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!