Even though the number of only children in the U.S. is rising, they are still a mysterious and misunderstood group to some. As an only child myself and a parent to one, this is one of few areas I'm an expert in. It occurred to me that my daughter—and fellow parents of only children—could benefit from a few of the things I've learned over the years. Here's what I want her to know, as an only child:
1. Don't let anyone convince you that you're "spoiled."
This one took me a long time to figure out. I really internalized the "spoiled kid" stereotype (even though I didn't understand what it meant until I saw Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory). The same goes for "weird," "bratty," and "selfish"—other generalizations people make about only children—sometimes right to your face! Just because you are an only child doesn't mean you're genetically wired to be any of these things. Everyone has weird, bratty, or selfish moments, and people who tie it to your only-child status are just being mean. My advice is to learn to graciously ignore those comments and show the world the kind and generous person I know you to be.
2. On the other hand, know that the world doesn't revolve around you.
With fewer kids in the family competing for attention, it's easy for parents of only children to inadvertently cultivate this center-of-the-universe mentality—and for kids to believe their needs are always top priority. I want you to know that when I try to teach you lessons about not always getting "your way," I'm doing you a favor. Otherwise, you'll find out the hard way that the real world doesn't play favorites.
3. Friends can be as close as (or closer than) family.
When I overhear you playing "sisters" with your best friends, I feel a pang of sympathy. As a kid, I desperately wished some of my best friends could've been my sisters, too. Then one day I realized that the relationships I've built with some of my best friends are just as strong and fierce as family bonds. I hope you'll be lucky enough to find your own "besties" who feel like sisters and brothers. When you do, treat them well, and they'll have your back for life—just like family.
4. Kids with siblings get "bored," too.
Don't try to tell me that you're bored because you have no siblings to play with. If you had a younger brother, you'd likely get "bored" playing with him. Periods of boredom are universal for kids, and they're actually good for you. It challenges you to use your creativity and discover what interests you—skills that will help you build a rich, meaningful life for yourself.
5. You don't owe me anything.
No parent wants to become a burden to their child as they grow older, but an only child can't help but feel the weight of aging parents a little heavier than others. While I can't promise that your dad and I won't need and want your support as we grow older, we also don't expect you to sacrifice your own goals to do so. (Related: I will try really, really hard not to guilt-trip you into making me a grandmother.)
6. You're not better or worse; you're just you.
Some research says that only children are more successful; other studies say we're socially awkward. At the end of the day, I've always felt that this debate about only children versus kids with sibs is kind of silly. We are who we are, every family is different, and we all deal with the life we're given. That's what I did, and that's what you'll do. Yes, it's interesting for us onlies to think about what would be different if we had siblings, but it's nothing to obsess over. There's no research that says there's one right or wrong way to structure a family—but I do think our little family is perfect just the way it is.