A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about being a married, childless 20-something and the stigma I face because of it. I hoped to open up the conversation about women and how our value shouldn’t be tied to our number of offspring. What I didn’t expect was to find a whole other type of stigma—the “only one child” stigma.
Mothers with one child reached out to tell me the condescending looks, the nosy questions don’t stop after you’ve had your first child. The question simply changes from “Why don’t you have kids yet?” to “When are you having another?”
Society tells us so many things about being a woman and about how we should live our lives. Apparently, the American Dream for women, even in 2016, is to have several children. Anything less is deemed odd and undesirable.
For some, though, a house full of children isn’t desired or possible. What does this mean for the child? Will, as society suggests, the only child grow up to be a socially misconstrued, selfish delinquent who doesn’t value teamwork?
As an only child, I can answer that question with a pretty confident “no.” Like all people, I have my flaws and struggles. I’m no perfect angel, and sometimes I’m admittedly selfish. Overall, though, my status as an only child didn’t make me into the monster society tells us it will.
Generalizations aren’t healthy or accurate, as a rule. Many factors, such as my personality, my parents, and my circumstances shaped me into the person I am. However, being an only child was a distinguishing influence in my life — just not a negative one as society would like you to believe.
So to the moms out there suffering from the stigma and the naysayers about having “just” one child, here are some reflections on how being an only impacted me.
1. I like to take the lead.
Okay, some may say this is a nice way of saying “bossy,” one of the stereotypes of only children. I suppose you could say I am persistent verging on stubborn when it comes to getting what I want. I am uncomfortable if I’m not in charge, to an extent.
As an only child, though, we learn to take control of our lives. We are the teacher when we’re playing school or the pilot when we’re flying an imaginary plane. Without a sibling to constantly require sharing, we take the reins during playtime, learning to ultimately take the reins in our lives.
There isn’t a sister to blame when the Pop-Tart gets shoved in the VCR, but there also isn’t a brother to share our successful building of the fort with, either. We bask in accolades when something goes right, but we’re also forced to own our mistakes.
“Without a sibling to constantly require sharing, we take the reins during playtime, learning to ultimately take the reins in our lives.”
I know what you’re thinking — I better go get another child because I don’t want my baby to grow up to be bossy. However, I think within reason, being a bit bossy and comfortable being in charge can have benefits. Being able to lead is part of the reason I was able to pursue my desired career of teaching. It’s why I was able to pursue some big dreams such as a writing career—I’m not afraid to take control of my life. Leadership skills can help you navigate the world and own your personal version of joy.
My parents always worked hard to make sure I didn’t let my leadership skills get to my head. They taught me to balance my confidence with humility. They taught me to never step on anyone else to get ahead.
Thus, only children may form a natural tendency to be in charge — but this tendency can be beneficial if special care is taken to keep it in check.
2. I learned to be creative.
Growing up, I had friends, and my parents made plenty of playdates. Still, life as an only leads to more solo playtime than life with siblings. I credit this fact with my creativity. I could make up entire conversations between my Barbies. I didn’t need a sibling to be the student in my pretend classroom — I had stuffed animals who were sometimes quite unruly and needed detention. There were no other children to enjoy my “dinner” from my pretend kitchen, but my Boston Terrier Chelsey was a regal Queen with a penchant for potato chips.
I made up all sorts of games to play alone, but in my mind, I was never truly alone. Imagination guided me and kept me company. This ability has allowed me to be creative today. I’m always asking “What If?” which has led me to a budding writing career.
Learning to be entertained when alone and learning that time in your own mind is a good thing can lead to innovative thinking.
3. I am super close to my parents.
It’s true that one negative aspect of my life as an only is I have no clue what the sibling bond is all about. I used to imagine what it would be like to have an older sister to go for a mani/pedi with. I wondered what it would be like to have a younger brother to look out for.
“I’m thankful not because I’ve been showered with attention, but because I got to connect with them in a way I don’t think I would have with siblings.”
Nonetheless, in place of a sibling bond, I have a super close relationship with my parents. It’s true that only children are the center of their parents’ worlds, at least in my experience. My husband still teases me that I’m a bit of a diva in the family, my parents frequently taking me out to lunch even at the age of 28 or rushing to my aid when something breaks. Maybe he’s right about the diva part a little bit ― just don’t tell him I said so. Still, I’m thankful not because I’ve been showered with attention, but because I got to connect with them in a way I don’t think I would have with siblings.
Growing up as an only, I had the special experience of getting to know my parents on a deep level. From the time I could talk, my mom and dad were my absolute best friends. They still are.
So parents, please don’t panic about “only” having one child, no matter what society tells you.
Sure, being the center of attention can be unhealthy in some ways. However, this doesn’t have to create completely spoiled, stuck-up children. Instead, it leads to leadership skills, creativity, and a parent-child connection that is unlike any other.
As an only child, I was certain of my parents’ unconditional love and of their dedication to me. This is not to say this cannot be achieved in a family with multiple children. However, it’s just a different bond between an only child and parents.
So moms of only children, please sleep a little easier tonight. It’s okay if your child is a one and only. They will not grow up to be perfect, smiling angels, but no one does. They, like all other children, will struggle with humanity, with others, with loneliness.
However, as with all things in life, there are benefits to growing up as an only, regardless of what society says.
Lindsay Detwiler is a contemporary romance author and a high school English teacher. Learn more about her work at www.lindsaydetwiler.com