I am an only child. My husband is an only child. We have a small extended family, and because of that, I look pretty closely at what it means to be human.
I Learned That Sharing is Advantageous
When I was a child, I wished I had a sister with whom I could share a room. I envied other kids who complained about sharing their rooms with siblings. I imagined all the various scenarios that could tick a sibling off and how I’d find peaceful solutions to our cohabitation. I wanted to share a room, my stuff, my clothes, my thoughts, my joys and my grievances. I wondered how another human being with the same genetic link would feel about our life, our parents, and our world. What I thought about sharing was that it was about the people involved–that more people being happy about some object was more important than having the thing. Because I wanted to be involved with people, I grew up with an intense desire to share with others, though my idea of sharing may have been highly romanticized.
I Learned That We’re All Very Different, Yet Very Much the Same
I have a keen sense of individuality-not just of my own, but of other people’s individuality. It doesn’t bother me if someone gets a bonus for being different. I understand very well that everyone’s situation is completely different and that it is difficult to compare similar family situations even if they seem similar. So, I don’t feel like I’ve been treated unfairly if I don’t get what someone else gets. While I was the only child opening Christmas presents on Christmas day, I had no need to compare what I got to anyone else. I was able to compare what I got to a bigger world, and because of that, I learned very early that some kids got underwear and a cheap plastic toy while other kids got double-tape deck radios, gold necklaces, roller blades and a wad of cash. I never had to feel like I got the short end of any stick. Each person’s life and experience is so vastly unique that drawing comparisons that lead to envy is futile.
I Learned That Being Alone is Not the Same as Being Lonely
Not only was I an only-child, but I lived in a rural area. All my cousins were much older than I was and they lived in another state. I had no relationship with any paternal family so my family was very small. I sometimes joked that our dog was like my brother and that I played soccer with the pine trees in the yard. I lived on an island metaphorically. As an adult, when I married a fellow only-child, my husband and I found it difficult to find people to invite to our wedding. We had about 15 people at our wedding, including dear acquaintances. Our wedding was casual yet intimate. Casual and intimate could describe much of my life.
Being alone or among a small group of people allows for intimacy, observation, and reflection. That is not to say that such close-circuit relationships are never punctuated with real loneliness. They are, but I would venture to say that the loneliness of being an only-child is as frequent as the tension others have with their siblings. Real loneliness is sour. So is sibling tension. Neither is better or worse, but for most of us, those moments don’t define our entire lives. I’m willing to bet that in comparison, siblings and only-children are at a draw in terms of the depth of the advantages and disadvantages relating to our family relationships.
I Learned That Forgiving is Necessary
As an only-child, especially one that grew up with a relatively small family network, I learned that a good relationship is invaluable. I cannot hold a grudge. No person is perfect, and I’ve spent enough time alone to reflect on my own imperfections. That lesson did not teach me to walk without caution; however, I cannot afford to block anyone out of my life. There are few people in it, and so long as those people can be a part of my life in any small way, I will not cross them off my list of potential human connectivity. And so…
I Learned That Making Sacrifices for Family Isn’t Really a Sacrifice
Most people make sacrifices for their family, especially for their children, but few people may understand why I live where I live when I could have made a much higher income living in some other city. Aside from my husband and children, my mother is the only living relative who has been in my life since I was a child. I no longer have grandparents. My father has passed. My mother and father raised me in a rural community in a developing county near my grandparents. My parents homesteaded and lived the best life they could for themselves and for me. I have chosen not to move to another city or state, because if I left my mother alone, she would be completely alone. I would be completely alone and so would my children. I don’t see my decision as a sacrifice, because having that human connection-that royal link to my maternal lineage gives me strength, love, hope, and wisdom. My children benefit from that too.