“What’s it like being the only child?” It’s a question I’m no stranger to, and I often try to reply with a cool answer like “It’s made me independent because I’m used to being the only one,” or “It’s incredibly peaceful, I have all the time and space for myself.” Frequently, however, I find myself answering, “I don’t know, it’s all I’ve ever known in life. I mean, what’s it like having siblings?” And it’s true; I don’t have any other life or experiences to compare it to. Sure, I’ve had sleepovers and spent tons of time with my cousins, who are the closest people I have to siblings, but at the end of the day, they return to their own lives and homes and I return to mine.
So if you have siblings, I ask you: What’s it like to live with someone–or more than one person, depending on your family–who isn’t your parent? To live with someone who’s either, or simultaneously, your favorite person and worst critic? To live with someone, for better or for worse, with whom you’ve shared the deepest and most personal parts of yourself?
I may never know what it’s like to have siblings, but I can give you an insight on my experience and life as an only child. For one, I definitely owned the spotlight in my family of three. My parents have always been my #1 fans, no matter what I did–from pageants to soccer to music lessons–and I realize now that it was a privilege to receive so much support and attention from them. Clearly, I had more than one interest, and having only one child to raise gave my parents the flexibility and affordability to let me explore them. Which brings me to the grand preconception people usually have: “If you’re an only child, then you MUST have been spoiled.” As far as I know, the closest I got to being spoiled by my parents was in their unwavering support, as mentioned above. They raised me to earn rather than expect the things life has to offer. Even though they rose above their financial struggles by the time I was growing up, they wanted to ensure that I could not only provide for myself but understand the importance of hard work and self-reliance. I learned to ask more for what I needed rather than what I wanted and have the patience for those things I did want. I didn’t even get a phone until I was halfway through my Freshman year of high school when almost everyone I knew already had one!
Rather than reinforcing the stigma by spoiling me with whatever I wanted, my parents invested in family trips. Every year, we would travel somewhere during my spring break as both a bonding experience and time for relaxation from school/work. Traveling, I know, is another luxury I was privileged to experience as I grew up since it can be a struggle for larger families. I’ve realized that my life growing up as an only child was filled with such privileges and luxuries that others may not experience, which reminds me to be humble and grateful for them.
Another question I usually receive relative to life as an only child is, “Don’t you get lonely/bored?” The answer is, “Yes, practically all of the time.” Sure, I have my own time and space to carry out my responsibilities–school, clubs, self-care, hobbies–without the distraction of siblings, but sometimes I do wish I could have some company at home, and sometimes Facetime or social media doesn’t feel like enough. I went through a phase around the age of eight when I really wished for a sibling, but over time I realized that I was so used to the occasional quiet in the house and having a room to myself that it would’ve been a drastic change in lifestyle. Not impossible of course, but I was raised with the notion that I was and would remain my parents’ only child, especially because they came from large families and understood the struggles of raising multiple children.
I will say, though, that quarantine has definitely intensified the boredom, the quiet, and the loneliness of life as an only child. I suppose my way of compensating for the absence of siblings in my life has always been by savoring the time I get with friends. Besides my cousins, my friends are my “siblings,” so having to go this long without them is pretty hard for me. I miss their hugs and their laughter–their overall presence–so I have been feeling deeply lonely lately. I find myself checking my phone too often, hoping someone will reach out to me because at home it’s just me and my parents. Thankfully, I’ve arranged weekly check-ins via Facetime and Zoom with several of my friends to have something to look forward to and not feel as alone.
I will never know what exactly it’s like to have siblings or what kind of siblings I would have if I did, just as you (if you’re not an only child) will never know what it’s like to be an only child. What I do know, though, is that growing up the way I did has shaped me immensely. Personally, I enjoy and thrive in peaceful, quiet environments, value space, and time to be alone, and treasure the moments I have with loved ones. Although my life without siblings has surely had its share of loneliness and boredom, especially now during quarantine, I’ve learned to be independent and to cherish the company of others; so go ahead, ask me the question. “What’s it like to be an only child?”