Tackling the Stereotypes About Only Children
I am here to be a voice for only children. Growing up the only child of two parents who started their family later in life, I learned at a fairly young age about people’s perceptions of only children. I can remember the first time I encountered negative feedback about my only child status. I was in the third grade and a classmate of mine who came from a large family asked me about my brothers and/or sisters. I told her that I didn’t have any. To which she replied, “Oh, you’re an only child? You must be spoiled rotten.” I remember thinking to myself, “Why would she say such a thing? Do I act like I’m spoiled?” It was a lot to process at the age of eight. In my head, “spoiled rotten” equaled Veruca Salt from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and I certainly acted nothing like her! Truthfully, I was horrified that anyone would see me as remotely spoiled, and from that day forward, I was determined to fight against this stereotype and not give people a single reason to view me as “spoiled.”
It’s interesting because when I stated that my parents started a family “later in life,” they were ages 35 and 41, respectively. In the late ‘70’s, this was far from the norm. That being said, in today’s world, it is commonplace for people to start having families in their 30’s and even 40’s. But as a result of the later start, there may be a higher likelihood of encountering fertility issues or undergoing a very long and arduous adoption process.
I recently had a conversation with someone I know who had undergone IVF treatments in order to conceive her first child and was on the fence about whether or not to go through it all again because she was feeling happy and complete with having just one child. She asked me about my experience growing up as an only child and I was more than happy to share all of the positives I took away from being an only.
For one thing, I feel like being an only helped foster my creativity and led me to being a person who still, to this day, enjoys a plethora of creative outlets. I was especially big on dramatic play and one of my biggest joys in life is performing and acting. Here’s an example of how I entertained myself as an only. When I was 5-years-old, my parents bought a small cottage down by the beach that needed a ton of work. They did all of the work themselves, which took time and meant that I would have to figure out how to entertain myself while they attempted to check things off of the to-do list. We had this patch of cedar trees next to the house and in my young mind, I had a vision for what I wanted this patch of trees to become. So, I took whatever bare minimum pieces of furniture I could find around the house and in the basement—beach chairs, TV trays, etc and created a “house” under the trees with different rooms. I would busy myself in the “house” for hours while my parents worked and I remember the sweet elderly woman who lived across the street telling my parents how in awe she was of me playing house for hours all by myself!
Another thing that was amazing about being an only child was all of the trips we were able to take as a family. I had visited more states of the United States before entering high school than some people get to visit in their lifetime. It was an incredible feeling to be studying something in Social Studies and be able to know that I had been to the place we were learning about! Because I was an only child and used to amusing myself, long plane rides and road trips were no problem! I distinctly remember we went to Hawaii the summer before I entered 5th grade. That school year, we did a huge state project and I chose to do my project on Hawaii. I remember handing out shell leis to my teachers and presenting a slideshow of some of these key sights we saw in Hawaii in front of all my classmates! It was truly one of my fondest grade school memories!
In addition to the creativity and the traveling, I also developed a comfort level interacting with adults from a very young age. Being that all of my cousins were much older than I, I was mostly around adults. I didn’t shy away from conversation and I feel that it helped me rise up and become a leader even as early as elementary school.
I was also very fortunate to have parents who instilled in me the importance of being gracious in all situations, especially in situations of defeat. I remember in 3rd grade, I was up for the role of The Grinch in our holiday music production. It came down to me and another student. In the end, the other student got the role, and as disappointed as I was, I remembered what my parents had taught me. I gave myself a minute and then went up to the student and congratulated him on landing the role.
Instilling the importance of being gracious was not the only thing my parents impressed upon me. They taught me to be thankful and appreciative and to look beyond myself. I was the apple of their eye, but they certainly did not allow me to rule the roost as an only child.
I guess my final message is to say please don’t assume only children are “spoiled brats.” And please don’t judge people for having only one child. Everyone is on a journey we know nothing about whether it be an infertility journey, a financial journey, a mental health journey, a physical health journey, a relationship journey, etc. Societal norms my tell us that everyone should have 2.5 children, but for some this is not possible and they are blessed to have one child. I am a proud only child and I learned long ago that if someone is going to label me because of my only child status, it gives me that much more ammunition to disprove the stereotype.