Growing up as an only child, you tend to get a lot of curious questions and comments from friends who are fascinated by the concept of a life without siblings. From the stereotypical “You must be really spoiled” to my frequent favorite, “What’s it like to not have siblings?” (how would I know — I’ve never had them), I grew accustomed to these questions after a while, and usually rattled off the same response each time.
The truth is, I loved being an only child when I was younger. Sure, it was nearly impossible to get away with anything given that I was the only kid my parents had to worry about. But that meant that I managed to avoid getting into (much) trouble, and spent most of my time focusing on school instead of parties. It also meant that I was able to develop unique relationships with both of my parents that I’m sure would’ve been somewhat different (though still loving) had I shared them with siblings.
These days, I still appreciate the closeness that I have with my parents, especially after recently making the move closer to home. I’m incredibly thankful that I’m now able to see them on a weekly basis and visit on any given weekend, being only 30 minutes away. But since I’ve grown older and my relationships with my family members have evolved, I’ve also become increasingly aware of what it means to be an only child as an adult. Here are a few things I’ve learned about transitioning from a carefree only child mentality to an adulthood that simply doesn’t include siblings.
Your built-in support system is limited.
I understand that having siblings doesn’t automatically give you the perfect person to lean on for every high and low you experience. But it does increase your options, and the chance that you’ll have someone else who listens to your post-date meltdown when you’ve vented to your best friend one too many times already.
This fact has become increasingly apparent as I’ve gotten older, and feeds into one of my biggest fears as an only child. Without siblings, I know that one day I’ll be forced to grieve the death of my parents in a way that no one quite understands. This understanding has amplified my desire to pursue and maintain close friendships, knowing how important they will always be in my life.
Loyalty is incredibly important to you.
Like many people, I’m someone that craves deeper connections and intimacy from my friendships. In the absence of siblings, these friendships have become an extended family who I’ve leaned on for support just as much as my actual family. That being said, It took me a while to learn the value of quality versus quantity. I was expecting the same amount of loyalty from a new friend as I did from someone I’d maintained a close relationship with for five years. This usually led to feelings of confusion, hurt, and anger on my behalf — I never quite understood why others didn’t take friendships as seriously as I did in the beginning. Fortunately, I’m now in a place where I can recognize and cherish my loyal friendships, and understand that new ones take time to evolve into what I’ve built with others.
You get to know your parents as individuals.
I saw Lady Bird recently, and (not surprisingly) related to it as a reflection of my relationship with my own mother growing up. She’s always been the strict disciplinarian between my parents, and the person whose approval meant everything to me. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve started to see who she really is as a person, beyond the tough exterior that I’ve always known. She’s someone with one of the biggest hearts that I know, and with whom I share the same sensitive soul.
With my dad, I’ve always respected his guidance and professional success, but I’ve really come to see him as more of a mentor in recent years. I’ve become much more aware of his immense work ethic and find myself turning to him whenever I’m struggling with something in my current job. I’ve also become more aware of the sacrifices he’s made to provide for our family, and the way he always acts with others in mind before ever thinking of himself.
You feel more pressure to find a significant other.
As a single woman in my 30s, the pressure to settle down is nothing new. Even though I’ve made it clear that I don’t plan on having children, there’s still a certain sense of anxiety about finding a significant other at this point in my life. My parents are pretty good on this front and don’t really bother me about it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still experience the stress surrounding this issue in other ways. As an only child, I think this pressure presents itself more as a feeling of inner turmoil and guilt. I want my parents to have the opportunity to know my SO and love them as much as their own, and for them to truly feel part of our family. This may sound selfish, but I know how important my happiness is to my parents, especially as their only kid. And while they understand I’m capable of finding my own happiness regardless of a significant other, I still want to give them the comfort of knowing that I’ve found the person I’m going to spend my life with.
Your independence is a blessing and a curse.
In my experience, one of the most common traits of an only child (in addition to being spoiled, okay fine) is a strong sense of independence and an eagerness to explore life outside of the parental threshold. This is something that has served me in a variety of ways — I’ve always deeply valued and protected my alone time, even when I’m in a committed relationship. I’ve lived alone for the better part of seven years, which has been incredibly rewarding in ways I never would’ve anticipated.
But this sense of independence that I’ve become so proud of has also created certain setbacks along the way. I’m a writer and strive to communicate as openly as possible, but sometimes I still struggle to bring my deepest feelings and fears to the surface. Saying them out loud or broaching the topic with others can feel like I’m incapable of handling things on my own, even though when I know that’s not the case. It’s taken a while, but I’ve finally learned that asking for help or just someone to listen is more a testament to my strength than an admission of defeat.