One and Only

In a house without siblings, only-children face unique challenges


illustration by Rachel Tian

It can be gratifying, as an only-child, to be showered with parental attention, but it can also be suffocating.

Rachel Tian, Staff Writer

“Why can’t you get an A in history? Your brother breezed through that class!”

Every person knows that one of the hardest situations to deal with as a child is comparison.  But not every kid has a sibling. According to Pew Research Center, approximately 22% of American households with children are one-child families. This number has increased significantly in recent years, making it quite possible for everyone to have at least one friend who is an only child. 

The only-child stereotypes are well known: innocent, antisocial, spoiled, sensitive. Naturally, only-children are used to doing things independently and uncompetitively. They are used to being the main subject of family discussions and either appreciate or resent their abundance of alone-time.

As on only-child myself, I should know.

For children without siblings, There is no one to beat but also no one to blame at home.

While only-children are not the subject of sibling comparison, they must learn to deal with a unique type of stress.

Only children are their parents’ “one shot” at parenting. Often, these parents feel the need to steer free of mistakes and make their child’s life perfect, which can be burdensome. In my experience, the child feels obligated to follow the exact course his/her parents planned, and falling slightly off track can invoke anxiety for both sides.

Senior Phoebe Liu, an only child herself, describes the situation perfectly. “I think it is pressuring to know that your family depends on you in a way and only has you,” Liu said. “If the future does not go to plan or if you fail, then it affects more people than just yourself.”

This leads to a similar point. Because they are the center of attention, only children’s “competition” often lies within themselves. According to Carl E. Pickhardt from Psychology Today, only-children are “prone to stress from self-imposed pressure for right conduct, responsible behavior, and high accomplishment, not being relaxed and laid back on that account.” There is no one to beat but also no one to blame at home. Making the best and most conscious decisions, whether academically or just in daily life, will always control the mind of an only-child. Usually, it may lead to extreme internal overthinking, which might well be more burdensome than being compared to a sibling. 

It can be difficult when there is no one similar in age at home to talk to. Advice comes from adults or friends at school, and both are sometimes not enough. In her blog “The Every Girl,” Jess Staldine jokes that having a sister who “listens to your post-date meltdown when you’ve vented to your best friend one too many times already” would be nice. 

In a house without siblings, being an “only” is perhaps no better or worse than having brothers and sisters — only different.