i grew up an only child. only children are interesting. originally, psychologists studying birth order marked only children as being spoiled, bad at sharing and collaboration, and starved for adult attention. luckily, recent research tends to be less unkind. only children learn people skills predominantly from their parents and seem to resemble super firstborn children - ambitious, articulate, perfectionists and leaders. they are also noticeably more comfortable with adults than with children their own age.
now, you’ll have to take my word for it, but i definitely wasn’t spoiled nor am i bad, or was i ever bad, at sharing and collaboration. however, i have always preferred the company of people older than myself, they got me on that one.
as much as it’s interesting to point out our similarities as only children, what’s even more interesting to me, are each person’s individual circumstance that help modify our shared ‘only child experience’. for instance, in my case, i believe i developed two very distinct personalities - one between the ages of 1-15 years old and one between the ages of 15-18 years old:
1. my only child experience (1-15 years old):
between the ages of 1-3 i had a very traditional only child experience, all attention was on me. my mother didn’t work and therefore, she spent every waking moment attending to my every need. our home was one big playground, every sharp corner was covered, every floor was adorned with sesame street blankets in case i might fall, and all television shows and all music played in the house were my choice and my choice alone.
however, once my parents divorced, their focus shifted, not in a drastically noticeable way, i was still receiving plenty of attention. yet, now there was this new elephant in the room - my parents hatred for each other. it always loomed in the background, stealing attention away from me, making me invisible and, at times, repulsive. i became a walking reminder to each of my parents of how much they disliked the person i seemed to resemble.
so, i stopped receiving the undivided attention i used to have and i began to explore both the positives and negatives of being more or less - alone. many days i’d come home from school to an empty house, i’d blast the music, watch tv (even though i was instructed not to, but who was going to rat on me, no one!), i’d prance around the house dancing in front of mirrors, i’d eat when i wanted, do my homework when i wanted, it was nice to have control. but, on those days where my mother would get angry and bring me to the point of tears, there was no one to run to, no one to hug me, no one to remember how i felt and what i went through. but i did become independent, whether i liked it or not.
nevertheless, i did retain my upward looking mentality. i looked to adults (teachers in particular) for companionship. i was always searching for the comfort and safety adults provided, they always had so many stories and life lessons to share and unlike children my own age who required a collaborative effort to really be interesting, interacting with adults allowed me to do what i do best, observe, absorb and process.
2. my oldest child/pseudo-mother experience (15-18 years old):
at the age of 15, my mother had another child, my brother (technically he is my half-brother, but i find that term unrepresentative of how i feel about him, so i don’t use it). however, circumstances forced my mother to go back to work pretty quickly following his birth, and his father, for other reasons, was also not around. i began to take on responsibilities that were oddly grown up - pick up your brother from day care, make him food, feed him, change his diapers, put him to sleep, feed him medicine, get him ready for bed. and slowly i began to form a different part of my personality - a maternal instinct. i was still too young to really feel like a mother, but too old to feel like a sister.
as a result, i developed a distinctively two pronged personality. to this day, i enjoy being the younger mentee, learning from those older and wiser than myself. i also quite enjoy recieving attention and being a leader. but my interactions with people younger than me are more motherly and protective. i feel this intense urge to protect them, to guide them and to offer advice.