Only children can get a bad reputation but Emma Clifton has been pulling out her Only Child TED Talk – ‘Why I Am Not Weird And Actually Do Like To Share’ – for years.
After I read my colleague Sarah Lang’s excellent piece on having an only child, I asked her if there would be any value in me writing a piece on being an only child… just because I was aware that it was a VERY only child thing to write about. (“Here is why I am more than enough,” etc).
But the truth is, I don’t ever really think about being an only child and yet it is, somehow, still a thing that people comment on. There are two stock-standard responses:
“Oh, that’s interesting – you don’t SEEM like an only child.”
“Oh, well, that explains a lot.”
Back when I worked at NEXT magazine, I wrote an op-ed about why being an only child was fine (evergreen topic) and I was surprised at how many mums came up and told me they were thrilled to hear it, that they could never shake this feeling of guilt at only having one child.
My parents wanted a second child but it didn’t happen for them, as it goes for many families. And it’s quite hard to not sound like an asshole with this next sentence, but here’s the thing:
I have never once wanted a sibling. Never. EVER.
Does this make me sound like a sociopath? I guess. It’s not that I don’t like people, but I never really… saw… the… point… of… siblings (sorry!!) If you are a person who has an incredibly close relationship with their sibling and you think ‘Wow, this person has no idea what they’re missing out on,’ then you are bang on. I have no idea what I am missing out on and I am fine with that.
It would be very different if I was an only child due to a tragic loss. But asking me if I feel like I ‘missed out’ by being an only child – which remains the usual follow-up question – is kind of an insane thing to ask, right? How would I know?!
Do YOU feel like you missed out because you didn’t read Charlotte’s Web 25 times in a row, have a fascination with tornadoes and want to grow up to be Nancy Drew? Because that was my childhood experience, and it might not have been yours, but we both turned out okay.
When people say to me, quietly, that they’re thinking of only having one child, it’s always said with a tone. Like they know that it’s not an accepted thing to say, the way that someone might tell you that they didn’t vote, or they don’t understand Three Waters. And I have to trot out my Only Child TED Talk – ‘Why I Am Not Weird And Actually Do Like To Share’ – so that they know that their child will also probably be fine.
If we were looking at the things that caused me childhood trauma, being an only child isn’t even on that list (What would be? ‘Developing very early and being very tall’, in case you were interested). I read a lot of books, played with a lot of dolls, had really excellent parents and also had close friends. I know I can only speak to my own experience but I never, ever felt like I was missing out.
I also have no first cousins, because I come from an extended family of minimal children, and so I was often the only child at family events. Boo hoo, right? Poor little tragic only child. ARE YOU SERIOUS??? It meant that I was able to quietly read a book for hours on end, which remains one of my favourite activities. I didn’t have to run around and play hide and seek or shoot guns or climb trees. The family Easter egg hunt? Oh, it worked out very well for little old solo me.
Did I have invisible friends? Probably! Did I spend too long creating weird, complicated (and overly sexual) lives for all of my Barbies? Of course. Did I like being alone too much? Yep, still do. Has any of that affected me as an adult woman? Absolutely not.
The biggest myth about only children is that we hate to share and, again, I can only speak from my own experience, but I LOVE to share, because it’s a novelty. Who is going to have a better relationship with sharing? A kid who grew up with a sibling where everything was a battleground of ‘MINE NOT YOURS’, or a kid who grew up without a sibling who is like “woah, this other person likes my stuff?! Cool! Welcome to my inner world of toys and reading, I’m glad to have you here!’
My husband is one of four and despite living in different parts of the world, they are very close and I feel very lucky to have inherited three (extremely smart and attractive) siblings-in-law. But our future best-case scenario might be having an only child (I’m not getting any younger) and do you know what? I am fine with that. Because, for me, being an only child is the freaking best.*
*Absolutely a thing that an only child WOULD say and I accept that.