Only children get a bad rap. The stereotypical only child is a selfish, pampered brat lacking social skills. Though smaller families are now the norm, the stigma surrounding only children remains. We are considered maladjusted, socially inept loners. Perhaps it's because we gravitate towards each other that most of my friends are also only children. As we approach our mid-twenties I think it's safe to say that we have grown into semi-successful (we are recent college grads in a terrible economy, after all!) well-adjusted adults.
Blended families create a new breed of only children like myself. I have two much older half-sisters from my father's first marriage. Sure, they visited for holidays and even joined me for the occasional tea party, but my sisters were grown women by the time I was born. Their advice and support has been invaluable as I navigate adulthood but I only started feeling close to them once we could relate on a level deeper than our shared love of '80s, new wave and post-punk (I will forever be grateful to my sisters for introducing me to everyone from INXS to Bauhaus). I believe that I have the best of both worlds but I can't pretend to know what it's like to have siblings in the traditional sense.
Many say that only children miss out on learning basic social skills. Unless a child is completely cut off from his or her peers, I can't see how basic skills like sharing could go unlearned. Just like many other children, I attended preschool and then elementary school. Whatever social skills I didn't pick up at home were quickly acquired in the classroom.
Are all only children spoiled? Obviously, the parents' financial situation is a key factor regarding this question, but I don't think so. Only children appear to have more because they don't have siblings to share with. From toys to college educations, only children are the sole recipients of their parents' resources. And that's not always monetary -- only children never have to fight for their parents' attention. Did I miss out as a kid because I never had to fight with siblings? I don't believe so. My niece was born shortly before my sixth birthday. I remember feeling jealous of the attention that she received. But unlike children that have to adjust to baby brothers and sisters, at the end of the day, my niece went home with my sister and brother-in-law.
Dr. Seuss' Oh The Places You'll Go is a popular gift for high school graduates. It features the quote, "Whether you like it or not, alone is something you'll be quite a lot!" The book was given to me at my own high school graduation and I remember thinking wait, what? There are people out there that don't know how to be alone? Being an only child taught me the most valuable skill of all: the ability to be alone. Sure I had friends growing up, but I was just as content to sit in my bedroom alone playing with my Playmobil dollhouse as I was to have a friend join me. Being alone so often at a young age allowed me to cultivate an extensive imagination. When I couldn't have a play date with a friend, my dolls were my friends. Did I get lonely as a kid? Sure. I longed for a cat to keep me company. Thankfully, I forged strong friendships.
I had a very happy childhood, even though I spent a lot of time alone. I guess the only downside to this skill is sometimes I'd rather not be around people. Audrey Hepburn (herself an only child with half-siblings) once said, "I have to be alone very often. I'd be quite happy if I spent from Saturday night until Monday morning alone in my apartment. That's how I refuel." I value my alone time above all else and find it exhausting to constantly be in the company of others. I actually had a boyfriend dump me over this fact because he couldn't fathom why I didn't want to spend the entirety of every single weekend with him! Oh well.
I've always been incredibly close to my parents. Growing up, it was always the three of us. My sisters lived in a different state and naturally spent certain holidays with their mother or their in-laws. Funnily, my 18-year-old niece is an only child. My sister jokes that from the time she was an infant, they dragged Ashlee everywhere -- from Hank Williams Jr. concerts to vacations. My upbringing was the same. I was often the only kid at family events or on outings with my parents. I learned how to talk to adults early on, something that some children don't learn until they are adults themselves. Some might say it's a rub against only children but I don't feel like I missed out on any part of childhood. I sat through more than my fair share of "boring" adult dinners but these same adults often humored me for a round of Pretty Pretty Princess.
I highly recommend growing up as an only child. Due to the economy, more couples are choosing to have smaller families, sometimes with only one child. I'm still on the fence about whether or not I even want children someday but if it ever happens, I know I just want one. Having had such a positive experience growing up as an only child, I can't imagine anything different.