Years later I asked a girlfriend with lots of siblings what it was that people envied most about only children. She answered that it was two things – people see Onlies as able to have all their parent’s available resources, their time and attention as well as all the money budgeted for children’s expenses. This makes people with siblings jealous, and they perceive Onlies as being spoiled because they get “everything.” This made sense to me, and also made me laugh.
I did have the entire focus of my parent’s attention, which had both up and down sides. There was never one day that my parents were alive that I didn’t know that I was loved and wanted beyond measure. (When my mother died young, I fell into a deep depression fearing I’d never have that kind of love on earth again.) Unfortunately, there was also a hyper-focus on what I was doing in any given moment. Sneak out the window to join my teenage friends? You’ve got to be kidding. My mother heard every sound and there was only me to make them. Not going to happen.
Above all, I was taught the value of self-reliance at an early age. I learned to be independent. I learned (with difficulty) how to stick up for myself on the playground. I didn’t ask for help from my mother because it just upset her. I didn’t ask for help, period. I learned to do and fix everything myself, a mixed blessing that had ramifications later in my life.
My parents didn’t have a lot of money, so I didn’t get a lot of presents and toys from them. I got an allowance at the going rate of the day and bought my own things, just like my friends did. I learned the value of saving for what I wanted, and the excitement of finding a bargain. I think what my friends envied the most was that my toys were in great condition. Without siblings to destroy them, my Barbies had perfect hair and all their shoes.
When it was my turn to have a child, I had another Only. It was not intentional, but that’s how it turned out. I didn’t spoil her. I like to think I taught her to ask for help when she needed it. She has a passel of first cousins, two of whom are more like her big brothers.
Each of our four generations of Only children changed something significant from the parenting of the generation before. Our shared understanding of Onliness remains the common factor, the rock on which our little family was built.