting published, featured in the New York Times, being EMTs and scribes, shadowing over 20 doctors, and having way more clinical experience with actual patients than I ever thought I would be able to achieve. The worst feeling is when you work hard and realize it’s nothing compared to what your peers have accomplished. I’m sure we can all relate, but this can be partially attributed to me being sheltered in my own comfort zone at the end of each night. Not having to fight over the bathroom, not trying to make my parents love me more, and not going out of my parents’ way often to get what I want made me poorly aware of the level of competition the world actually holds. It only took a handful of rejections in high school and the inability to find a summer job my freshman year to realize that not everything comes easy, and that success requires time, patience, and persistence. Having your career path is clearly laid out right in front of you does not yield any exception to this. And I’m still trying to figure it out in time for my MCATs in less than a month.
I know that I didn’t get to choose whether I have siblings or not, and nobody gets to choose their family, but I did get to choose what I make of it. That all being said, regardless of the costs it came with, being an only child has made me proud of who I am today, and ready to experience the world with fresh new eyes at every new stage I enter. Even though I may not have real siblings, my friends, my extended family, and my dog have never stopped treating me like such. In life we learn to appreciate diversity as we progress, and hopefully this post has made you non-only children more aware of the world through the eyes of the sole family heir.
On a side note, the number of only child families in the US and Europe is on the rise (up to 30% now in New York), and statistics show that this actually might help increase the nation’s productivity and intelligence, and can counter some of the negative societal effects of obesity and divorce. Yeah, let’s go us!