8 Things Only Children Do Differently Laura Donovan

A lot of people have a lot of opinions about birth order, but it’s generally chalked up to this: the youngest is a big baby who always gets his/her way, the middle child is a people-pleaser, the oldest is the most independent but bitter about having to take the lead from day one, and only children are spoiled heathens who would have made great humans had they been given a brother or sister. What wastes of space, those toxic, high maintenance onlies are.

When people ask where I fall in birth order, I don’t know whether to call myself the youngest or an only child. Though technically the youngest of four, my brothers and sister are half-siblings and significantly older than me, so from fourth grade on, I was the sole kid in the household. It’s similar to being an only child, and when you identify with not one but two shamed groups, it’s easy to be underestimated and mistreated for something over which you had no control. Only children are the most criticized, as pointed out by Salon writer and embattled only child Mary Elizabeth Williams, but the ways they’re different don’t have to be viewed so negatively. Here are some things only children often do differently, and here’s why those things aren’t such a big deal.

8. Get changed

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Not even middle school P.E. locker rooms could squash my fear of changing in front of an audience. If you shared a room growing up or were raised in a large family, you might not be so self-conscious about casually undressing with others around. Other private things, like urinating, are meant to be a solo experience for only children, as noted by Mary Elizabeth Williams, “My girlfriend with three sisters will never understand my horror around peeing in front of people. It’s not an accident that I work in solitude.” It’s fine to want to keep those things a mystery from others, as they’re so personal.

7. Go to movies

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You don’t need to be an only child to see a flick by yourself, but some folks are too afraid of how this might seem to fellow audience members that they stay home and wait for the film to go on DVD. When friends of mine weren’t interested in paying for a movie I really wanted to catch, I went alone, only to be told by someone else that people who eat dinner or go to the cinema without any company should be on suicide watch. Only children recognize this is a silly conclusion to make, as they didn’t have siblings to enjoy movies with during childhood.

6. Open holiday presents

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Half the fun of Christmas Day is opening gifts with others, and when you only have mom and dad to share the moment with, the experience just isn’t as fun. That’s why I always waited until the morning of the 25th to unwrap everything, and I’d do it with the TV on. The Christmas Story kids and Home Alone’Kevin McCallister are better company than your parents.

5. Entertain themselves

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Going out to eat with my parents and their friends was such a bore growing up. They’d talk about dull adult stuff while I had to find ways to keep myself occupied. If there weren’t any other children around, I colored. Or I read. Grownups would marvel at how well I could entertain myself, but it was either that or bug them all night, and that would land me in time-out. Only children seem to be better at tolerating boredom because they were always faced with it as youngsters.

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  1. I absolutely adored being an only child and still do. I had my parents full attention and they doted on me constantly. Now that I’m older (23) they are my best friends and main confidantes. I was a shy youngster, but I grew out of that once I went to college and I am completely capable of social interaction and I actually quite enjoy it. Growing up I was lucky in that I was naturally artistic, so I was never bored as long as there was a napkin and a pen to be found. I always had my own space for creating and imaginative play so I have volumes of stories I wrote when I was younger. I don’t recall ever having any imaginary friends because I simply didn’t need them. I made up the games and the storylines and the activities and never needed anyone else to share that with. Opening Christmas gifts was always a thrill because my parents were only focused on my reaction. I always made sure to be extra excited and happy for them no matter whether I liked the gift or not.

    Being an only taught me to be thoughtful and kind to others in order to win friendship, and it also gave me a strong sense of fairness and loyalty. I never had issues sharing, but I was and still am a bit materialistic and the few tokens I am attached to, I will fight tooth and nail over.

    I will admit I think being an only impaired my impression of friendship and my ability to keep friends and form lasting bonds with them. I was constantly thinking in terms of what was fair and what I deserved for being nice. I still have problems to this day. I have no issue making friends, I am very amicable and friendly and everyone says I’m a total sweetheart, but none of them seem to stick around for very long, and I’ve gone years without any sort of birthday party/acknowledgement or gift of any sort from anyone except my boyfriend and my parents. I also don’t have that ‘one girlfriend’ I am in constant contact with. But again, I don’t really care or mind. I’m quite content being alone.

    That said, I am completely firm on the idea of having an only of my own. I only want the one child, but I admit I’d be a bit flexible if that child was a male (I really want a daughter). In this day and age, money is tight and I would want all my resources to go towards the one child so they could have as enriching of a childhood as I did. And I would proudly tell anyone who tries to guilt trip me about hurting them that it was a conscious decision and not due to infertility.

    I know I am a rare breed, but it is possible for the only child to experience a renaissance soon. Especially with the way the economy is today.

  2. My great uncle was like a father to me. When I was six years old, he passed away. It took a lot out of me, even today. If I had had a brother or sister close to my age, it probably wouldn’t have been as hard to push through the emotional trauma. However, it has shaped me into who I am today. I see through people and their personalities and I am very in tune with peoples’ emotions as I experienced so many myself as a child. I am told sometimes I am too sensitive, but it’s not my fault most people cannot feel as much as I do.

  3. Nice article :)

  4. I absolutely detested being an only child and it has only gotten worse the older I get. I definitely agree with most of this list, I am very into having privacy and boundaries. I also had divorced parents so I got to do that whole opening a mountain of presents with just a parent watching me twice. I think making someone be an only child is cruel because they miss out on one of life’s most fundamental relationships by not having siblings. I would literally give my left arm for a sister.

  5. I am an only child as well! But I agree and disagree with some things. 8. I am actually incredibly open and have no problem changing or peeing in front of people, but I have REALLY never liked getting ready in a bathroom with people or sharing a bathroom. In college, I went straight to on-campus apartments where I only had to share a bathroom with one person rather than face the community bathroom. I didn’t get why anyone wouldn’t want to have their own personal bathroom?! I still think it’s weird. 6. I actually love opening presents! Also, I have become a very good gift-receiver, since as an only child during Christmas, the attention was ALWAYS on me. (I think my family doesn’t likes opening gifts so they try to put the attention on someone else- and everyone put it on me.) So I couldn’t just go hide in a corner or give a ‘meh’ face when given a less-than-desirable gift. Everyone wanted to see me open every gift. I have just learned to appreciate that people give me anything at all and am happy with whatever was given- it’s the thought that counts. :) 5. YES I am so good at entertaining myself and am totally fine hanging out by myself too! 4. I agree, people always have this connotation that I will be bad at sharing. But I am actually pretty go-with-the-flow. I feel like I am always more of the mediator than anything when others fight over things. In my experience, sibling-children are worse about sharing actually. 3. I agree, I often am in contact with my parents. While not helicopter parents, they are invested in me and want to know how I’m doing and whats going on. They just don’t have a lot else to do lol 2. I agree! We never had bad family trips or dinners (with just my parents and I, not including other family) because there weren’t multiple children to get to cooperate or behave. I also have ADHD, so my parents have been able to fully focus on and support me though everything, which has been really helpful and nice. 1. I love having friends haha My best friend is actually 1 of five siblings, so I have adopted them as my surrogate siblings. We have close family friends who are like my sisters, and I am close to 2 of my cousins. We also have one family friend who is a couple years older than me also an only child, so we call each other brother and sister (I have a little niece now! Siblinged- children won’t get how big of a deal that is!). Do you find you ‘adopt’ siblings? I enjoyed reading this :) Hopefully people will realize not all only children fit that selfish, all about me stereotype!

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