I’ve been doing a bit of soul-searching lately. On more than one occasion people have described me as an only child. It’s true, I am an only child. The thing is, when I’m describing someone’s personality I don’t usually say “so-and-so is a first-born, he/she has two younger sisters” or something like that. Most people don’t think that’s really relevant to someone’s personality except when it comes to only children. Apparently we’re a breed of our own.
Frankly, I don’t get it. Sure, the fact that I was the one and only child in my family is part of who I am, but does it really define me? I look around at the other “onlies” that I know – my father, my cousin, my husband, and my best friend from high school (just to name a few) – and in our totality we don’t seem to be that similar. We all have very distinct personalities. So am I missing something because I too am an only child? Are we all a bunch of lonely, selfish, social misfits and I’m just not seeing it? Is there a big scarlet “O” stamped on our foreheads that is only visible to people with siblings?
So I did what any Millennial does when we have a question. I turned to Google. Of course the first thing that pops up in the results is Wikipedia. There’s a whole section in the “Only Child” entry called “Myths and Stereotypes.” Apparently back in 1896 a crack-pot psychologist by the name of G. Stanley Hall decided that “Being an only child is a disease in itself.” Thanks, buddy. Apparently his observation had no scientific basis but managed to create the stereotype of only children that still persists today. Wonderful.
According to this 2010 article from Time points out one big difference about only children. Onlies have been shown to score higher on standardized tests that measure verbal and math skills in comparison to children from larger families. Also, onlies, first-borns, and children with only one sibling “score higher in measures of intelligence and achievement.” Long-story-short, we’re not weird, lonely, spoiled, social-misfits.
People with siblings always look shocked when I say that I enjoyed being an only child. I didn’t really have any say in the matter, but I had the occasional nightmare about getting a sibling well into my teenage years. That’s right, I said nightmare. I really didn’t want a sibling. People always say “I can’t imagine life without my brother(s)/sister(s)/sibling(s)” but I can’t imagine my life with brother(s)/sister(s)/sibling(s). It’s hard to miss something if it never existed. Sibling relationships fascinate me, because I will never be able to understand them. Sometimes I wish I understood what it was like to have a sibling who is your best friend, but then I realize that most sibling relationships I see don’t look that great. Life as an only-child is free of any sibling drama or dysfunction, and that’s the way I like it.
So there it is. Even though it wasn’t my choice, I’m more than happy to be the one and only in my family. I’m also happy to know that only children are virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the the population….so stop giving us such a hard time!
Until later, Ashlen