A perspective from the 1960′s

by on November 15, 2013

in Guest Onlies

Hi Bernice

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 in my world. This would be the last time that I would see any of them again. Connections with their own families were minimal resulting in limited contact and  at the time of their deaths, these positions remained  polarised and  distant  and have continued  this way throughout my 46 years. Of course in my later life I would understand better their patterns of behaviour as well as my own  towards the interactions and communicative patterns such as distance/intimacy, black sheep,  with all concerned. The anxiety and rifts that existed in their own first families would remain unresolved leaving these responsibilities up to me if cycles were to be broken.

I came into the world at a time when Children should be “seen and not heard” and of course for any OC, this made the experience that much more silent and isolating. Both parents  were alcoholics subjecting me to extreme domestic violence and chaos which as a little child felt overwhelming and scary. I knew that I was different having no siblings, but the other madness alluded me, and I was unable to fully comprehend it until much later. I felt extremely embarrassed, shamed and bad throughout my formative years, and felt that I must have been the contributor of it all,  probably due to the fact that I was frequently bounced around, with each parent scapegoating me for their own agendas. By the end of my teenage years, I rebelled leaving home and the chaos never to return again apart for their funerals.

My companions in my early years

Throughout these formative  years my companions  were my rather large collection of books, barbie dolls and an old piano,  which filled up the spaces of my private world providing me with a feeling of “less aloneness”. It wasn’t unusual for me to spend all weekend in my room hidden away, coming out only to eat before returning. For me there has been a quiet resilience to my OC experience although not something that I attribute to an inner strength , but rather  the sense of being a very small cork,   floating in a big ocean, going under with every wave, bouncing to the surface at different intervals for breath – a buoyancy to the elements.

I’m pleased to say I  have survived and furthermore, have begun to understand things better,  due to  my years of incessantly  searching for answers madly trying to put the pieces together in an attempt to become whole and understand the complexities that overshadows some experiences of being an OC and a surviver of childhood abuse.

My relationships

The two partners I’ve had in my life, have  both struggled to engage with others,  preferring to be alone,  and are relatively  isolated personalities.  Both have had minimal connections with their own families continuing to perpetuate this sense of isolation and loneliness – they also have very few friends, networks. Both men  were the youngest of their family systems, with siblings much older,  oftentimes left to their own devices  exhibiting similar patterns to some OC – enjoying own company. It’s no surprise that I have been attracted to such distant males in an attempt to replicate the lack of intimacy and “aloneness” experienced in childhood as an OC.

Four daughters

Today I have four young adult daughters, who seem fairly well adjusted given their experiences – all quite bubbly personalities.   The irony here is that I never wanted children to start with,  but of course, my underlining need to be needed (codependency) certainly overrode anything that I might have intellectualised or dreamt of. For me, the parenting experience hasn’t always been  comfortable often-times impinging on my own need for solitude (although by nature social, I can revert back to this primitive state) of being by myself spending large amounts of time alone.

From my own  insular world to having 4 daughters all under five competing for my attention and support was to say the least,  overwhelming. My lack  of understanding and experiences towards being appropriately socialised throughout these earlier years,  including all the nuances that make up  social norms has  amplified my own challenges of parenting  that for some, would be considered fairly normal. Reflecting back on my earlier years, my awareness  remained extremely unconscious/disconnected which probably assisted me to survive my initial traumatic experiences. What was probably obvious was the anxiety that continually plagued me throughout these years in response to these demands and how I attempted to manage things.

My challenges as a parent 

At  each stage of my girls development stages, my own developmental experiences would often be triggered leaving me feeling extremely vulnerable, confused  with nothing to compare or fall back on, wanting to withdraw, from. Once again everything appeared to be extremely magnified resulting in me seeking counselling as a way to manage the anxiety that parenting/relationships brings in an attempt to explore new and effective ways of communicating with those in my life.

Normal things like sibling rivalry, conflict, constant chatter, argumentative dialogue and the likes all required me to  learn skills to assist with understanding the normality of these natural relating patterns.  In the earlier years I would seek to put a lid on any sibling rivalry encountered however, a more relaxed approach is now practiced with an understanding that these communication patterns between children are normal and do not always require parental intervention in an attempt to quickly shut it down in order to keep things quiet.

The need to withdraw as part of my OC experience will always be with me and I will always be an OC at heart, I know, that when I require solace and quiet my OC is only to happy to intervene should I need it. However, The push and pull that felt so extremely intense and challenging especially throughout the earlier  parenting journey has now subsided, leaving me to embrace all sides of the woman I am, OC, mother and wife. There’s room for us all.

I would like to hear from others
 I’ve always been extremely interested to hear from others who like me, have a shared  experience of being an OC, having found themselves alone without any extended family connections at the loss of their parents and, who may have experienced some level of hostility and violence within these systems. Given the complexities and variations of these experiences,  creating some dialogue of the experience can only assist to broaden understanding of the issues. Although  My experience feels extremely unique,  this may be partly because I am an OC, in the bigger scheme of things it may not be uncommon. The experience of having  children has been instigative in changing everything for me,  and although I never wanted to have kids,  I feel extremely glad for the experience and consider it an absolute blessing that the gaps that existed when it was “just me” have now been filled and extended to include others.  


  • Alesia


    I know your post is over a year old but I’ve just come across it. Our similarities astonish me to some extent. I am now 52, a late only (mother 35 at my birth), both parents alcoholics, my mother died of cancer when I was 7 and my father died of cancer (self induced) when I was 25. My mother was also an only(so no maternal cousins) and my father was the youngest of his siblings which meant, exactly like you, my paternal first cousins mostly have children older than I so no commonality with the firsts and no adult contact with their children. After my mother died my father and I moved in with his sister, my aunt, which is where I grew up and she largely raised me as his drinking was long past him being functional.

    Fast forward many years and I married at 21, had my first of three children beginning at age 27 and ending with last birth at 35. Never thought I would marry and certainly hadn’t considered children. But once I had the first child I vowed that he would not be an only so then along came super planned #2 who was supposed to be last but alas then there was our happy accident #3. To say I was ‘a little weird’ when thrust into the parenting role would be an understatement: no experience with kids, babies, friends with babies, friends with children, nothing-nada-zilch. So I bumbled along and thought I had enough of it right to not worry. Neither of my parents lived to see my children so therefore no grandparents on my side. The aunt that raised me became Grandma to them and she loved them and they loved her and so life went on.
    Now my aunt has passed at age 94 (please God do not let me live that long!) and between my husband’s parents and my aunt we did just a little over a decade of some pretty hard caregiving for parents which of course began before our children were even close to grown. Bologna should be our nickname.
    So I thought I was alone after my dad died in 1987 (my belief is no child is truly an adult until their parents are dead) but wow then my aunt/substitute mother is gone and I am seriously, totally alone. btw the aunt was a childless widow so we both kind of inherited each other, I was dumped on her when I was 7 and she on me when she was elderly and until her death last year. It was mainly good but when it occasionally was not good the lack of biological connection was palpable.
    I have had to deal with my husband’s family which was largely fine until the caregiving for his parents began (you can guess who was local and did the heavy lifting but had no power over a trustee 1000 miles away) and I don’t understand at all his tolerance for his siblings lack of involvement or hyper-involvement in the caregiving of his parents. That caregiving was hard, hands-on, labor intensive work. A lot of which fell on me and he made no effort to either communicate my point of view to his siblings or to even give me credit many times (that’s a whole other issue). As an aside I have decided that while caregiving as an only can be exhaustive and lonely at least there is not a committee which must be navigated.
    By virtue of us both being late children we faced parental caregiving beginning in our 40′s which while juggling with child rearing cut us off from many friends. And now that our elder caregiving is over our friends are in the throws of it so like a bad checker game we have jumped past each other for years that will never be recovered.
    Since all the caregiving is over I can re-focus on my own family, I suddenly realize I haven’t paid much attention to my children’s relationships with each other and I have no reference point to begin any understanding. I don’t understand my husband’s siblings which we have virtually no contact with and with whom I have zero contact. Both of his brothers have children, and one has grandchildren, though we increasingly have less contact with them either as they are in the midst of their own lives. And so that funny thing I encountered with my aunt has resurfaced. I have no real family other than my children. Notice that I have now narrowed “real family” down to someone with some biological connection to me.
    So I am wondering if other onlies have this complete lack of understanding of sibling relationships that seem to have some magic power for both good and bad? Does the term ‘empty nest’ mean something larger for onlies? Have other onlies had a sudden realization that their partner’s family isn’t “real family”? Do other onlies have this seemingly crazy realization that while we were more alone than many throughout our lives, there may come a day when we are truly alone?
    These are the musingsof a mid life only just wondering if anyone else feels the same.
    Bernice, I have just discovered you and your site. I am open to any comments or suggestions you might have.

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