How it feels to be an only child on National Siblings Day
Today, April 10th, is National Siblings Day.
“So, do you have any siblings?” my date asked. We were going through the standard First Date Interrogation, talking jobs, hometowns, college majors, and other surface-level background information that helps one determine whether or not their date is worth another round of coffee.
“Nope. Only child,” I replied.
“Huh,” he said. “Was that weird for you?”
I’ve gotten this response many times in my adult life, and I’m never quite sure how to respond to it. It usually comes from people who grew up with siblings or in some other big, close-knit family situation.
The truth is that my sibling-less childhood was exceptionally ordinary. Maybe I got a few more presents at Christmas. Maybe I spent a little more time with babysitters since both my parents worked and we didn’t have the built-in childcare provided by older siblings. Maybe I got to travel more because we could fit our whole family into one standard-size hotel room.
And maybe I was a little lonely. But it’s not like I was raised by aliens.
I came into the picture when my parents were in their late 30s. While they occasionally discussed having another kid or adopting, it was never in the cards.
We were pretty happy as a three-person unit. When I was about six years old, there was a moment when I suddenly decided that I just HAD to have a sibling. I’d just started kindergarten and discovered I was the odd one out with no brothers or sisters. Always one to conform, I asked my parents why I was sibling-less — but those questions stopped once I realized I’d have to share my Barbies with that hypothetical sibling, of course.
As I got older, I got more comfortable with my only-child status. I saw my friends fight with their siblings and witnessed the chaos of multi-child homes so I felt like I wasn’t missing out on much. Just as I reached this level of only-child confidence, Instagram came along.
National Siblings Day has been a recognized holiday since 1998, but I first heard about it in 2013.
This particular April 10th marked the first time my Instagram feed was flooded with photos of my friends with their siblings. They posed for photos at graduations and cookouts, documented their family vacations, and recreated silly photos from their childhoods. Even my friends who constantly complained about their siblings’ antics shared photos with loving captions.
Normally, stuff like this doesn’t really bother me. Usually when I come across a photo of a friend with their siblings, I’ll give it a like and keep scrolling. But on National Siblings Day, the constant stream of photos of (seemingly) happy families makes me painfully aware of my siblingless status.
I can only compare it to is being single on Valentine’s Day.
Whether or not you’re happy with your single status, it can still be rough to see dozens of cute couples all over Facebook for 24 hours. You feel a bit left out of the fun, even if you’re perfectly content to spend the evening with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and a face mask. With romantic relationships, though, there’s still an element of choice involved. You can choose to be single and focus on yourself for a while, or you can pound the pavement (or Tinder) in search of your next boo. I’m an only child because my parents didn’t have any more kids. I didn’t exactly have a say in the matter, and unless my parents decide to adopt a kid in their 60s, my status is never going to change.
I accepted this a long time ago, and I’m honestly proud to be an only child — so why do I feel personally victimized by a holiday that’s really only celebrated on social media?
When I see these posts, I’m reminded that I will be the one making all the decisions as my parents get older and need more care. Hopefully, I’ll have a partner and some more extended family members to lean on for support, but I worry that it’s still going to be a very lonely process. I’m reminded that I don’t have anyone to call and rant to when my parents are being difficult — no one who really gets it, at least. I’m reminded of all the times I had to play Mario Party against the computer because there was no Princess Peach to my Daisy.
So how does one fend off Siblings Day FOMO? According to the internet, there is a National Only Child Day on April 12th, likely created in reaction to National Siblings Day. It feels like a bit of a consolation prize, something that we only children — the spoiled brats that we are — begged for until our parents relented. I honestly feel like I’m fulfilling every negative only child stereotype just by recognizing the day. I don’t need to post a photo of myself as a kid, alone and surrounded by toys in my parents’ basement. I can do that on any other #ThrowbackThursday.
Like many other only children, my life has been full of surrogate siblings. Every summer, I’d get a bit of the sibling experience when I joined my cousins for a few days at my uncle’s lake house. We’d sleep four to a room, spend the day begging the adults to take us out on the boat, gorge ourselves on dixie cup ice cream, and watch Cops reruns late into the night. We all had different interests and different things going on in our lives back home, but for those few days, we were inseparable. Going home was always bittersweet: I was happy to have my own space again, but I knew I’d miss having someone to hang out with whenever I wanted.
My cousins and sibling-like friends aren’t perfect substitutes for siblings, but they’re what I have. I bring the same loyalty and support to our relationships that I would to someone who came from the same womb as me. This National Siblings Day, I plan to honor them. I may not have siblings, but I’m surrounded by other incredibly supportive people. I really didn’t miss out on anything.