Besides being black and female, I am also an only child; which places me in a whole additional category of stereotypes. Someone asked me once what it was like to be an only child? In my entire existence I had never had anyone ask me that question because there is always that presumption of what being an only child was like. So no one cared to ask before.
It always bothered me that even as a kid, that people assumed I got everything I ever wanted. It was off-putting that even the most innocent indulgence for myself was perceived as selfish. I don’t deny that there were (and still are) perks to being an only child but believe me there were times I would have preferred the “assumed” disadvantages of having siblings. This is not to showcase a life style of indulgence or preference but to express and maybe clarify the myths that follow the term “only child.”
Obvious perks of being the only child is that you really get to know yourself. I mean REALLY get to know yourself but how does one gauge that knowledge of self when you have nothing to compare it too. I mean other “only children” don’t typically hang out with other only children (at least I didn’t). Both of my parents had siblings. Regardless of the dynamics of those sibling relationships, they still had a familiarity with the basic concept of having brothers and/or sisters. Being an only child, there isn’t that pleasurable option of having someone to look up to or having someone to look up to you. It is easy to contend that one would still have your parents or aunts and uncles to look up to and that is probably true in most cases. I have only imagined what it would have been like to have that one or two individual(s) to confide in about the daily frustrations. There is no one to share childhood memories with or to know “exactly” where you’re coming from because they’ve been there too. It’s a very isolating feeling. As a child you don’t recognize how such disadvantages affect you until you try to pursue healthy relationships as an adult.
YES I had all the cool toys to play with but never really had the pleasure of playing with others. Of course I had friends, extended family and while it did suffice it was never quite the same (I could only imagine) as having a sibling. I remember watching my sons who are four years apart dedicating time after chores and homework to play action figures together. It was simply intriguing to watch to young minds collaborate their imaginations to create a moment; a moment of many that they would reflect on later in life and smile about. I craved those moments. As an only child your imagination is really all you have. The imagination of an only child can be a curse and blessing. A blessing if this child has a healthy perspective but a curse if this child is not properly taught the boundaries of their imagination. I was one of those kids, in my own opinion, that didn’t necessarily have the healthiest perspective of my imagination. My reality and my imagination often crossed one another creating a fantasy misconstrued as a lie. No, my story is not a reflection on all only children. This is my story and only my story which was greatly affected by my family dynamics.
I read an article discussing the myths associated with being an only child (Only Child Stereotypes: Fact vs. Fiction).. It’s intent I believe was to persuade parents into not feeling the pressures of having just one child and while that is definitely a choice that I am neither for or against, I want to encourage people to visualize what sort of adults these only children evolve into.
Myth #6 (for example) from this particular article debunks the concept that only children are dependent; which in my case I believe to be true. Only children like myself are very self-reliant and independent which most would describe as a character asset but how does this effect adult relationships. From my experience this strong sense of independence has often been a hinderance instead of a help. As an African-American female only child there is level of strength that is almost expected of me coupled with this singular view of independence can be a challenge in pursuing healthy long-term relationships. I am apart of a generation of prideful independent women guided by the credo of “I don’t need anybody” which is an ugly untruth because we all need someone at some point in our lives. The other downfall of this heightened level of independence is the attraction to and/or of people who are very dependent. While some may view this as one having the upper hand in the relationship it is not always the dynamics in which one wants but it defaults as such.
This article goes on to discuss several other myths about being an only child that don’t seem to reflect what happens when this only child becomes an adult; which is something that should be considered early on in a child’s development.
To finally answer that question presented to me “what’s it like to be an only child?” I must answer honestly when I say it “sucked.” Of course it was not one of my regrets as I can not be responsible for the decisions my parents made for their benefit and what they felt was in the best interest of the child (me) but had I been apart of that decision-making process I would have gladly declined their generous gesture and encouraged them to have more children. As an only child I have found it difficult to maintain substantial relationships based my level of easy detachment.
When you encounter an adult who reveals that they were raised an only child, don’t assume that they are selfish, controlling, loners who were privileged at birth; consider that these are highly imaginative and creative individuals who are not familiar with the amenities of having siblings which can prose a problem; however, instead of assuming these individuals are molded to be a certain way try to understand that is only what they have been exposed to. This could have been a lengthy summation of my accounts of being an only child but instead I choose to provide this introspect of my own development as “seul infant.”