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Are Only Children Selfish?

Updated: Sep 14, 2022 09:14
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The Stereotypical Only Child.

Written By: Habibi Bridges 

I’ve always told my friends and family that I would avoid two types of guys when it comes to dating: first born sons, and only children (who by default are also first born). The reasons are numerous, and as a middle child from a family of nine children, our lifestyle differences tend to outweigh our similarities.

As it happens, it should come to no surprise then that I also happen to be dating an only child–quite seriously as well. However, there are so many things I wish only children were taught growing up, especially in an incredibly individualistic society such as our own.

While I am aware that being an only child has advantages of its own, these advantages are only beneficial to them alone.

Being raised by immigrants in a house with nine children had numerous challenges, and due to the constant chaos and being crammed in a house (which also often housed visiting relatives from our even larger extended family who lived mostly overseas) with so many people presented obstacles that a solitary American child could never imagine. After attending college and rooming with a few atrocious only children, I told myself “never again”, as it seemed that we were born in two drastically different worlds that could never conjoin in harmony.

Yes, I’m aware that there are exceptions. I’ve met them, however usually there are other circumstances (spending a lot of time with cousins, being socialized very young, having great parents) that happen to be less common.

While I am aware that being an only child has advantages of its own, these advantages are only beneficial to them alone.

Most people have at least one sibling–and learning to live with a similarly aged person while both vying for the attention of their parents (among other things) greatly shapes the identity of a person. You learn politics at a very young age, as coming from a family of multiple children presents many conflicts of interests. Parents are monumentally important to teaching their kids how to cohabitate, share, and maintain a generally peaceful household and, obviously, their skill at balancing the needs of all their children varies between caregivers.

Sometimes, siblings get along well for the most part. Quite often however, siblings have contentious periods during their upbringing, which may or may not resolve as they age. Thus, having to learn how to share space, resources, and parental attention is monumental to the overall family’s well being.

I grew up in an incredibly strict, religious family— some rules seemed unreasonable. However, at the very least, it created predictability or a modus operandi, which was crucial to my parents. However, there were times where an individual child’s needs were not met because of the competition for resources in our household. 

My parents also didn’t have as much time or energy to spend on each individual child, obviously, which was also why their household rules were firm. Due to the lack of understanding of each child and their needs, there was an amount of emotional neglect that each child endured. Overall, I wouldn’t consider most of my family members to have high self esteem

Since our parents weren’t always available to us, my siblings and I learned to mediate between each other. This became a skill, as diplomacy became a necessity in our household in order to maintain peace. 

On the other hand, my boyfriend didn’t have to worry about sharing his things with siblings. While he had a rough childhood in his own right, he worried about his own survival, especially after his parents divorced. His family was hyper individualistic to a fault, even. However, his tribulations also had positive effects, such as his will to succeed, self reliance and creative problem solving abilities.

Only children also tend to be more goal oriented, as they have less distractions than those with siblings, which also explains my partner’s success in his career.

The good thing about his upbringing is that he is competitive, independent and confident. Only children do show strengths in their academic achievements and careers. For the most part, having the undivided attention of both your parents seems to have a positive effect on only children.

Their downfall? Interpersonal skills. I often say only children are the worst. When I say only children are the worst, I mean working with them, living with them, or dating them can be difficult for some. According to a study conducted by Southwest University in Chonqing, China,  adults who were only children were deemed overall less agreeable than their adult counterparts who were raised with one or more siblings. This perhaps explains why the highest divorce rates occur between a marriage between two only children. However, with each additional sibling, comes a steady decline in divorce rate for those who were born in larger families. Only children were more likely to cheat on their spouse.

Only children, perhaps unsurprisingly, tended to be worse at sharing food, possessions, etc.

Growing up with siblings can be tough, as kids can be jerks, however the upside of dealing with siblings is that you tend to grow thicker skin. Only children tend to be more dependent on praise, and more sensitive to criticism. And it’s good that growing up with siblings toughens you up. They prepare you for a world filled with only children. Who sometimes act like… Well, children.


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