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?

5. We can be über critical of ourselves.

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

Yes, we think about ourselves a lot, but not in terms of vanity. We are introspective and set VERY high expectations for ourselves. We had the privilege of having our parents’ attention and laser-focused support. In adulthood, this translates into being overachievers who don’t want to disappoint others, let alone ourselves. FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION.

See? Only children aren’t horrible. Maybe a little neurotic, but just like those of you who have siblings, we have our strengths and psychosis.

To my fellow only children out there, you are resourceful, imaginative and have a raucous sense of humor. I would like to offer some advice: Pump yo’ brakes. Try not to take yourself so seriously. You is kind. You is smart. You is important.

For those of you grew up with siblings, please value them. Appreciate your brothers and sisters even if they drive you to Crazy Town and back, because families are important, and you might need a matching organ donor someday. Also, you have someone to pass the blame to when you’ve screwed up.

Imaginary friends make horrible fall guys.


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