Ode to the Only Child

Oh, I see you, only children out there.

You’re giddy because you just read the title and thought, “YAY! It’s about me!!!” Not an uncommon occurrence, am I right?! (Don’t get angry. I’m one of you.)

The other day was National Sibling Day, which I didn’t know existed until I read the funny posts on Twitter from some of my fellow only children:


Their sentiments about being sibling-less reminded me there’s a lot of misconceptions about only children: we’re lonely, spoiled, selfish little Veruca Salts.

*politely steps on soapbox*

As an only child, I would like to clarify MOST of us do not conform to these stereotypes. Besides, regardless of birth order, all humans can behave like award-winning, self-absorbed jerks at times. (Some more often than others.)

I want to take a moment to talk about who only children really are. There are always exceptions to the rules, but I feel these are just a few characteristics that often define us:

1. We are giving – and, yes, selfish.

Growing up, we didn’t have siblings we were forced to share with, but that doesn’t mean we’re stingy. On the contrary, most of us are generous when it comes to offering our talents, resources and dedication—without reserve. We often over-commit ourselves because we HATE to disappoint others. Excelling in our endeavors is paramount for us.

We can be selfish . . . with our personal time. Only children really need their quiet time. Having moments of personal space is vital. We didn’t grow up in a large family with the constant buzz of brothers and sisters around the house. If we demand time alone, please keep in mind: it’s not you, it’s us. Really.

2. We HATE conflicts.

Who doesn’t? However, I think only children have a strife phobia. We don’t handle it well, so we’ve learned to be expert peacemakers.

We never had sisters or brothers who fought with us, took our stuff, kissed our high school crushes or ratted us out for sneaking home past curfew. So when conflicts arise, we become the MacGyver of quarrels and try to diffuse them. If we find our attempts are unsuccessful, we run like hell.

3. We’re old people trapped in young-ish people’s bodies.

Sure. I had friends my age growing up, but I spent a lot of time hanging out with my parents and their friends, thus creating what I refer to as “Korean Estelle Getty”—a little kid with an old soul.

I grew up listening to my Mom’s records which consisted of Streisand, The Bee Gees and Broadway musicals—not my “cool brother’s” music like The Cars, David Bowie, The Clash. I spent a lot of time going to art museums and symphonies instead of getting into all kinds of underage mischief with my sister.

But I wouldn’t trade my childhood for the world. Being the only kid didn’t affect me at all except for the fact that:

  • I love the macaroni and cheese at Luby’s cafeterias
  • I’m a huge fan of 60 Minutes, Jeopardy!, and PBS
  • NPR’s Michele Norris is my hero
  • Harrison Ford is my Ryan Gosling
  • I still listen to The Bee Gees and Streis–PLEASE DON’T TELL ANYONE!

Basically, I look young, but inside I’m an 80-year-old lady driving around with a AAA sticker on her bumper. I’m totally okay with this.

4. We’re independent.

We’re confident. Maybe not Kanye West confident, but definitely hipster-wearing-his-grandpa’s-fedora-at-Coachella confident.

We’ve developed our own unique style and make no apologies for it.

EXHIBIT A: In kindergarten, I could’ve picked the popular Rainbow Brite backpack, but I opted for the studious attaché case because Angela Bower on “Who’s the Boss?” carried one, and she was an advertising executive. I wanted to be an advertising executive. I grew up to be an advertising executive. Did I mention only children are also very driven?

First Day of School

“I’m the only Asian kid at my school. Maybe this enormous, red satchel no one would be caught dead with will help me fit in!”

5. We can be über critical of ourselves.

Maybe this is where the “selfish only child” misconception stems from.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001520894794 Julia Harris

    OMG thank you for writing this! It’s a bit scary, how well you know me;)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1616119283 Sarah Neal

      Thanks for reading, Julia!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=23200252 Denise Dills Riggin

    I’m an only child and so is my husband (and so is our son – for now). This was such an accurate description of both of us. Well, except #2 for me because I am oddly confrontational.
    I knew when I saw the Veruca image that this article would speak to me like no other.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1616119283 Sarah Neal

      Thank you, Denise! You can send some of those confrontation skills my direction, please!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=136700117 Tonya Gaddis Johnson

    Great article! I can definitely identify with this!!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1616119283 Sarah Neal

      Thank you, Tonya!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=9392228 Kaitlin Sosnowski

    I can totally relate to this being an only child.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1616119283 Sarah Neal

      Thanks, Kaitlin!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1431480029 Libby Hagedon

    Sarah, this is so spot on! I can identify with all of these points. I’m an only child and my husband is one of five siblings – we’ve learned a lot about each other and ourselves! I give all of myself to a project but I need me time. I have no conflict resolution skills. I would like to avoid conflict all together. I love the BeeGees. Girl, you get me.

    Though I am also the only child that got a pony for her birthday. Don’t hate me.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1616119283 Sarah Neal

      Libby, you are my Bee Gees sister. Slightly, no, intensely jealous you actually got a pony for your birthday. ;^) Thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002901477636 Jennifer Edmondson

    lol love this article!

    Yes, allllll true

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1616119283 Sarah Neal

      Thank you, Jennifer!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1202430095 Jessie Cheyenne Buchanan

    WOW thank you for writing this! I’m an only child as well and could identify with everything you said! Great article!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1616119283 Sarah Neal

      That means a lot coming from a fellow OC. Thanks, Jessie!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=754737042 Jenny Louise King

    This article pretty perfectly describes what being an only child is actually like!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1616119283 Sarah Neal

      Thank you, Jenny!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=647370156 Arantxa Arriada Brown

    As an only child myself, I love and appreciate this article. Well done, Sarah! Also, I am totally guilty of the “Yay! An article about me!” thing. Oops! :)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1616119283 Sarah Neal

      Thanks! It’s totally okay, Arantxa. There’s no judgement in the only child tree. ;^)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=689157692 Heather Day

    My mother made the mistake of giving me 8 blissful, free, only-child years before dropping the babybrotherbomb on my life, my stuff, my peace, my quiet, etc. etc. etc.
    *cue up chorus from Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell, because my mom had Joni Mitchell records*
    Now that my brother has passed, and I’m in a committed relationship with a fellow-only, I can honestly say that I loved those brother years and the social/teamwork skills it gave me, it is an indescribable bond and I love I can never, ever lose. That said, get out of my room, and stop touching my stuff. #lonewolfforlife

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1616119283 Sarah Neal

      Heather! Thank you for sharing your story. I’m so sorry you lost your brother. Truly, siblings are amazing people to have in your life. Sometimes I miss not having them. xox

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=18901271 Kristen Zemeitus

    THIS IS SO ACCURATE. All of this.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1616119283 Sarah Neal

      Best hashtag ever invented, right?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=509485829 Rebekah Joy Drabenstot

    I like your lunchbox though. :)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1616119283 Sarah Neal

      Strawberry Shortcake 4 Life!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1392227647 Nicole Brant

    Bravo! Well said. Thank you!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=607090275 Kerri Clark

    Okay, this is me in most ways. And I love Luby’s Mac & Cheese, too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=722187530 James Magid

    I’m a male only child and in my mid-twenties I had a female roommate who was also an only child. Based on stereotypes, you’d think this would be a recipe for disaster. However, it was quite the opposite. We got along like great. We were great about cleaning up after ourselves and sharing chores and refrigerator space. We would sometimes cook for one another, but it was never expected. We spent a lot of time together but knew when to respect the other’s space. We had this theory that since we never had to compete with siblings that we were more inclined to share as adults.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1616119283 Sarah Neal

      Thanks for sharing, James! You and your roommate are shining examples of why only kids are pretty great. xox

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=503151710 Katy Littlejohn

      I am so jealous! My only-child-roommate is a nightmare to live with, and I have wondered if it had something to do with his lack of siblings. So much for that theory.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=528514018 Maggie Skarich Joos

    Yes, yes, and yes, again. This is so me. Thanks for giving me something to share with my friends. And my husband who’s one of seven. Talk about your crazy town.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1616119283 Sarah Neal

      WOW! Seven? Yes!! :^o

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=39201189 Tina Sim

    Love this! Well said!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1616119283 Sarah Neal

      Thanks, Tina!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=708720907 Beatriz Leal Craveiro

    So true.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=7002528 Jessica Rozar

    You ARE talking about me!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1177151524 Deborah Diane

    LOVE IT!!! All my life I have gotten the , “Oh, you’re an only child!” attitude that meant I was a spoiled brat. I would gladly explain that I might be “spoiled” but I was far from a brat. Reading this article, I had to smile as each point was SO me! And I was quite annoyed with “siblings day” when I learned about it for the first time this year. Between posts on Twitter and FB my timelines were filled up!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1616119283 Sarah Neal

      Thank you, Deborah! OC’s unite!!

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