I’m an only child. Every time I tell someone this, the room almost always falls silent, and I look around to see looks of confusion and pity.
I wonder, "Is this because of something else I said earlier? Perhaps there is something on my face? I mean, this response can’t really be just because I said I’m an only child, right?"
Finally, the silence lifts.
“Wow, I can’t imagine not having any siblings,” someone typically says. “Do you wish you had a brother or a sister?” another will inevitably ask.
Then, come my two personal favorites: “Oh,” and, “That sucks.”
Okay, I guess these people do think being an only child warrants such a reaction. The “that sucks” reaction, in particular, always stings.
Being an only child doesn’t suck. I actually love being an only child, and I always have. But it's not for the reasons you might think.
When individuals with siblings imagine the perks of someone not having any, they typically — whether it be directly or indirectly — depict us as spoiled and bratty.
They tend to think it’s easier to be an only child (at least while younger) because we don’t have to compete with siblings for parental attention, affection or funds.
They also think we can easily manipulate our parents into giving us anything we want, from presents to a later curfew. The negative side of this is, of course, that such assumptions negatively stereotype us as bratty, spoiled, selfish and socially awkward.
Like any stereotype, it is an exaggerated and unfair label. While I obviously can’t speak for any only children aside from myself, I will say neither the lack of competition with siblings, nor the presumed ability to “manipulate” my parents are the reasons why I enjoy being an only child.
Here are the real perks, as far as I’m concerned:
1. Close relationship with my parents
The number one positive side effect of being an only child is how close I am to both of my parents. From after-school chats with my mom to watching episodes of "The Simpsons" with my dad, I have always had special traditions and shared interests with both of them.
More importantly, I have always been able to talk to them about anything. From school stress to first crushes, I never feel uncomfortable bringing up any topic or asking for advice. (Okay, so the boy talk is usually more a “mother-daughter topic,” but still).
They understand me completely, flaws and all, and they support me just as much as they call me out on overreacting to something minor. Mom is my Lorelai Gilmore, and Dad is my Mr. Bennet.
I am able to view them as “friends” in addition to “parents,” and it has allowed me to fully appreciate and recognize them as people with their own thoughts, feelings and fears.
It’s a unique bond I honestly don’t believe I would have with them if I had siblings.
Also, in response to the stereotype of only children getting whatever they want, I can honestly say that has never been true for me. A cat and a swimming pool are two things that come to mind when I think of things I really wanted as a child, but never received.
Being an only child didn’t magically make my parents say yes. To this day, I sometimes tease my dad (who prefers dogs) and mom (who doesn’t really care for cats or dogs) about this. But in retrospect, it obviously wasn’t the end of the world.
After all, I can easily buy a cat once I graduate college. But, I could never buy the type of close relationship I have with my parents.
2. Knowing how to be alone
It wasn’t until recently that I realized just how important this is. I’m generally the type of person who wants go out with friends when no one is free, and wants to relax with Netflix when everyone is free. But when I do have time to myself, I don’t hate it.
Growing up, I didn’t live close to most of my school friends, so planning get-togethers could easily become a headache. When we could arrange a sleepover or a trip to the movies, I enjoyed going, but there were definitely weekends where I was on my own.
Since some of my friends lived as close as down the street from each other, I can’t lie and say this didn’t sometimes make me feel left out or isolated. Combined with the fact that I didn’t have any siblings to hang out with either, I think it’s understandable why I would feel that way.
At the same time, I never let it ruin a weekend for me. I wrote, took dance classes, participated in local theatre groups and practiced the piano. I discovered what I loved and what I did not. And I didn’t have to worry about a brother or sister bursting into my room while I did any of these things.
As I’ve grown older, the fact I have since moved has made it immensely easier for me to hang out with friends. I still make a point to have time for myself. After all, no friendship can truly flourish if I first don’t take care of and understand my relationship with myself.
3. Talking to adults comes easy
When you have siblings, you’re usually ushered off to the “kids area” of family functions, or you're expected to socialize with the cousins closest to your age after a quick “hello” to the family.
As an only child, I never experienced this. Instead, I was always right there for the “adult discussions” — whether they were about politics or music — and I contributed when appropriate.
This caused somewhat of a chain reaction in my life, as I've always had good relationships with older figures in my life. Cocktail parties and job interviews don’t intimidate me. Throughout my college career, I have fostered good relationships with a few of my professors.
Had I not grown up as I did, I believe these aspects of my personality would be quite different.
While I enjoy the fact I’ve never had to share a bedroom (except for in college), this doesn’t mean I hate sharing. (My roommate who has borrowed books and clothes from me can vouch for this.)
While I know how to enjoy a day by myself, it doesn’t mean I don’t know how to behave in social situations. Just because you may not be able to imagine life without siblings, it doesn’t mean I feel lost.