Sunday, January 20, 2013

How lonely (or not) is an only child?

With extensive inputs from Abhay and Soumya, two of my favourite people. A click on their names will take you to their twitter profiles. :-)

I am the only child. It would be a lie to say I love being the only one, but it does have its advantages. The eldest child, the middle child, and the youngest child ~ everyone will have some good and some bad to say about their position in the family; but no can say, "It gets lonely."

An only child can.

Maa says, when they decided I'll be the only one, the first concern was not to spoil me. Tales of spoilt only child had scared her, and she didn't want one such. So! I was brought up in a fairly disciplined manner.Never unfair, but definitely more disciplined than my cousins & friends. Bachchi hai, chalta hai was never the flavour of the household. The fact that I was always obedient and fiercely independent helped. As a child, I was a picture of perfection. Till I reached my teens, my life could've been used as an example of how a child should be. And, I was a happy child.

But, a rebel was growing inside.Teens came, so did the wild child in me. The age when others were learning to behave, I was misbehaving. That streak is still on. I am still rebelling against the rules I have followed as a child.

I grew up with kids who all had siblings. I was kind of ashamed of the fact that I didn't have one, when I was with them. These are the neighbourhood kids I am talking about. What Abhay says about this, puts a clearer light to what I mean ~ I was almost looked at as a social recluse. I was sympathised as someone who had something missing. Sometimes as bad as someone could sympathise at a physically disabled person.

No same-age companionship at home. I ended up having a very strong friend circle. Funnily, I am neither friendly nor am I outgoing. Yet, my best friends go to 20+ solid years and some other good friends to before kindergarten. Across time zones and decades,misunderstandings and my disappearances, I can boast of friendships stronger than some family ties. Lucky, that’s it.

Abhay, on the other hand, says he valued people more, possibly because he is an only child. “Being an only child has never kept me away from people. Subconsciously, the lack of access to people ensured that I built a strong sense of judgement and valued my trust in people at a very early age. I built myself to be okay by being alone. I built myself to be strong independently. I built myself to be able to tackle, rather than depend.”

Soumya, another only child, told me ~ Being an only child carries some benefits but during the transition to adulthood from teenage, you get to miss the company of a sibling the most. Important life events like falling in love etc are something which you simply won't be able to share with your parents at an initial stage. That leads you to make a great number of friends around you yet at a certain point in life; you choose to stay in your solitary confinement (because you have trained yourself that way). You hide your emotions well; you become more of a perfectionist because you believe in self-appraisal a lot. You tend to become self-dependent, but at the same time, you feel burdened to carry the responsibilities of your parents all on your own. You make it a point to please everyone, thus put more effort than the rest for a given task. An only child also begets the qualities of a leader, because he adapts to the idea of working alone if there's no one to support.

Soumya’s words more or less sum up what I feel. What he said reminded me of the time when my mother went through a knee-replacement surgery and for the first time ever, I was on my own. I was signing pre-op papers, I was settling bills. I was living through the scary thought of, what if something goes wrong? With no one to talk to, in desperation, I had told her, I wish I had a sibling to share this with. Her answer was, “Siblings fight too. What if your sibling didn’t want to share this with you? What if your sibling lived far and couldn’t come right now? If you want to share your fears, do it with people close to your heart, not close to you by blood.” Made sense and my closest friends proved her right. Still. Not all siblings fight. Maa and maasi don’t. They are the best of friends; mine could have been my friend too. No?

While someone like me still misses what I think was deprived of and lives in the ‘what if’, a more practical Abhay says, “Growing up in a nuclear middle class family in a Delhi neighbourhood in the 80s and the 90s meant I was spending a lot of my time interacting with people. If I was not running chores & errands for mum, I’d be playing hockey or cricket till evening. Like my parents, I had my own set of friends with amongst whom I spent my early childhood as well as the introductory teenage years. Through the teenage, these friends became friendships. Strong bonds which have lasted more than half our lives were formed. What I could not say, do or feel through a sibling, I did through friends. Maybe that was the only difference. Yet, to me, there was none.”

I remember a stage in my life where I had a make-believe sibling. It was embarrassing for my parents, it should have been for me as well – but it never was. Why? Because of the innocence behind the thought.

An only child has no one to discuss their childhood memories with. No one apart from our parents saw us growing up, no one grew with us. No one made us cry by saying, ‘you were adopted’.

No one to take care of us in the school bus/car pool, no one to look out for us at school, no one to fight the neighbourhood bullies for us. We did all this for ourselves, hence the fierce independence.

We also bear over-protective parents. Once, I’d angrily asked my mother, why can’t she be like my friends’mothers and worry in moderation. Her answer ~ They have other kids to tend to at the end of the day, if something happens to you, that is where my world will end. I’d found her answer ridiculous until now, when I have only one parent. Roles have reversed. She is my only child, and I am the ever-worrisome parent living in another city.

My mother has brought me up single-handedly since I was 16. Now, when I think back, I wonder if life would have been so smooth, had there been a sibling? Taking care of one child is easier than more. One college, one career, one set of tantrums, one set of demands, one marriage, one set of boyfriend problems to listen to. After my father’s death, the only loss my mother couldn't make up for was his physical presence. Apart from that, my life continued as before. Emotionally I was stunted,but financially stable (not as much as before, but not bad either). Would it have been the same with two more kids at home? Maybe not.

A school friend, who was brought up by his single mother, almost since after his birth, had once said, “I have seen how much trouble my mother had to go through to just bring me up. What if there were more like me?” He has vowed never to have more than one child, if at all. Well. Makes sense from where he stands.

Another friend, when giving me the news of her second pregnancy, had said, “I am so happy. If I can, I’ll have more kids. It was so lonely growing up alone; I want my kids to have company at home. They should never feel lonely, even when we are dead and gone.” She makes sense too.

Soumya, almost echoed this friend,“I won't be opting for an only child. I would want my children to have the company of siblings. Because an only child means he will face helicopter parents. That's the worst thing about being an only child. Also, at a psychological level, you fail at some point to differentiate between a friend and a sibling- and you end up showing your weakness to the world- thus opening a possibility of being taken for granted easily.”

We are very independent people. I remember coming back from kindergarten, taking off my shoes, picking them up and putting them where they were supposed to. I was 2, and I was never taught to do so. (There is a flip side. The unjustifiably pampered lot is highly dependent on parents, servants, friends and the spouse for every small need.)

They say an only child never learns to share. I disagree. It’s just how parents bring you up. I know people with 3-4 siblings, but they don’t share.

We hate being the center of attention;we are very private people (mostly).

We observe, so we know the person behind your face more than you would want us to.

While we grow up without siblings, our parents grow as parents without knowing what bringing up more than one child is. If the only child is smart, he/she can use this to the best of their knowledge. And we do.

Our best friends are our siblings. We love them to death.

We are very close to both our parents.

We function alone.

But, we are happy in our own zones. We are content. Very content.

We are very, very weird. It’s easier for an only child to befriend another, because a lot of things make sense to only us. Our imaginary friends (and family) exist even when we get older, and only another only child won’t raise an eyebrow to that.

Oh, and we are not the weirdest people. There are twins! :-)

Disclaimer: This is NOT written as parenting tip. As (new) parents, you might or might not agree. Also, as an only-child, your views might differ. The above is what three kids feel and experienced. 


  1. Sigh! I am thinking of raising an only child..
    I read articles like these a lot these days to assure myself that my little empress is not going to hate me for not giving her a sibling! I am encouraged a bit.

    1. Thanks Sirisha. Only child or not, I am kinda sure you will do a good job :-)

  2. Lovely article. Only kids need not be spoilt and multiple kids can be really spoilt too. There are reasons for two kids and reasons for just one, or even none! I went ahead to have two because I have such lovely memories of a shared childhood with my sister (as does my husband with his brother) and we thought our kids should enjoy the legacy too. All izz well!


  3. While I was reading the article, I could identify with so much of what you've written.
    Being an only child, and one whose parents brought him up in a very disciplined manner, I have been very lucky to have the best of being an only child.
    Funnily, I never missed having a sibling, maybe it is because I had a close circle of strong friendships to fall back on. :)
    The most important thing that being an only child taught me was managing my own life without depending on anyone being around. While many people would think of an only child as lonely, I would think of him/her as independent.
    Like you rightly said - "We are content. Very content.".
    Very well-written! :)

  4. While I was reading this post, there was so much I could identify with, being an only child myself.
    Having been brought up in a very disciplined manner, and being blessed with a small, but strong friend circle through out my life, I can say I am very lucky to have the benefits of being an only child without having to face the negatives. :)
    The best thing that I learnt as an only child was to look out for myself and try and burden the folks as less as I could, and that has helped me a lot in my adulthood as well.
    Like you have rightly pointed out, "we are happy in our own zones. We are content. Very content."
    I couldn't have written it better.
    Enjoyed reading this one - keep them coming. :)

  5. Echoing Sirisha's thoughts here..since I'm also thinking of raising an only child..
    and incidently I've been thinking of doing a post on the thoughts and dilemmas of stopping with one kid..your post couldn't have been timed better :-)

    1. Am glad! Don't worry, in the end we all turn up to be awesome ;-)

  6. Wonderfully written. Completely agree, that having a single child is more of a boon, especially for middle class and poor families, considering the long term financial stability.

    Being the only child also means, most often parents are too protective and over pampering towards the child. That is when the child is very much dependent on parent and infact not looking out for friends and outside world.

    At the end a lot of it matters on how the parents raise their child, with sibling or without sibling.

  7. I am not the only child but my age gap with my brother is big long 7 years.By the time,I entered the school,he had left.By the time I grew up,he was in college away from home.My dad was for 3 years,out as well.Me and mom had a great time,together.We were best friends.Then I went out of home,as well.Me and my brother never had the time to interact.I grew up independent,especially staying out of home,helped..Simply put,I may not have be the only child but I almost grew up as one..independent.
    Great article :)

    1. I know what you mean. My husband has 2 siblings and they are 6 and 8 years elder to him. Their's was a joint family so it was never lonely, thankfully :)

    2. Not sure if it was lonely for me,too but think spending more times with cousins would have been fun :)

  8. Its weird what you miss and wish for at times. all my life I guess , I wanted an elder brother. now that my brother is in college , do I feel that wish being fulfilled. But , I would never have wanted or liked being the only child. and neither would i want that for my kid when I have one ( and more *fingers crossed*)

  9. I don't think I'll say anything different from what the others have. Just chanced upon your blog, and I must say I do identify with this post.

    I did feel lonely sometimes, yes, I'm not gonna deny that. But I was content, I was a happy child. I was very often very misunderstood because my insecurities have been mistaken as arrogance by ignorant relatives! But I know that I am more disciplined and can 'adjust' better than all of my cousins.

    Well, I'm married now and I'm pretty sure I wanna have 2 kids. But let me tell you what the icing on the cake is. When my husband's relatives say that though I've been brought up very well and not like a brat single kids are supposed to be, THAT is the best compliment anyone could have given my parents. I'm so happy I grew up how I did under them!

    P.S- Sorry to be copying your idea but I'll be doing a similar post on my blog too. Thanks :)

    1. I agree, that's the best compliment ever!
      Would love to read what you write about this, do please share the link! :)

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  11. I have a kid who is 1.5years and I know I can not have a single child. I will just spoil her. I do discipline and do all I can, but I know that eventually the kid will always have that emotional upper-hand on me and I will bend to suit her demands. I want her to restrain and grow up knowing that everything will not happen if she wants, and she has to share. That is the main reason I will have a second kid, but I can imagine the plus and minus of having 1 kid now... in fact for a long time, I wanted just a kid, but my husband succeeded in brainwashing me.

    1. You are right, even the most well-behaved, non tantrum throwing, only child has an upper hand when it comes to parents. You will agree subsequently, whatever happens. :)

  12. It gets lonely. Even for a child with siblings. – PART ONE

    I do not know about how a lonely child feels, because I am not one. But I know what one feels like to have siblings. Blessed, at times; annoyed rest of the times.

    This comment is not about countering the blog post; it is about, what I feel as someone who’s had siblings.

    Everyone made me cry by saying, ‘you were adopted’. Looking back, NOW, that makes me smile. I know how much I have cried over this. Yet that hasn’t deterred me from doing this to younger cousins. I am glad that not only did I have my siblings, thanks to the joint family until my grandfather lived, I had many cousins around me while growing up. A sense of security..of knowing you are amongst “your people” with similar social status and upbringing.. I am glad I had that. BUT

    Having same-age companionship at home, in the form of siblings does not necessarily mean you have a friend that you can confide everything in. Especially when we are growing up, there is a hesitation, a reluctance, which stops us from sharing certain things like crushes / boyfriends etc (intimate thoughts / facts of personal life), with the sibling (as always is the case, there are exceptions to this too). That comfort comes in later though.. post mid 20’s mostly and that’s something very enjoyable and am sure, most siblings cherish having that comfort. But by then, you have already grown sharing those secrets with friends, real and imaginary.

    I have a brother and an elder sister and we have “apparently” grown up together, what with going to same boarding schools and living under same roof. But we never discussed our childhood memories with each other. We were so drifted apart emotionally that we did not notice each other growing up, despite living under one roof. (This I know is an exception, generally siblings are aware of each other). My sister texted me recently: “I’m sorry I was never the ideal elder sister. But, I didn’t have anyone either and I had to grow up alone too….. hope you won’t carry any hard feelings cos of this”. (I hadn’t realized that I had carried a grudge until then. I almost believed that I was deprived the feeling of security that comes with having siblings. But growing up also meant meeting a lot of second cousins, staying with them and observing them. I noticed that they too did not talk too much about what the other should do & they weren’t overtly protective of each other. They were independent too, took their own decisions. It’s a different thing that sooner or later, these decisions would be shared / discussed / enjoyed / frowned upon. I felt that the typical Indian movies have thrust an idea of an ideal sibling onto us, making us think that brother loves his sister beyond everything and vice versa. But in reality they are just good friends, teasing, chiding or in some cases, NON EXISTENT and completely unaware of each other as persons.

    1. Since i kind of know what you are talking about, an sure u'l agree things might have been diff between you three given a diff setting.

      Incidentally, what you said are the kind of examples my maa used to give to convince me that having a sibling doesn't entitle more happiness either.

      So. Huggs, babe.

    2. Hugs love

      Err.. I am happy I have these siblings! cannot think of a life without them even though we aren't ideal siblings!! They are all I have got and they are cherished. There are times, when unexpectedly, they show that they love me and I will live for those moments.

    3. At least they are not planning on looking for Sheikhs for you? ;-)

    4. Why Sam? We planning to have yet another damsel in distress from Sharjah ka case? ;)

    5. Sam!! No Sheikhs please. (I am just lying, hunt for one)

      Alos, I am unknown. Who is this Anonymous?

    6. The 'bhai' of ur eye :) let him b anon.

  13. It gets lonely. Even for a child with siblings. – PART TWO

    Having elder siblings study in the same school did not ensure that I was taken care of in the school. I had no one to fight the school rowdies for me and I had to fight most all by myself, ALONE. I am SURE a lot of people with siblings have had to do this too….

    Well, the sum effect of what I am TRYING to tell is we are independent people too. We were disciplined too. Most of us have had parents / family who have chided us and helped us get a sense of what is right and wrong, what is acceptable and what is not. (AS we grow, this is replaced by our thought process. Whatever we do as grown-ups capable of thinking for ourselves, is on us and on us alone. The parents / family are not to be blamed). We have to do our chores, all of us. Excepting VERY FEW who have had over protective siblings, most of children with siblings have grown up doing their own work. We function alone too. We are never the center of attention, because we grow up being with someone.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I understood your blog as saying “being a lone child made you a private person”. Being a private people is a trait and it is my personal opinion that this trait (like most traits) has nothing to do with one being a lone child or otherwise. If you treat each individual as a separate case, then may be, one (or more) particular individual chose to being private because he/she was a lone child. But that isn’t the criterion. It’s a personal trait, that’s it. Children with siblings observe too and yet again, I would think of that as a trait which has little to do with one being a lone child or otherwise. Some people are observant, others are not.

    Our siblings are mostly our best friends, but we have our friends too who end up being our siblings and we love them too. Oh yes, about make-believe sibling, I have had a make believe twin! My aunt confessed to having one too and she had 5 elder sisters and 2 brothers whom she grew up with!! Trust me, we won’t raise an eyebrow to having Imaginary Friends / siblings too. Ask my aunt, she’s 44 now ;-)

    I cannot speak for myself, but I have known, and I believe I am correct when I say children with siblings are very close to their parents too.

    As for saying an only child never learns to share, I disagree too. It’s mostly about their up- bringing and in certain rare cases, despite the parents efforts, a child ends up being a snob who does share his/her things.

    I feel blessed to have siblings. But I know for sure that it does not in any way makes me less independent. Having siblings does not mean we are not independent. Having siblings does not necessarily mean we have a natural back-up system to fight our demons any better than a lone child.

    Well, We are happy in our own zones too. We are content. We are disgruntled. We are happy. We are sad. WE are what YOU are. A bundle of emotions!

    Pardon the randomness of this comment, I was trying to tell what I feel about most things you have shared in the post.

    P.S: To Sam’s lovely readers: All that I write here is my personal opinion based on my perception! No one needs to agree =)

    THIS IS AN INCOMPLETE POST. I as always, failed to give words to most of my thoughts … some day, I will write about “Having Siblings – a wonderful blessing”.. till then.. I will end this abruptly.

    1. Nah, S is the youngest of three people but he is a private person too. Why? Maybe coz they are much older n he essentially grew up alone. Maybe.

      I am glad you wrote so much. You know what I mean :)

    2. :-) I am surprised I write so much! Yes, I know what you mean.
      Mwaaaaaaah :*

  14. I could identify with a lot of that, as I was an only child, but brought up reasonably strictly too - so I definitely counter strongly if anyone says to me that an only child needs to be a spoilt one. My decision to have 2 kids was definitely strongly related to my being an only one, but it was not 100% to do with that. It was our personal decision as it made sense to us at that point in life, and I think that's always the best way to decide.
    Very interesting tidbits from your friends, a lovely read :).

  15. It was really nice to read this post. Me, my younger sister & a cousin grew up together. I never felt the need to have friends outside this circle. Now they both have settled in their life & busy with their spouses & I am learning to be the only child :)


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