Thursday, 15 December 2016

Only Child Things

At this time of year more than any other, I find myself pondering the idiosyncrasies of being the only child. At least, the parts of my personality that were somewhat formed by it. And no, I don’t think I’m selfish or spoilt, and we aren’t necessarily as a rule. But I guess every family position has its own standard character trait. The oldest is bossy, the middle is ignored by their parents, the youngest is the baby, and only children are selfish. There are a lot of books that use these tropes and link their personality traits to their position in the family. It’s a lazy writing technique. If you are trying to portray a character as spoilt, show us that, don’t just say they are because they are the only child. But this wasn’t meant to turn into a writer’s workshop.

At Christmas, there were only three of us. And I don’t feel like I got an especially large number of gifts because I was the only. My extended family is rather small, too. Seeing the presents of some of my friends with siblings and more relatives, I was often surprised by how large their piles were. But I never minded this, because the presents I did get, I liked. They were often something I had chosen myself. Since I often got a new game, the rest of Christmas was me playing the game while my parents cooked the dinner. At dinner, it was the only time of the year I could say no to vegetables. Afterwards, the three of us would sit on the sofa, watch Christmas movies and eat chocolate. It was perfect to me, since this was what I was used to. But for people with more siblings and larger extended families, this seems surprising. “Isn’t that boring?” I’ve been asked before. Now, having experienced a few Christmases with the larger family, I would quite like to go back to our quiet ones.

I was never spoilt. Since there was only one of me, it was hard for me to talk my parents into buying things. It took a while for me to get a games console, as I “had no-one to play it with.” I never got the trampoline I wanted, either. I feel like with a sibling, we could have both tried to convince our parents of the necessity of having the current ‘In’ toy of the period. I also got the blame for everything, even when it was my friend’s siblings that had drawn on the walls. If there’s only one, bad grades stick out more. Messy rooms stick out more. Well, probably not, but it felt like it sometimes, growing up.

I also was never lonely. I was, however, often called a 'loner' by teachers. But I liked being alone, and that isn't the same as being lonely. Of course, liking to be alone is considered odd in today's society, and I had to go to classes to get me to mix. Funny, I never remember the other children having classes about being more including. But I had friends, and my close family, and never considered myself lonely until "only children are lonely children" was said to my face. I still like my time alone, even now.

There is also a lot of pressure. In families with more than one child, the expectation is that one will settle down and start a family, therefore giving their parents grandchildren, and one will have the high-powered career they can brag to their friends about. If they’re lucky, it will be abroad somewhere, so they don’t need to pay for hotels when they go on holiday. And when parents grow older, duties for looking after them can be handled between siblings. But with an only child, there is none of that. I’ve expressed a desire to live in other countries before, at which my parents acted affronted about me leaving them on their own. If I express concern for how I might look after them when they’re older, they say “well, you’re not putting me in a home,” and about five seconds later worry about the care of an elderly relative if he doesn’t go in a home. And I’ve had people completely unrelated ask me when I’m going to give my Mum a grandchild – like that’s my sole responsibility. I know a lot of people feel the pressure to have children, but when people say it to me, I get the air that they consider me selfish for not doing it, since I’m my parents only chance to have grandchildren. I genuinely love kids, and I would think the most selfish thing I could do is to purposefully have a child when I know I’m in no-way ready for it.

One thing I do think came mainly from being the only child is my independence. I had to find ways to play by myself, so I was quite content making up imaginary worlds in my head. I would often be reading or gaming solo, and it has had the effect of making me gravitate towards single-player games over multi-player games as a whole. Now, I can easily get myself from one end of the country to the other by myself, and keep myself amused the whole way there.

I did express the wish for a brother or sister a few times, but I don’t remember doing it that often. I think seeing how my friends interacted with their siblings put me off!

Where do you fall in your family tree? Do you have any traits that might have been influenced by that?

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