Is being an only child good for life experience?

I’ve often wondered about how much of our childhood influences our life; the relationships with our family members, our schooling, and our friendships, along with dozens of other elements. There are so many different aspects that could be an influence, but more specifically I’ve often thought about whether being an only child is a good experience or not, and whether it influences their life at all. I think about this because I am an only child, but I believe I’m not the stereotypical one. I was taught (probably too much) to share with others and to not be selfish, because when you have siblings you learn that - or so I’m told. Some people may think that being an only child is boring, but are there qualities within that status that can actually be good to use as a person gets older? Does it bring with it its own teachings of how to act towards people?

Child as one

Of course, I know nothing different. I grew up with being the only child for my parents to focus on, so I don’t know what it’s like to be young and not have that 100% focus on me. I have many friends who have siblings, so I have heard second-hand about the things they experienced such as play fighting, mischief making, and fooling parents, but it’s difficult to really understand what it is like. Even though I didn’t experience all of that, I still interacted with other children my age. Being an only child can be great; all the attention and all the focus is on you the whole time, all the money gets spent on you because there is only you to spend it on, and you are the centre of the universe to your parents and nothing else matter. Yes that’s right – in an ideal world.

The reality is that the world where you are an only child is the only world you know, but that reality isn’t always what the perception of it is. What if there is no money in a family to spend on all these luxurious presents the child gets because there’s only one of them? What if there isn’t enough love from the parent(s) to give to any child? Stereotypes of only children being spoilt brats is just that – a stereotype, which is something that can be very wrong indeed. I’m therefore happy that the only child syndrome, which was used to describe a spoilt, odd child has been largely been exposed as a myth. However, many people over the years have enquired about how I felt about being an only child but what can I really say? I didn’t know anything different. It would be the same if I asked someone who had a sibling if they liked it, and although they could say they would have liked to not have a sibling, I doubt a person would ever truly mean it. I think that is a big difference; I think a lot of only children would say they would have liked to have had a sibling and mean it more than in the opposite scenario. I think this is because whatever a person with a sibling would say about their situation, overall they would on some level like that they had someone to play games with and to just generally be around. Even so, I actually liked being an only child, and I do think it’s helped me as I have grown older.

Lone experience

In my opinion, I do think that being an only child has helped me like my own company. I know people who have siblings and who dislike being on their own, and are always seeking the company of others. While that is fine to do, being on your own is one thing in life that will always and inevitably occur. Whether it’s commuting to work by yourself or walking to the shops, if you can’t deal with being alone, then potentially you will always be disliking certain activities and actively avoiding doing them. This is probably an extreme example, but it’s one that I think needs to be highlighted. I am probably too much the other way – I can happily spend days by myself (if I had to, of course) and would always find something to occupy my time. Because I only had to rely on myself as a child (and not any siblings), I think that I quickly learnt how to use my initiative and instincts in how to behave towards people and situations; I didn’t have any other peer influence around me at all times to alter this.

One of the biggest character traits I have is that I can be very quiet. It has always been commented on, whether it be in school reports, by friends, or by my fellow work colleagues. I think that it is largely just part of who I am, but I also think it is due to being an only child. Unlike those with siblings, when I was a child I didn’t need to scream and shout to be heard over others, or to get any attention I craved. However, I am not completely convinced that this is due to being an only child; I think I probably would have been like this anyway, but I will never know this for sure. For all the times this has been commented on, I don’t understand why anyone would essentially think that it is a negative thing. I would rather be quiet than loud; there are far more negative consequences of being a loud person than of being a quiet one. An example is that someone who is loud may be very opinionated, which could cause friction with others, as well as possibly being labelled as being an attention-seeker. People with these character traits may also be influenced by their experiences in childhood, and how they coped with the family dynamics they had to deal with. However, these traits can easily be seen in those who do not have siblings, so however a person is as an adult, I don’t think it can ever be so easily explained as being down to how many siblings they have, or don’t. There is always more to a person’s behaviour than just one thing. Unfortunately, life is never that straightforward, and children have to cope with many aspects of life which could affect how they are in adulthood. Even though not all experiences can leave an imprint on a person, some have more of a potential to than others, but I do think that as every person is unique, they are also unique in the way they deal with things, and someone being an only child may be a huge influence to them in later life, or it could be something that is not even thought about because it doesn’t need to be.

There will always be good and bad points of being an only child or having siblings, and no one can fully experience both. However, I think being an only child adds resilience to a person because they are the only person they can turn to. I don’t say this in a negative way though; I think being an only child allows a person to understand themselves more and be able to rely on their own instincts because they don’t have a close person, such as a sibling, to necessarily turn to. I am of course only using my own experience to write this article and people may have a completely different experience of growing up with or without siblings, but there are always negative comments about being an only child and I think that is wrong. I think it is wrong to think that it is anything more than just a different path to adulthood, but I also think that being an only child is good life experience because from a young age you learn to like yourself and your own company because there isn’t really any other choice; and it’s important to like yourself because if you don’t, it makes it very difficult for anyone else to.

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