If I had a dollar for every stereotypical question I’m asked or slightly condescending comment I receive when someone discovers I’m an only child, my college tuition and housing fees would’ve been paid off long before puberty hit.
Seriously, though — it’s as if everyone immediately tries to psychoanalyze us for “only child syndrome.”
Right off the bat, we’re labeled as socially awkward, spoiled and/or moody. It comes as a shock to one too many people when we’re as open and personable as someone who grew up in a family with four other siblings.
If you’re looking to point fingers at someone for starting the social stigma against only children, look no further than psychologist G. Stanley Hall.
Considered the child expert of his time, Hall oversaw a late 19th-century study about only children, conducted by researchers at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts.
These researchers sent questionnaires to teachers nationwide, specifically asking them for personal reports of ”peculiar and exceptional” children they’d encountered throughout their lifetimes or in any of their own classes.
After receiving 1,045 cases, each case clustered by peculiarity, the data boiled down to two results: Immigrants and only children were considered to be “peculiar and exceptional.”
“Being an only child is a disease in itself.” (Keep in mind, this quote is also coming from the same man who believed “pre-adolescent children are savages,” and as children grow, they need “authoritarian discipline and corporal punishment.”)
Books citing this study were written for teachers and families alike, stating,
“The only child is greatly handicapped. He cannot be expected to go through life with the same capacity for adjustment that a child reared in the family with other children can be.”
“It would be best for the individual and the race if there were no only children.”
Although Hall’s studies were never rebutted within 30 years of this experiment, people continuously studied his research, and countless articles spawned from it.
Thankfully, this mindset has mellowed out during the past century, but that hasn’t rid the negative connotation and ridiculous stereotypes behind the phrase “only child.”
Here are some common rumors about only children I have personally debunked:
1. We were spoiled infinitely growing up, especially during Christmas and birthdays.
Last time I checked, I was an only child, not a Kardashian. There is no way my parents would have bought the luxury play kitchen, Barbie’s Dream House, the entire Polly Pocket collection and all six Nintendo DS games that graced my Christmas list in 2004.
Because of the fact that there were no other kids in the house to go shopping for, people believe us only children get treated to everything we desire.
There are definitely families out there with one child who probably did get everything he or she asked for, but there are just as many kids with siblings who got the same special treatment.
My parents did all they could, within their financial means, to buy me the gifts I wanted, but they stayed true to their boundaries in order to keep me grounded.
I learned about saving money from an early age, particularly because curious 8-year-old me often asked why I didn’t get everything I asked for.
2. It’s harder for us to make friends than those who grew up around siblings.
In our defense, having no brothers or sisters around only made me want to make more friends and be even more sociable.
We do love our alone time (after all, we did grow up with no one but our parents around us), but our innate craving to meet people and make friends helped shape our relationships differently than those who grew up with siblings.
Almost every “best friend” we made while growing up eventually became like a sister or brother.
Arguments with our close friends helped us build thicker skin since we didn’t have siblings to toughen us up with fights, wedgies and squabbles.
Since we grew up without depending on other siblings, we had our own sense of independence.
However, we also end up appreciating our friendships more because they taught us how to connect with and rely on other people at an early age.
3. It took a long time to finally come out of our shells and have social skills.
Let’s set the record straight: We grew up without siblings but were not ostracized from society. We have maintained healthy, stable friendships that have blossomed over the years.
It didn’t take us any longer than other people to find our place among our peers.
Contrary to popular belief, we’re not socially inept. There are just as many kids with siblings as there are only children who have taken a substantial amount of time to open up and become sociable.
A trait many people gain later in life is a genuine kindness toward others. Many only children learn from an early age to treat others with respect because they realize it’s incredibly useful in fostering new friendships.
Sharing, although not implemented very often at home, quickly became a tool we used to our advantage while making friends.
I think those who have siblings and only children alike can agree that no one wants to associate with uptight, selfish, stingy naysayers.
4. We don’t know how “lucky” we are to be only children.
People just love mentioning how “lucky” we are due to society’s beliefs that we get everything we want, we have tons of time of ourselves and there are no sibling expectations we have to amount to.
The thing is, this isn’t something we are consciously aware of at all times. As stated earlier, we don’t get every single thing we want.
Yes, we may have more “me time,” but only children can get lonely and extremely bored when all of their friends are busy with their own families.
Aside from the stereotypes and stigmas that surround us, being an only child is simply part of who we are.
It would’ve been nice to grow up with an older sibling to look up to or someone younger we could help guide, but that’s past our control.
Yes, we only children found our own independent sense of being at a young age, and we didn’t need to depend on others for anything.
We didn’t have to share our parents (which is both a blessing and a curse), and everyone around us know we are totally comfortable in our own skin.
Ultimately, we don’t mind silly misconceptions people may have us because we know ourselves well enough to not take them to heart.
4 Realities Of Being An Only Child Society Finds So Hard To Believe