Saturday, January 22, 2011

Being an "only"

I am an only child, and not only that, I am an only child married to an only child! This is the allegedly the worst marital combination possible, as we are both supposed to be spoiled brats who can never relinquish the limelight to another. We are evidently selfish, stunted human beings who never learned to share (some would say we are all the more despicable because we never had children!) Obviously the world would have been a better place had we both been smothered at birth.
Despite the horrific, horrific I say, odds, Gordon and I will be celebrating our 18th wedding anniversary this spring. And I have a lot to say about this "selfish only child" bullsh*t, which is about as bad as the "You don't have children, ergo you are selfish!" bullsh*t.

My Mum, my Dad and me in a swimming pool somewhere
in western Ontario, sometime around 1965.

First off, let me just say that Gordon and I both LOVE being only children. We have both always LOVED it. In fact, the only time I had the slightest smidgen of a feeling of "A sibling might be nice!" was after both my parents had passed on and I no longer had any immediate family. But then I thought of all the battles over wills and estates that go on amongst siblings after parents die! 

Now, I know there are people out there with wonderful siblings, and I do envy them those close relationships. But I have never known anything but being an only child, and I am happy with my situation. What gets me is when people feel SORRY for me for being an only child, or presume I must be a selfish freak, or that my childhood was lonely and pathetic because I had no brothers or sisters. And that just pisses me off! I mean, I don't presume other people are freaks because they have siblings, so why do they make gross generalizations about us "onlies"?

Gratuitous bathtub shot of me being held upright by Mum!

Even better are the people of childbearing age who tell us with a straight face that OF COURSE they are planning on having a second child because if they don't, their first child will be damaged and tortured by the lack of a brother or sister, and grow up to be some sort of sibling-less monstrosity with a twelve-foot-long rap sheet of psychological problems (because everyone knows that having siblings is a sure-fire way to avoid having psychological problems! - note sarcasm -)

And while people are proclaiming such nonsense to us, the only children, we are standing there with bemused looks on our faces, wondering where we fit in on their monstrosity scale! Really, I should save the world and go stick my head in a gas oven RIGHT NOW. - note sarcasm -

 Mum, me, Dad and my Uncle Kevin peeking in from the corner.

Here's the scoop, people. Being an only child doesn't automatically turn you into a selfish, stunted freak, any more than having siblings will guarantee that you'll grow up to be a well-adjusted, generous marvel. For the record, Hitler had SEVERAL siblings. In fact, there are many ADVANTAGES to being an only child, and as for loneliness, I grew up next to a family with seven kids and never lacked for playmates. I also had lots of friends, not to mention cousins and of course pets.

Wikipedia has an entry on only children and the ridiculous stereotypes that have been debunked by numerous studies.

Mum and me at the park

Amusingly, a certain member of my extended family continually told my mother, throughout my childhood, that I was spoiled and would grow up to be a mess. As it turns out, her six children have all had issues and perhaps only one or two of them have made anything of their lives. One has been in jail repeatedly for dealing drugs and assaulting his wife. Despite my "handicap" of being an only child, I have done considerably better in life than THAT.

So please, people, stop judging us only children! (For that matter, stop judging those of us who chose not to have children! Oh wait, I know, just STOP JUDGING OTHER PEOPLE, period.) We are no more or less selfish or demented than those of you with siblings. Gordon and I have thus far led productive lives, have done lots of (unselfish) volunteer work, have ample friends, are involved in our community, and are quite happy with our sibling-less status, so please, spare your pity for people who really need it. And for the love of all things chocolate-y, stop telling us, to our faces,  how you OF COURSE had to have a second child to prevent your first one from growing up to be a sick, twisted loner. Only children can do just fine without siblings, thanks very much. And the last time I checked, neither of us were sick, twisted loners. (Well, okay, I might be a little twisted, but that's what makes me creative!)


  1. Hang on! I'm sick, twisted and totally selfish and I have a brother and sister. How does that rate on the scale?

  2. Amen! Children with siblings can grow up just as selfish.

    I don't intend to have children, and as someone who once spent a lot of time debating others about women's reproductive rights... it's ridiculous some of the notions people have about women who don't want to have children or want only one or two. Somehow I think people have forgotten that with technological progress, we should have gotten more social progress letting us know women aren't breeding mares and it's okay not to be a part of a giant family.

  3. Ronna, pfffft, you are totally awesome and if I had a sister, I would want her to be YOU or Marcy!!

  4. I hear ya, Lindsay! I think whether or not to have kids is a personal decision, and no one should be judging you if you decide not to. Unfortunately, too many people do look upon women as breeding mares...

  5. I'm an only child too, and I've encountered the "selfish" stereotype as well. It's bunk, of course.

    In my own extended family, I've seen the hostilities that have erupted between siblings of the older generation, so I'm not envious of those who have brothers and sisters. Apparently having siblings is not innoculation against selfishness.

  6. Anonymous11:23 am

    I really did think in the 1970's that only children would become something of a trend, since couples could finally choose how many to have. It was, I recall, also linked to the original environmental movement of small is beautiful.

    It's most unfortunate that over three decades later, the resurgence of environmental consciousness has not brought with it renewed questions of whether the decision to have a very large family may have a more adverse impact on the environment than any other decision you can make.

    While I haven't read it, there's at least one (but only one) fairly recent book out on the topic, written by a former New Yorker


  7. Anonymous11:27 am

    I have an older brother who made my life hell as a kid. We were never close and remain that way to this day. What I really would rather have had was a white rat...

    Your mom was a looker, Natalie! Get a load of those gams at the pool! I can see the apple didn't fall far from the tree with you.

  8. Did I catch your drift? This stereotyping tweaks you a little? :)

    Crude stereotyping is just that - crude!

    Unfortunately if any of us veers from what is deemed the norm a negative label is very quickly attached.

    I'm of a pair and have a pair - so what!

    I am what I am and that's OK.

  9. Three "words" for you... Jim Bob Duggar.

  10. Oh this made me laugh so hard! Dave is an only child (I have a brother) and I often tease him about being a selfish, spoiled brat - more spoiled that selfish though - his grew up in a moderately wealthy family, my family struggled for everything for a very long time (pretty much until my brother and I started working and paying our own way). To top it off, he was also the only grandchild until seven years ago - so yeah - he's spoiled. But not a raging narcissistic psychopath. I only the other hand, was raised with a brother (we were close until our twenties when I realized he was a dink.. but I do still love him) and I AM the one who always has to be in the spotlight and loved and adored.
    As for the having kids, I'm 31 and I still don't know if I want them or not. When people ask me "but don't you want kids?" I tell them "only if they have fur and whiskers". Yeah, I get some pretty horrified looks... but not as bad as when I use to tell people "No, I want to be the centre of attention and babies are attention hogs." or "Nah, babies are too much of an inconvenience" Oh what a horrible person I must be.. of course, I think it was really mature of me - if I look at babies that way, I definitely shouldn't be having one.
    Don't get me wrong, I love my nieces and my friends' respective zoos, but I'm quite happy being baby-less.
    I think you have to do what's right for you... just because you have a uterus, doesn't mean you're going to be a good parent.

    Congrats on the 18 years - you two are obviously happy on the path you have chosen.

  11. Well said, Ahab!

    I will check that out, G. Wow, my husband commenting on a post! (Well, usually he comments while he's standing behind me, reading it.)

    TTPT, too bad you couldn't have traded your brother for a rat. Rats are nice pets! And thanks for the compliment(s). :)

    Calum, I don't mind when people make "selfish only child" jokes for fun. It's the people who really believe that stereotype that worry me! Of course there are selfish only children out there, but there are selfish people in large families too. Are you a pair, as in twin? There's probably a whole other world o' stereotypes for twins!!

    HWB, three words for that: OH MY GOD!!!!

  12. Anonymous2:18 pm

    Clearly this pairing of selfish spoilt brats has only lasted 18 years because you are both so bleedin' selfish you won't share one another with anyone! This is ridiculous behaviour, typical of only children.

    Yes, I'm joking. Congratulations.

    Oh but take a look at the face of that little girl in those pics. Look at her obvious attitude. It's all "me, me me" clearly, isn't it?

    Yes, I'm joking again...

    Generalisations are generally nonsense, when applied in general, which is what generalisations generally are.

  13. Wandering Cat, poor you being married to an only child. HAHAHAHA! And oh my, to be the only grandchild for so long. At least I wasn't THAT spoiled. ;)

    But your story about the differences between your and Dave's childhoods is interesting too. Glad you two found each other. My parents had VERY different childhoods and were from different classes, which mattered more in England (where they were from.)

    And I am with you on the baby thing. I don't see why people get so obsessed over whether or not someone else has children! I happen to love kids, and I have worked with them as a volunteer (Big Sister twice, volunteer teaching, etc) and I love spending time with my friends' kids. I grew up thinking I'd probably have a kid but i have to say, it was never my prime motivation. Then it turned out I COULDN'T have a kid, then by the time my plumbing was fixed up, and I might have been able to, we decided we were quite happy with things the way they are. And looking back, I am hugely relieved I didn't have children, because that would not have been best for me or for them (G feels the same)! Fortunately I was not one of those people for whom infertility was devastating and I am very happy with how life has worked out.

    But I did get tired of people telling me I'd change my mind, or that there was still time, yadda yadda. Of course, having the old uterus yanked out pretty much gives me an ironclad excuse now,

    If other people have kids, I'm happy for them. I think children are amazing and I love spending time with them, but I am totally happy not having any of my own.

  14. So, yes, Wandering Cat, stick to your guns and do what's right for you, whether that means not having a baby, or having one!

    The funniest thing I ever had happen on this subject was when I was seated with a bunch of older (i.e. retirement age) women at an event awhile back. I was introduced to them. A woman on my right asked me if I was retired (Uh NO! How old do you think I am!?) Then another woman at the table asked me if I had kids, and I said "No" and she said, "Oh well, you still have time!" I laughed my *ss off because one woman was sitting there thinking I'm 65, while the other thought I was still in my fertile years. I didn't bother telling her about my hysterectomy...

  15. H. i., I always love your comments! You never fail to crack me up. You are a quality addition to my commenting group. ;)

    I figure Gordon and I have lasted because we understand each other so well. That and the fact that he brings me tea in bed every morning.

    The irony of the photos, of course, is that it was my lovely mother who was the certified narcissist, not me!

  16. Anonymous2:39 pm

    Yes, I did rather think your Mammy was looking down at you and thinking "Oh... look... isn't she just SO like ME, ME, ME... isn't she just PERFECT! Meanwhile father, however, (especially in that top picture) is clearly thinking "Yea, one of these little bleeders will be quite enough."

  17. All this being said, I do love my brother and sister and wouldn't trade them for the world.
    On the other hand, I'm happy I never had any rug rats and much prefer the company of my cats. I was never one of those folks who ran over to a baby brought in for show. ("Look at the baby, look at the baby." Yeah right.) If however, someone brought in a puppy or kitten, I'm toast!

  18. Hahahah! H. i. you got that dead on! Not to knock my dear departed Mammy too much, but she had some serious issues. Although as it turned out, my Dad was always my biggest fan and supporter. One little bleeder was definitely enough for him, though.

    And Ronna, I know EXACTLY how you feel. Little furry faces have always been what drew me in (or big furry faces, in the case of Gordon!)

  19. Anonymous5:22 pm

    My Mike is an only child and I have enough siblings to fill a rabbit warren. Lemme just say we prove your point. In fact Mike was a little resentful that he doesn't have any siblings until he met me and decided big families are not all they're cracked up to be. Some of them are just cracked. And I'll leave it at that.

  20. I had some close friends growing up who were only children. Something I noticed is that they made really good friends because they valued the friendships. They all had great social skills and all grew up to be productive, happy, responsible adults. After seeing the often bad dynamics between my two oldest children when they were little, I often wondered how harmful that was. Of course, good sibling relationships are special too.

  21. So what is wrong with being a freak? I am a middle child and am supposed to have major issues. I married a middle child.
    Freaks are awesome!

    BTW, there are way too many people having children who shouldn't.

  22. I have an older sister. Given that she is six years older we had little in common until I was about 16 or so.

    As for myself and the not-wife there will be no little O'Donnells courtesy of us!

  23. CogDis, you made me smile!

    I really don't mind people making only child cracks and so on, but the ones who REALLY believe that you're damaged by being an only just piss me off.

    Jenny, I never had a problem making friends, despite my status as "only." I figure it's got less to do with your birth order and more to do with who you are as a person. :) My ex was from a family of six kids and he was not what I'd call social or well-adjusted!! :)

    Sugar Creek, I embrace my inner freak. But don't call me a freak just because I have no siblings. There are other perfectly valid reasons to call me a freak. HAHAHA!

    But you middle children, oooo, I hear you are TOTALLY screwed up. ;)))

    ANd I completely agree with your last statement!

  24. Jams, just think how cute ten little O'Donnell's would be. Or maybe a dozen!

    And thanks, Freshisle. :)

  25. your mum in the first picture reminds me a loooot of hillary swank :)

  26. Ooo, PP, she would have liked you comparing her to a movie star! :)

  27. I wonder about those who are only children, but NOT only children. Vis-a-vis, "Step children." My son, 9, now has a brother and a sister by some guy who has literally abandoned them, gone off with some other woman (a definite no-no in Japanese culture) so I'm worried about where his loyalties are going to lie.

    Believe it or not, he's already de facto Daddy at age nine . . . very disturbing. Until I get him back, which I'm planning to do with his consent.

    I would miss my siblings if they didn't exist now, but I wouldn't miss them if they had never existed.

  28. Nick, hope you get him back soon! That's too much responsibility for a cute little kid like him. :)


Thank you for all your comments, which I love to read!