The Idyllic Life of the Only-Child?

by on March 22, 2014

in Bernice's Posts

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 of an only, who has three siblings and is typical of some of the emails I receive.  I am always taken aback by the anger expressed in this type of email, especially as I do not think my previous post was ‘insulting’ to only-child adults as this writer claimed.

I have always tried to put both sides of the story, but I often find that anything, which suggests only-children do not have some sort of idyllic life with loving and doting parents, brings out anger in some people. As humans we all have our challenges and as I said in my last post, we can choose to be victims or survivors of the experience and also have the choice to be the author our own lives as adults.

However, what I do find somewhat irritating, is this need to say that only-children have it easy, or they are lucky to have all their parents’ attention, and lucky not to suffer from abusive siblings. I  also include  in this the accusation that we whinge unnecessarily about our ‘only’ status. Why is it so hard for some people with siblings to have any empathy with what can be the negative side of being brought up an only child? As it tends to be mothers of only-children (and of course not all are like this!) I suspect that they, as mothers, are suffering from the stigma of having an only-child, which is still so prevalent in some societies.

I have always stated that insisting that the experience of only-children is not only positive, but also preferable, does not help to diminish the stigma. This idealism also negates the experience of those adult onlies who have not had such a great only-child upbringing, have felt lonely or caught up in their parent’s relationship and have put their own life on hold to fulfil the expectations of their parents.

I am pleased that this writer believes she is giving to her own only-child,  the childhood she would have preferred herself. But perhaps like the writer’s mother, her child will not feel entitled, as an adult-only, to have any negative feelings about her childhood. Parents’ do their best, but no one is perfect and when there are no siblings to dilute the parental relationship,  it can become hard to be the only one holding all the ideals and expectations of the family.

The writer reminds me that, as many of us find,  if you say anything negative about being an only-child, you will often receive a number of dismissive comments from those people who did not get along with their siblings or feel they did not receive  enough parental attention.

So the message is: keep quiet about being an only or suffer the consequences!

Other relevant posts:

Why do you blame all you problems on not having siblings?

Being an only isn’t a terrible thing…

My 16 Tips for parents of only-children


  • Mandy

    I am both an only child and an abuse survivor.I sometimes wish I had a sibling to share my experiances with but as the anecdot you quoted sugests having siblings isnt always the dream only children think it should be. I’ve learned to acept my life dosnt match up to the ideal only child life because I understand no one truly has it “best”. We shouldn’t have to defend ourselves as only children an neither should someone with siblings. How your kids turn out shouldn’t be defined by how many you have but how you treat them.

  • WatchPole

    I was a sort-of-only child as there’s such a large gap between me and my siblings and I agree – everyone has it hard one way or another. My youngest sister is 12 years younger than me and I think she has had it hardest in my family as not only did she have the brunt of the only-child issues, she also had to deal with my ailing and aging mother which had become quite neglectful and even abusive at times. I think if my parents were more attentive and kinder to her, and more younger and healthier, she may not have been such a sad, lonely child, but of course there would still be the negatives to being an “only”/youngest child, just maybe not as bad as they are now, being the victim of emotional abuse. Mandy is right in saying it is not the order in which your kids are born, but how you treat them that will help them in adulthood.

  • fer

    Hello everyone, I am an adult only and as I reflect on my childhood and teenage life with emotionally distant parents – who, in all honesty I believe didn’t plan for a baby, had no real solid careers each, and therefore probably didn’t really want one; in my father’s words “She (mother) wasn’t doing anything so she thought she would have you” – I can truly say that being ‘only’ HAS affected me negatively. I do not care (but am willing to listen and value her comments/opinions with a constructive critique of her personal experience) what the author of the ‘edited email’ thinks, being an only is not the best thing. I had lots of childhood (I mean as a very young child) friends, but hated the time spent away from them and sitting in the house after nursery school with just my mother and the TV, hated it!; I am a social person and love being among others, people are interesting and fun. I want to distance myself from both of my parents now as an adult, because they are both too much for me to deal with – their personalities are alien to me, and both had siblings. I see it in them; selfish, defensive, not thinking my views are important (no, I’m not a narc.) resentful, passive, non-enthusiastic, not appearing to ‘care’; being distant… and all this stems from (imho) being brought up with other children; they do not understand an only and the adult problems it can cause. Conversely many siblings do understand of course. Plus, as both of them hate each other (there’s history, nothing to do wit siblings, or only’s) I always had no one to talk to growing up; as a counsellor put it to me once “The adults in your life failed you” when I was a teen, and I had to agree, and it was a relief someone told me this; neither of them made the effort to ‘cover’ the role of a sibling, or to listen and help with bullying etc that was going on and the sickening isolation of it; this lack of interaction at the teen stage has made me a depressed adult I am in no doubt, and I dislike them with a passion for it. Lastly (if there can ever be a ‘lastly’) not all parents are abusive, whether you have siblings or are ‘only’ it’s the luck of the draw isn’t it? To this day my mother says “You can’t blame me” – oh yes I can; emotionally distant parents should be ashamed. She was always harping on about how independent you have to be, about “I’m better off going alone” to places, etc, etc, and through gritted teeth I growl that being independent is not a problem, but being lonely is a horrible way to live your life. All they have both done for me to this end is alienate me; I will go NC when circumstances permit.
    Thank you for listening :)
    PS It is late, and I hope this little letter makes at least a bit of sense :)

Previous post:

Next post: