"What was it like?"
No, I did not go to the Moon or spend the night with late Elvis Presley. I am just an only child, and whenever I tell someone I don´t have siblings they only look at me with a sceptical look of pity and judgement while saying something casually insulting like "Really? You don´t seem like an only child", or even worse, "yeah, that makes a lot of sense actually."
I think it is time to break down the feared stigma of the "only child syndrome", because you want to know a secret? It is bullshit.
A baby in a box
Don´t get me wrong here, I always wanted siblings growing up. When I was younger I would frequently yell at my parents for not giving me one. "But mummy, Simon and Alice both have them, why won´t you give me one?" (insert my 6-year-old whining voice here). Yeah, exactly. GIVE ME ONE, like as in a gift. Maybe I thought you could buy sisters at the supermarket? Or maybe I dreamt of some lovely decorated box that I could unwrap on my birthday...and BOOM! A baby. 6-year-old me would have loved that...for about an hour, in what time I would have gotten bored and regretted not wishing for a new Barbie doll or that cool set of illuminating stars that you can attach to your bedroom ceiling. Which makes me think that my 6-year-old dream scenario of getting a brother or sister was scarily similar to that scene in Disney´s Lady and the Tramp where Darling opens up the wrapped Christmas box and finds an adorable dewy-eyed Cocker Spaniel...maybe I just wanted a dog?
"It wasn´t me"
Being an only child you see really is not that bad. Okay, I take that back. It can be shit...you know, like when I broke that unique hand painted egg my parents got on their honeymoon in Bali and had no one to turn around and point my finger at and cry: "But it wasn´t me, it was (insert name of hypothetical brother or sister here)!" You know, those times.
Which brings me back to question one, and probably most asked if that: "What was it like?" in which I usually answer with my standarnized reply of: "Ah, it is great. I get all my parents´attention."
However, there is a catch, because with the glorified dream of getting all your parents´ attention with gifts, kisses and praise, comes the second lesser liked brother of "getting all your parents´attention", meaning that since you are the only kid in the room, you must be the mastermind behind all mischief, crumbles in the sofa and with no doubt the only person in the house who forgets to turn off the bathroom lights when leaving (I know it was you dad).
If I got a pound for every time someone asked me if being an only child was lonely, I would be living in a billion pound mansion in Beverly Hills and not be stuck in Medway right now. It is the ever-popular question, and yeah, I guess it makes sense to ask.
I don´t think I ever thought of myself as lonely growing up. It was just a case of: this is my life, and that´s okay. If my parents got sick of entertaining me, I entertained myself. You would be suprised of how many games you can play solo, even if your only available toy at that exact moment is a cotton swab from your mum´s bathroom cupboard. If my mum and dad didn´t want to play another round of Mikado or Monopoly with me, I simply would talk with a different voice when it was not "my turn". What was great about that was that I would always win, and if I cheated, no one would know. Talk about an impressive success rate, eh?
Actually, being an only child gave me some fantastic opportunities to break my comfort zones to make new friends. One thing every one of my classmates in primary school used to ask was how endlessly boring it had to be for me when my family went on vacation: "but Isabel, who do you play with in the pool?"... Usually myself, but then there would also be other children...you know, the ones that went on vacation with their families? Yeah, we became great friends. A 5-minute swap of a crocodile floatie, and "BAM!"... a new best friend. Quite simple really.
"Oh my god, you must be so spoiled"
The most annoying notion of all. To date, I bet this is still the most popular assumption in the world when it comes to only-children. In people´s head it is simple math, because naturally the only explanation of a bratty child is that he or she must be an only child who´s parents compensated for the lack of a sibling with extravagant gifts and glory. It never has to do with good or bad parenting...or does it?
When I tell people I don´t have siblings, what usually comes flying out of their mouth is: "You must be so spoiled." Really? Just because I don´t have a brother or a sister does not mean...okay, here´s the deal. I have had a lovely childhood. My parents took me all around the world, I got a big bedroom all to myself and never had to fight any brothers on whether to watch the newest episode of Hannah Montana or a re-run of Ninja Turtles on a Saturday morning. I consider myself a very lucky girl. I appreciate everything I have ever gotten while growing up, and all the many ways my family tries to support me today. I do not take anything for granted. This is the misconception however; bratty children have nothing to do with being only children, but everything to do with gratitude and good parenting. It is such a stereotype that all only children are spoiled brats who live a life with no rules, and quite frankly it is quite offensive. For example, if I tried laying on the floor in the supermarket kicking my legs because my dad wouldn´t buy me a Kinder Egg, he would probably just leave me there screaming, and if I ever dared to have my knees above the table during dinner or spit out my food, you know shit was about to go down. My parent´s would never have allowed that crap.
If you have an only child, and the only child is a spoiled brat, let me tell you something... even if you had ten more kids, it would still make no difference if your parenting remained the same. It is all you my friend. Maybe it is time to buy a book on parenting?
It´s all you mate
Being an only child is great, until you realize you are an ONLY child. Oh my god. I am my parent´s one shot at a superstar, olympic-winning, marvellous pride of a child. Oh my god, this is bad. The ever-familiar phrase of only child parents "we stopped at perfection" raises the bar even higher.
You always hear the middle children complaining about being the fuck-up, the eldest complaining about always having to be the perfect example for the younger, and the youngest complaining about being the baby of the family and never gaining real independence. You want to know something? I am all three. It is just me, meaning that I am both the success story (hopefully) and the fuck-up (hopefully not). The pressure is really on for only children like myself to do something great and world-changing to the satisfaction of their parents who believed one was enough. It is was up to me, I would have increased my odds and had a couple more. It is up to me to give my parents grandchildren and carry on the family name. It is up to me to make my parents proud (no depending on a brilliant brother or sister to take home a Nobel Prize). However, the upside is that there is no one to compete against for the glory spot on the fridge for your kindergarten drawings either. I guess you have to give and take.
"Being an only child is a disease in itself"
First of all, yes, someone actually said that. If you are an only child like me, I am sure you feel pretty offended right now. The syndrome is called the "only child syndrome". Supposedly, children who grow up as the only kid in the household have a habit of getting so much love and attention from their parents that they become obnoxious... what a load of complete rubbish.
So who is the man behind this ground-breaking research? It is all the pioneering work of researcher and psychologist Granville Stanley Hall. In his study from 1896, which he called "the study of peculiar and exceptional children"... don´t get ahead of yourself, this it not flattery...He claimed that, quote, "being an only child is a disease in itself." Wow, I don´t think I have ever felt more like the human version of a bacteria in my entire life.
With that said, his other field of ground-breaking, pioneering expertise is tickling. Yes, you read that right: "the psychology of tickling", what on earth is that all about? I am not sure I can take anyone who invests their life into researching tickling seriously, so who is he to speak? It is also funny, because his comment of "being an only child is a disease in itself" sounds an awful lot like what Kevin McAllister was called by his big brother in Home Alone: "You are such a disease Kevin." And hey, at least Kevin seemed to manage life on his own quite alright, despite being "such a disease".
Why being an only child is actually pretty awesome
The relationship I have with my parents is the most special relationship in my life out of many reasons. We support each other no matter what, we can speak to each other about anything, and most importantly, they have never made me feel like anything was missing from my life or that I needed a sibling to fulfil that imaginary gap that people like Granville Stanley Hall claim exist. I never felt deprived of anything. My parents are great, and as I have grown older I have learned that all though I am pretty sure having siblings can be really awesome, being an only child can be really awesome too. I am treated as an equal, and the independence and maturity I learned and gained from growing up surrounded by adults has helped shape the person I am today.
When a friend of mine described the relationship she has with her sisters, I quickly realised that it was the same relationship that I share with my mum and dad. I can talk to them about anything, they are the first people I want to share good news with, we have a blast travelling and adventuring together, and I am pretty sure they would bail me out if I ever ended up drunk in a prison cell. As cheesy as it may sound, they are the greatest gift I have ever received in this world. Being an only child has taught me to be so endlessly grateful for my family, friends and loved ones. You see, I cannot count on someone "being stuck with me" for my whole life like siblings can to each other. I have to constantly work and invest in the relationships that make my life special, as everyone should. And I know that, despite what some people may think, being an only child does not mean you are doomed to a life of being lonely.
It is true that I can come across as very bossy and that I get a bit stuck in my own head sometimes. I think I will always be stuck in my own head to some extent. It is quite comfortable in here, everything is neatly organized how I like it, decorated with my own pictures and with no clothes on the floor. I can spin around in my own little hamster wheel and completely forget where I am and what I am talking about. Sometimes I dream about being on a tropical island drinking coconut juice...or wonder about the big complex questions in the world...like how is it that when you get out of the shower clean, your towel ends up dirty?
Oh see, I am doing it again.
Here is my confession, only children are a rare species of the world with odd thoughts and sometimes odd behaviours. We may not be the best at sharing, enjoy getting all the attention and can be extremly defensive if you ever question our "solo child" status. We may even sometimes be a little bit too good at talking to ourselves.
But hey, at least we are not as weird as twins.