I am so happy to have found your site. Being able to read the stories of other onlies further helps me to understand my feelings and not feel alone in my struggles. I am an only child to a divorced mom/dad.My mom had poor relationships with her mom/dad/siblings and never dated or remarried. To say that I was and am the focus of her life is an understatement to say the least. I am now 37 years old and this constant battle of trying to exert my independence and live my own life is becoming more and more overwhelming. I have 4 children of my own and need her support but the more support I am given the more enmeshment I feel. My emotions are often confusing for me as I feel grateful and intimate with her but then angry and frustrated too. What advice would you provide for me [...]

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In my previous post I looked at how Dawn was able to separate emotionally, physically and financially from her mother. I will now explore Daniel’s experience. He also had problems with psychological separation from both his parents, but in a different way with each, as he fought to retain a sense of self and not be caught in the middle of his parents’ relationship.  Daniel: Caught in the web of enmeshment Daniel is in his forties but has never left home and works for his father in the family business. His father relies on him quite heavily and it is difficult for Daniel to have an adult-to-adult relationship with him as his son. This has made their relationship problematic over the years, particularly after his parents’ divorce. Daniel lives with his mother who is very dependent on him for all sorts of support, and in many ways Daniel has become [...]

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In this post I am taking up where I left off in: Why should we try and disentangle our self from an enmeshed relationship?  I am going to describe Dawn as someone who gives us an insight into how difficult it can be to leave home and be independent when the pressure from a parent to stay is considerable. However with support  the importance of making this decision at any age is possible and beneficial to all. Dawn: Going from in-dependence to independence Living with her mother, Dawn has never felt able to leave home, particularly since her father died. Her mother was widowed in her forties and although Dawn had a brief time apart from her family when she went to college, once she began teaching she found it more convenient to live at home. Her mother actively encouraged this, she did not work and Dawn’s father was away [...]

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Why should we try and disentangle our self from an enmeshed relationship? The reasons, as I stated in my previous post, are that when psychological separation is missing, the following can occur: A lack of a sense of self A lack of control over one’s life A potential for low self-esteem A feeling of being a ‘victim’ rather than an ‘author’ of one’s life. I would add to this, that one of the difficulties of being enmeshed as a child is that we do not know any other way to relate to others. It means we take this pattern of relating and do the same to our partner, and child/ren and this can feel very suffocating to the recipient. Especially when this is passed on to ones child/ren, because it does not facilitate them acquiring healthy psychological development.  So how do we disentangle our selves from an enmeshed relationship? If [...]

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I had this very interesting request to do an interview for a radio station in South Korea. You can listen to it here. You will need to scroll down to 3rd July: Only Child Anxiety. The reason for the interview was a result of a recent series of accidents in Korea which have led parents worried about the safety of their children. The anxiety has been worse for mothers with an only child. Some apparently get so depressed they are not able to carry out their everyday lives. This has been particularly true for mothers who have sent their only son to the military following the tragic shooting incident at the GOP. Of course when anyone looses a child they are devastated so in that sense it is the same for all parents whether they have one child or several. However, when you have only one child it can feel particularly [...]

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In my previous post to C, I outlined the consequences that an enmeshed parental relationship can have on both parties. I will continue with this theme and explore the conflict and anger that these types of relationships can lead to and how this can be challenged in a constructive way. Conflict is a normal part of a relationship because we are individuals with different experiences, expectations, hopes and fears. When we are in a close relationship with anyone there will be times when conflict emerges through difference. This is perfectly healthy. It is how it is managed that can create problems. If we take the enmeshed relationship, where both parties feel responsible for the other and no sense of a separate identity has been encouraged, conflict can feel devastating. It is almost as if you are at war with your self. This is because in a sense you are, having [...]

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Dear C,   Thank you for your email, it raises a lot of issues which I will attempt to answer. The four main issues I see are:  Enmeshment, Guilt, Conflict, Anger. However all of the last three are linked specifically to enmeshment so I will look at this first. From your email I think the biggest problem you face is the fact that neither you nor your mother have been able to form an identity separate from each other. This is always more difficult when a ‘family’ consists of only two members. Even in a so called average family of two parents and 2-3 children this can be difficult especially when a parent has not separated emotionally from their own parent or seeks their identity through merging with their child or children. I have written about what I describe as enmeshment between an only child and one or more of [...]

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Bernice: I received this email, which I found very touching and shows the difficult dilemmas an adult only-child faces when they feel divided between a parent and a spouse. I have placed the dilemmas in the text first, and the life story after so people can understand the dilemmas in context. In my next post I will attempt to offer some understanding of the situation and possible ways forward. Dilemmas: My problem is that I don’t know how to split myself…. I need my mom in my life. I need her close to me; I need to see her every day. In fact, I see her every single day and if she is in Colombia we talk twice a day and if we don’t I feel guilty. I don’t know how to divide myself. I want to spend time with my mom, and if possible with my husband too (which if [...]

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All By Yourself?

by on April 7, 2014

in Bernice's Posts

Bernice: I was very pleased to receive this email after my last post – it made me smile and I hope it will do the same for you! S: “Reading all these only child observations, makes me laugh… I was an only child growing up in the 60′s and 70′s. Between Dr. Spock’s book and a community of many multiple children families, it wasn’t easy for me. There is glaring envy/ jealousy from children that come from large families and who perceive onlies as “having it all’. We had a large extended family so I NEVER realized I was an only until I went to school. As years went on, I have always found children of large families to be cruel to each other. They never appreciate their siblings as someone you will have the rest of your life. As adults, most have no contact with the cruel siblings for [...]

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As a response to my last post, I received this email (I have removed some of the more offensive parts). “My father had 7 siblings but had abusive parents, to this day none of the siblings are in touch with each other due to their childhood. My mother is an only child and has loving parents, I never once heard her complain about being an only.  My daughter will be an only and I hope to God she does not have that pathetic chip on her shoulder like some only adult children do. You make your own life in this world don’t blame it on not having siblings.  All I can say to only children, would you rather have abusive parents but had a sibling! Would that have completed your life? Really? Or would you chose having parents that loved you over a sibling?” This was sent from a mother [...]

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Solitary refinement: by Anna Sansom

Here is an interesting article by Anna Sansom - Published in Viewpoint magazine November 2012  More and more parents in the west are choosing to have just one child. Will this siblingless society share the difficulties that have arisen from the policy in China? As an only child herself, Eve Bitoun – a French actress in her late 30s – is particularly conscious of how she is single-handedly bringing up her three-year-old only son, Richard. ‘I’m aware that you have to teach your child to share, because they receive what two or three children would receive,’ she says. ‘So they have to be able to give more. I also want to try to help my son avoid the same mistake of taking on the burden of a parent’s problems. Sometimes you feel responsible and guilty very young and this hampers your development.’ Asked if she wishes that she had a sibling, Bitoun replies, ‘I didn’t [...]

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A perspective from the 1980′s

Hello, I am an only child, now 22 year old adult. I hated being an only child and I struggled a lot with loneliness and grief. What extenuated the loneliness I felt was my dysfunctional family. Early Life: My mom more or less destroyed every shred of a relationship with her siblings, so I didn’t even have the ability to connect well with my extended family. I always longed for a sibling but because of my mother’s mental health issues, I wasn’t even allowed to own a pet, which broke my heart. I am a very social person by nature and the pain and isolation caused by my upbringing still haunts me to this day. I remember daydreaming and creating my own “dream family” complete with all kinds of siblings and pets. It was my way of trying to survive. To this day, I feel as though I have a difficult time relating to small children because I did not have [...]

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A perspective from the 1940′s

Dear Bernice The other night I could not sleep as I was so full of anger and frustration. I wondered if it was anything to do with being an only child and I looked on the internet to see if there was anything about it there. I found your site, amongst others, and was amazed at the similar experiences of only children and their partners, especially the dealing with conflict part. I am an only child, now in my seventies My parents married young and parted when I was born, not at that time because they did not get on but because of my father joining the RAF. Apparently he was in a reserved occupation and only joined up when there was an announcement for volunteers by young men (even if they were in reserved occupations) to join the Air Force if they were in reserved occupations. My father immediately volunteered and became a pilot. My mother was apparently not impressed with [...]

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Stories through the decades

I note with both interest  and a great deal of pleasure that I have received a number of emails after my recent posts on the characteristic of adult onlies, as partners. Not just from adult onlies but also their partners. I am now going to post some of the former as they offer more insights into the range of only child experience to both onlies and non-onlies! You will soon see familiar themes! I believe other people’s stories help us to feel more comfortable with our own experience. When you  have no siblings to share your memories, and you move into middle age, there is often no one to help you remember incidents from your early life or share and compare experiences. I think this often leaves onlies feeling separate and apart from others and this, I believe, becomes greater the older we get, especially after the death of our parents. [...]

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A perspective from the 1990′s

I’m 15 years old and all my life I have hated being an only child.  I only had time to skim through a couple of your stories in the research section and the first two I read definitely stood out to me.  People always think I’m spoiled, but it’s not true at all and I often envy other people with siblings.  I think one time I was at the grocery store and I saw these two siblings fighting over something.  It was so cute how the little girl admired her brother so much and wanted to be just like him but at the same time was so mad at him for pushing her.  The next time I looked over she was holding his hand and he was pushing her away out of “embarrassment”.  I think I almost started crying right there and I’m not a very emotional person.  I knew [...]

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A perspective from the 1960′s

Hi Bernice I am responding to your request for OC experiences. Hopefully my experiences will be of some support towards your research in understanding the many individual experiences and outcomes towards OC adults. My parents were both career minded people not wanting children until I accidentally came along well into their late thirties.  They were certainly ill equipped to have children, and were fairly set in their ways by this time, both extremely self absorbed people.  Both parents  had siblings and parents, and came from some level of dysfunction and anger on both sides. Losing parents early I lost both parents in my early 20s leaving me alone in the world, as a young mother, with no tools or social guidelines of how to reach out to others.  What amplifies my OC experience was that at their passings, although extended family existed, no connections had been made rendering  me completely alone [...]

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A perspective from the 1970′s

Hi Bernice, I am 32 years old, an only child born in Poland and now living in the UK. Happily married to a man much older than me and enjoying bringing up my two young children. My parents still live in Poland. I text my mum everyday and we speak on the phone once a week. Part of me is happy with the decision I made while another part cannot shake off the feeling of guilt. Back in Poland, over 10 years ago, I felt I was just a ‘background’, an attachment to their life, a bit of a nuisance – they were pursuing their careers and filled their spare time with gardening and other ‘useful’ things. Things had to have their purpose, not much room for fun. They chose not to have a second child – and perhaps they still think it was a good choice, or maybe they regret it now, as they are on their own. I’m a [...]

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A perspective from the 1960′s

I hated being an only child and can remember asking every year if I could have a brother or sister for birthday or Christmas.  I was tired of always having all the latest games and toys but no-one to share them with, what is the point of having such wonderful things as they were perceived by other children if there was no-one to play them with?  I hated it I had a lonely and miserable experience as an only child.  Always over anxious to share or give my things away to others for to me they were but meaningless objects with no fun attached. Even now that I am 43 I will give someone my last penny share anything and everything and let people have what they want for the joy of sharing it with others.  I never enjoy activities on my own because all I remember was as a child being forced to experience everything alone.  So [...]

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A perspective from 21st Century- 14 year old

 My four issues Hi Bernice I’m an only child (14 yrs old) and have been looking around the web for a site such as yours because I’m trying to list the problems that being an only child can cause. [Issue 1] I’ve accepted that my parents are too old to have another child, but it is something I’ve always wanted regardless. I would substitute for a dog, but the ‘rents don’t want one. [Issue 2] My best-friend (a fellow only) and I have what one could only call a sister bond, sometimes because I always take care of her, give her a shoulder to cry on. [Issue 3] I have a very tenuous relationship with my parents, and I suspect because of having 100% attention 24/7, I’ve found my own ways to rebel against them by sometimes being difficult and lazy. Because there’s no example for either my parents or myself to follow, I don’t really know how to talk [...]

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Jenni Murray: The lifelong pain of being a ‘lonely only’

As it’s revealed one-child families will soon be the norm, JENNI MURRAY mourns the sibling she never had. By Jenni Murray His name is David Robert and he’s my baby brother. He was born only last night. This was my boast to the school dinner ladies. But the truth was that I didn’t have a baby brother — a lie that was humiliatingly revealed when my mother turned up to a school function that night and was teased for having a pregnancy that had never shown. The next day I faced the full force of her fury. I was smacked for telling such a whopper, denied a month’s pocket money and grounded for two weeks (child psychology in Barnsley was, I fear, in its infancy in the Fifties).  But the truth was, at the age of seven, I desperately wanted a brother (David Robert was the name I would have [...]

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1930′s: Michael Winner: ‘I was an only child and very lonely’

I thought this was an interesting glimpse into a ‘famous’ only child’s life! How many of us like Michael want to hold on to the things in our childhood which gave us enjoyment and meaning. I find it hard to let go some of the things from my childhood especially now my parents are dead. Holding onto those memories via objects which I grew up with seems very important. I wonder if others feel the same? Christopher Middleton’s interview with the film director explains why he is parting with his cherished collection of children’s book illustrations. So what made the famously hard-boiled Winner go gooey over pictures of sprites, fairies and bears? It’s not a matter of getting older: he is 76 now but the collecting started back in 1984, when he was in his pugnacious prime. “I suppose,” he says, after some reflection, “that by buying this children’s art and having it on my walls, I have been doing what I have done my entire [...]

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Is Lauren Sandler right to say one-child families are happier?

Barbara MacMahon, Times June 15th http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/life/families/article3791173.ece Well this old chestnut returns again! Barbara MacMahon’s article in the Times describes the controversy surrounding Lauren Sandlers new book “One and Only’ — the Freedom of Having an Only Child and the Joy of Being One. Lauren Sandler has been surprised by the level of criticism she has received on her opinion from various people, that only children are not disadvantaged, specifically British author Zadie Smith. Apparently, Louise Doughty is also very scathing about Lauren Sandlers research (Guardian Friday 14 June 2013). Having been interviewed by Lauren when she was researching her book our dialogue on the only child experience seems a little different to what is being stated here by Barbara MacMahon: “In her book Sandler debunks many of these myths. Hundreds of studies, she says, show that being raised alone makes little difference to the person you turn out to be and that there can [...]

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New Fiction about only child adults: No 1 on Amazon!

Lesley Thomson: ‘The Detectives Daughter’: A thriller featuring two disparate only child adults! Lesley Thomson’s new novel is a fantastic read, although you do need to be fairly keen on reading books with twists and turns and good descriptive prose. Lesley, an only child herself, has written a really stunning thriller that will keep you wanting to read more. The two main characters are only child adults – not ones you will immediately take to but ones who have all the quirkiness we only children often have. If you like crime fiction this definitely will appeal. Personally I am not always that keen on this genre, but I have to say the book gripped me throughout, despite not having a great deal of empathy for the two main characters. Perhaps that sounds harsh but they do embody some of those aspects of adult onlies, which I know I find difficult, [...]

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Email from a journalist from Brazil

Elida Oliveira I’m a journalist in Brazil, and I’m writing an article about the Only Child. There is a lot of reseach that tries to discover if it is good or not. Many say that onlies achieve better are more intelligence, loved, and so on. Others demonstrate that only child are lonely, selfish and maladjusted. Your goal is just talk with them to know if the onlies, that are adults, feel good about it. Amazing! That’s why I’m writing you. I would like to know if in your research you found any bad aspect of being an only child, or any good aspect of being onlies. What do you conclude? I think that those who didn’t have siblings want to have them because they don’t know if it would be better or not. (I used to dream with an older sister, as I have an older brother) What about the [...]

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Bernice responds to Louise Watt – Beijing correspondent

 Louise Watt (correspondent in Beijing) wrote to me in a personal correspondence about this research and asked me for my response: Recently Australian researchers have explored the psychological impact of China’s one-child policy and part of that is the impact of being an only child. This was published by Science magazine in January 2013. Loiuse’s email: “They found that people born as a result of China’s one-child policy are less trusting, less competitive and more risk-averse than people born before the policy was implemented. The researchers recruited approx. 400 Beijing residents who had been born either before (in 1975 or 1978) or after (in 1980 or 1983) the implementation of the policy. They used a series of economic games, in which participants had to make economic decisions to measure their trust, risk-taking and willingness to compete. They also used personality surveys to determine that only children (as a result of [...]

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Is it better for children to have siblings? (BBC 4 Today programme Aug 22nd)

Yesterday, I was asked my opinion, by a number of radio programmes. This was because of  Sky news presenter and father of six, Colin Brazier’s new book: “Sticking up for Siblings’; published yesterday by Civitas (Institute for Civil Society). In fact I did a very brief interview for Radio 4 Today programme. (Unfortunately not one of my better interviews due to a 30 second delay feedback of my own voice made it impossible to think very clearly!) The BBC news article: Is it better for children to have siblings? has a brief over-view of the book. I was pleasantly surprised that the importance of sibling relationships was being advocated in Colin Brazier’s book. Similarly the economic argument  COTS (cost of a sibling) that the long term cost of a child is £250,000 is challenged by Child Poverty Action Group and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, bringing it down to a mere £150,000. [...]

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Only child of the 80′s

Here is another post of an only child, Lucy, describes growing up in the 80′s and some of the good and bad aspects of that experience. The significance of ageing parents is notable, especially as the relationship has at times been difficult, perhaps in part because of the older nature of the parents. I think this is a case of over-protective parenting. Whilst over-protective parenting may be seen as love it can also be detrimental to the separation process of a child from their parent. This shows itself in Lucy’s guilty feelings and difficulties in feeling okay about saying no to the pressure of being continually in contact and the sense of not being seen as an adult/grown-up either by them or by herself. Still there are lots of good things too – so have a read! Lucy: I’m a nearly 40 something only child which has had some good [...]

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Radio Interview on Late Night Graham Torrington: BBC Radio West Midlands

Last night I spoke to Graham Torrington on the subject ‘Are Only Children Lonely Children?’ Graham is one of five siblings so it is always interesting to have his perspective, especially as his mother was an only. If you would like to listen to the BBC Interview it may take a minute or so to load! I think it is important, when I am interviewed, not to be drawn into absolute statements particularly those which suggest only child experience  is all good or all bad. I believe all experience can be seen along a spectrum and I try to show this in the examples I give. In particular I challenge the so called only child syndrome and the only child stereotype without falling into the trap of dismissing it without any real argument to the contrary. As only children we all suffer from the view of  the spoilt  lonely, dis-functional, only child but as [...]

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A perspective from the 1950′s. One I relate to!

Bernice: I was very touched when I read this email as much of it  resonates with my experience – The difficulties in concentrating when there are others around, or when the TV is on -a result of also  growing up in a quiet household. The sense of exhaustion I often feel in groups or anywhere where I encounter a lot of people. Talking out loud to myself – I still do and my children make fun of me when they see my lips moving. I have modified this to silent chatter! Fears of ‘making a mistake’ or ‘getting into trouble’ are certainly things I remember vividly as a younger person. Have a read and see if you resonate wit any of this too! Guest: I am an only child born in 1954. I vividly remember starting school at age 5. I can even remember the fabric on a classmate’s dress. [...]

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How can you support your daughter as an only child?

Hi Bernice I am the mother of a teenage (14 year old) only daughter. Her father and I have always encouraged her to be independent and courageous. She is talented at sports, excels at her school work and is respected by her peers and teachers. Despite all this, she has few close friends and often seems lonely. She is more serious and mature than many of her peers and she is not afraid to speak her mind – which often alienates her from others. She does not ‘suffer fools gladly’. I am starting to feel guilty for her being an only child as she seems unable to form close bonds with others. I don’t know what to do or how to support her in this. Any advice? Bernice replies: My first response is please do not feel guilty there are a lot worse experiences than being an only child! Clearly [...]

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Are you the ‘author’ of your life?

I have recently received several emails from parents of onlies and from people in the later stages of life, a time when we re-evaluate how we have lived our lives. It is interesting how often people, at this stage, become more cognisant of the effect growing up an only child has had on their life choices. Similarly parents’ of an only child may notice with each year, the subtle differences in behaviour etc. their child displays in social situations, compared to children with siblings. In this post I am going to explore some of these issues from both sides of the fence! And a quick thank you to all those who have written to me in the last few months, your emails certainly stimulate my thoughts! Growing up an only child can be both positive and negative and is often a mixture of the two. From a therapeutic perspective it [...]

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