I fought the stereotype for more than 40 years: the spoiled, selfish, sensitive only child. Yet another study on siblings and development recently found another round of proof that kids with siblings will grow up to be more compassionate and know not only that conflict is part of life, but how to resolve it. I'm not, and I don't. I am an only child.
I don't share well -- not my food or my feelings. I have a hard time standing in someone else's shoes. Compromise and conflict are a bit foreign to me -- and uncomfortable. Criticism is even harder to hear. I'm very well-liked, but someone close to me told me just the other day I "have no empathy." The reality is that maybe I don't.
But I am done apologizing for being an only child.
During my school years, my friends thought I was lucky. I could have everything to myself, weigh in on whatever I felt like having for dinner, have my mom show up at every event and get all the Guess jeans I wanted. In high school, I could always get the car, felt very independent and knew how to hold real conversations with grown-ups.
Sometimes, though I didn't tell anyone, I felt sorry for my only-child self. No kids to hang out with on long family holiday dinner nights. No big brother to drive me home from parties. No little sister to look up to me. But that was different. I felt sorry for myself, as a kid. Now, as an adult, that remains, but what I never feel now is a need to apologize to others for my only-child traits. After all -- it's not my fault!
I have come to terms with being an only child. Sure, I see things my way. I cringe at people eating off each other's' plates at a meal. I hate the sound of my two sons squabbling. I can be quiet to the point of being misinterpreted. I like it quiet when I work, which is when I focus best. I value and protect my alone time, which is when I think best. I don't want to share my stuff.
Do I sound like a spoiled only child? Maybe, but consider this: It may all be a wash at the end. Being an only child "adult" is not easy. Like me, many other only children face a tougher reality as adults. There are no siblings to walk down memory lane with, no shared perspectives on family dynamics, no nieces and nephews to enjoy and no built-in invitations for holiday dinners.
As I get older, I realize I've given my sons a gift by having both of them. They'll have each other as they go through all the ups and downs of life, even if the day-to-day fights over Nike socks and television shows doesn't seem so wonderful now.
As I age, I realize, like most only children, the responsibility of someday parenting my parents will rest solely on my shoulders. There will be no selfishness then.
For now, though, I'll navigate through the weeks and days proudly being my "only child" self. We can't be so bad, Alicia Keys, Natalie Portman and myself. They are only children, too.