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
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
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
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’s Kevin McCallister are better company than your parents.
5. Entertain themselves
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.
4. Watch TV
As a child, I got to watch whatever I wanted at any time, as I never had to share the TV with siblings and my parents had their own set downstairs. After college, I had to figure this out with my roommate, whose favorite shows always fell on the same night as my own. It was a challenge I hadn’t been met with, but I resent the notion that only children are bad at sharing. They’re just not used to sharing certain things – least of all their parents.
3. Contact mom and dad
When you’re the light of your parents’ lives, they want to hear from you frequently. If, unlike my mother and father, yours aren’t coddling or over-protective, you don’t need to talk to them every day, but you have huge demands to fulfill since you’re all they’ve got.
2. Plan their lives
Again, I reject the notion that only children are inherently selfish. That said, it can be easier to accomplish certain goals if you don’t have brothers or sisters to think about. Glee actress Lea Michele celebrates this status, asserting, “I consider myself lucky to be an only child because if I had other siblings, my mother would not have been able to take me to every audition and be so supportive of my career.” Not everyone has this, but at least it worked out well for Michele, who is very talented and got where she is today through hard work in addition to parental help.
1. Reach out to friends
With no siblings to play with as a kid, I invested all my energy into my friends, hence I always had playdates, birthday parties and social events to attend. Friends aren’t substitutes for siblings, but they can come really close, and they’re the ones you call when your mom and dad are driving you nuts and your pet dog can’t relate to you on a higher level.
What do you love about being an only child? Share your thoughts in the comments section.