Do only children know how to share?

by on December 19, 2011

in Bernice's Posts


Lets face it – this is something that only children are often accused of being bad at!

But is it true? – To a certain extent it probably is.

If we look at when and how we learn to share – this is done as children, usually in the family home. When there are siblings, it is one of the important processes siblings learn to deal with: learning to share toys, games, food, treats etc. It is a very different process for the only child learning to share with a parent. Parents’ are much more likely to be indulgent. They are not going to make a fuss if they don’t get the cherry on the top or the larger piece of cake.

Having said that, some parents of an only child are very mindful of these things. However  it is still not the same as sharing with a vociferous older or younger sibling. When learning to share is not high on the agenda for learning, the only child can end up with a sense of entitlement. This is something I have noticed  in posts about the negative aspects of only children.

It’s easy to see how this can happen – when parents’ want to give their child all the benefits, that they perhaps did not receive, it can easily set up a sense in the child that they are entitled to these things. But this is not just true of only children. Male children often receive this kind of attention and children from privileged backgrounds.

One of the difficulties of entitlement is that we are often unaware that we have it. Others may see it, but we are quite likely to have a blind spot in this direction. In contrast we may have experienced the direct opposite – having been told as a child – that as we are a lone child and likely to be spoilt we should never feel entitled to special treatment. This type of attitude can engender a feeling that we always have to put others needs first and this can be true of only children.

People often ask me if I can spot another adult only children. In fact I usually can although I am not saying it is foolproof! However one of the ways is around this issue of sharing.  The most obvious is the aoc  (adut only child) that ‘over-shares’: they bring presents for everyone, they want to share everything in a quite over the top way.

Of course the opposite is the aoc who can’t share – this is a much more common stereotype and is usually true for all of us on certain thing’s. It can be people – for example it’s hard for onlies to be in a threesome; it can be things your clothes, books favourite gadget; or something more abstract like time and particularly space, whether that be physical, mental or emotional. And lets face it – it can be just as true with adults who have siblings!

So when do only children learn to share?

Well in my experience its usually once we get into a relationship. This may be in an early adolescent friendship or later partner. But it’s at that time that these blind spots are called to account and we have to look at them however painful this might be.

But before you give yourself a too harder time over this remember you have lived in a world where you probably did not have to share many things so it means you look at the world slightly differently.

I will offer two examples of how this has been revealed in my life as an aoc.

The £100 budget – an only child and sibling child view!

My colleague and I were given £100 to spend on our new office (obviously some time ago!) My immediate reaction was ‘I have £50 to spend- how shall I spend my half? She however (not an aoc) said “We have £50 to spend-how shall we spend it?’ It took me a long time to realise the difference. I thought she was just being pedantic but finally I realised she was seeing it from a perspective that I had not even considered!

The last piece of cake – an only child dilemma!

As a child the last piece of cake was most likely to be given to me. As I grew up I came to understand that I should be willing ‘to share it’. What did this mean? For me it meant letting the other person have it. Even now I do not automatically think in terms of dividing. Then when something is divided, I expect it to be equal and I feel irritated if I am put into the position of having to choose between the large or small piece. So what is this about? My partner, (also an only-child), always cuts the cake unequally and offers me the choice, or takes the small piece (dispelling the myth he is selfish). Either way I am left with the ‘it’s not fair’ feeling, as I have lost out on ‘proving’ my ability to share (and appear not selfish). My partner wants me to have the bigger piece to alleviate his childhood feelings of shame when he was asked to share his toys and felt unwilling to do so. His unwillingness to share his ‘toys’ remains, but it is dispelled by the sharing he can control like the ‘cake’.

So how about everyone else – I would love to have some examples from you too!

  • JF

    To be honest, I don’t mind giving away things to other people, but I have a hard time sharing what’s mine with others. 

  • Sowsri2006

    We are raising a wonderful daughter.she is 10 years old.she is our only child by choice.
    She socializes well,talented,well beheaved,friendly,naughty.but Iam still worried of her being
    Pampered by both of us.why people don’t consider one child family as a complete one?why they judge you?I believe she is going to be a good humanbeing.

  • Bondi One Mum

    I’m the mother of an only child and due to the fact my husband, an only child himself doesn’t really want any more, my little one is likely to stay a “one”. 

    I came from a family of 5 children and naturally I would love my little one to have siblings, particularly for when he gets older. 

    And I want you to know that I think ALL children have a hard time sharing – only child or child from a large family! We did all sorts of heinous things to each other to ensure the boundaries of “what’s mine is mine” from lollies to cake to toys to clothes to money.

    I love my sisters (yes, all sisters, I guess I was disadvantaged in some way after all!) very much however that didn’t – not once – make me want to share as a child. The fact I am more generous now is simply because growing up in a large family I know very well what its like to go without, not because of innately knowing how to share!

    PS – my husband is ridiculously generous to everyone he meets.

  • Exploringmindsorg

    I have an only child, who is now 14 years old. She is well adjusted and very sharing. In fact, when she was young, we had to teach her not to share and be assertive sometimes as she was too giving. Now she knows when to say no.

  • Kei

    The matter of sharing feels emotionally complex as an only child; the opposite of sharing is “not-sharing”.  Yet, society tells us that the opposite of sharing is “being greedy”.  I like the wording example of “I” vs. “We” in your article which articulates this fundamental philosophy.

    In sharing a home with roommates of various birth-orders, I have come to this conclusion: while only children are less inclined towards “sharing”, we are much more sensitive and opposed to “taking.”  While I might possessively hoard my goods in a manner expected of an only child, I am excessively conscientious of the ownerships others claim on their own goods. 

    On the other hand, non-only children feel more comfortable with infringing on others, in terms of material goods, time, attention, what-have-you… which it how one might percieve the behavior of the “cocooned/pampered” only child, though not neccessarily to that extreme level of entitlement.

    I am considering this all lately because of my overwhelming suspicion that my only-childness is leaving me more and more disappointed by the relationships I have in my adult life, and I am seeking clues to overcome the internal roadblocks to positive and long-term relationships.

  • DAS

       I love learning the difference between sharing vs being taken. Understanding and being in relationship with the only child mentality is exhausting. It seems someone is always out to get them. take advantage of or leave them. The concept of unconditional love seems foreign.

  • Bon-bon

    I have to say as an only child I was taught to share and from a very early age and still to this day have willingly shared all I had and often given my entire “share” to someone else who didn’t have any. I was desperately lonely often as a child and the opportunity to be able to share was like a gift to me and still is. I find I enjoy most things material food or experiences better when I have someone to share them with. The chance to share is often denied of only children I actually feel I am far more selfless than many people with siblings who are quite selfish and feel it is their right now they are no longer forced to share. I think it affects us all differently and you either go one way or the other often to extremes.

  • NE

    Sharing is difficult. If I have a plate of food I’d rather fix someone else their own plate rather than give them some of the food on mine. Kei seemed to cover this very well in the earlier comments.

    I’d rather do without than to ask anyone to give anything of theirs and yet most of the ‘non-onlies’ I know are just peachy with making requests on others resources without seeming to consider how they might feel. Then again they also seem to offer the same more readily so it seems to balance out.

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