Opinions, Column

Only Child, Lonely Child?

Growing up as an only child, I was constantly asked, “Do you like it?”—almost always with a dismissive tone, as if it were impossible that I could enjoy being the only child in my family. 

People tended to immediately follow up their question by asking if I wished I had siblings. I usually disappointed them, or at least surprised them, when I bluntly responded, “no.” 

I remember a few times as a kid when I wished I had a companion to play dress up or dolls with, but I’ve never wanted any family circumstances different from the ones I’m fortunate enough to have. Being an only child has served me well. I’m independent, but I can seek out social support and companionship when I need it. I’m mature and well-spoken, intelligent and intellectually curious. These are all qualities that I’m confident resulted from the disproportionate amount of time I have spent with adults. 

I certainly embody many only-child stereotypes, too. I’m a bit spoiled, I love attention, and I don’t always handle playful criticism very well (having missed out on the typical sibling taunting). That said, I often defy these stereotypes. I’m social with peers my age, I love to share my things with others, and I consider myself well-adjusted and perceptive to others’ feelings. 

I understand that people with siblings learn great things from them—and that sibling relationships are some of the most durable and special in one’s life. That said, I don’t feel I’m missing anything by lacking a true sibling relationship. Instead, my cousins have taken on the role siblings might otherwise play. They are much of the reason I have not fallen into many only-child stereotypes. 

In my family, cousins are like “siblings-by-extension”—a sentiment instilled by prior generations. Though I have strong relationships with all 12 of the cousins I see most often, two in particular have become like siblings to me. Lacey, Caleb, and I have our own little trio—the “elite three,” interacting with each other like I imagine siblings would. We go out on adventures and never get bored of each other’s company. We fight one minute—physically and verbally, but always playfully—and snuggle on the couch watching a movie the next. We have the same sense of humor, often impersonating other members of the family, and we tell each other everything. 

I trust the two of them with anything and would not trade our relationship for any other family structure. There is nothing I love more than when either of them comes to me for advice. As the oldest of the three, it’s always fun for me to help them with homework, college applications, or middle school friend drama. 

I know our relationship will stay just as strong as we get older. We let our imaginations run wild, thinking about who will host each holiday and what we’re going to name our future children. And, of course, they’ll all be best friends, too. 

Though I wouldn’t ever change my family to have a sibling, I’m so grateful that my relationship with my cousins allows me to learn what it means to be a sibling. Most importantly, my relationship with my cousins has taught me that family relationships are never just defined by a title, and there is no one correct family dynamic. To all the other only children out there—it’s ok to not want a sibling, even when it feels like the whole world is dismissive of only children. At the same time, there is so much to be learned from seeking out sibling-esque relationships with your “siblings-by-choice.” 

October 23, 2023