A lot of assumptions are hurled at only children. People just assume you’re a spoiled brat who has been handed everything you could ever want in life. They just assume things were calm and peaceful in your household because it was just you and your parents must have been so attentive to your every whim. They assume you’re socially awkward and don’t know how to make friends or interact with people. They assume you’re still spoiled as an adult and have always had a great support system. That was not my experience whatsoever.
Many only children grow up wondering why they never had any siblings. I didn’t have to wonder. My mother made it very clear from the beginning that I was an unwanted mistake. She constantly reminded me of what a burden I was to her and how having me ruined her body and her life. I never really wished for siblings. I didn’t want anyone else to have to deal with the resentment and hostility I did. She got pregnant in college and he ghosted her. So, not only am I an only child but I have only had my mother’s side of the family. It’s a large family but one full of secrets, unresolved trauma and silent suffering. My childhood was very lonely and my family has always been unsupportive and highly critical.
As a child, I was very sick. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at eight years old and was made to feel like an ever bigger burden. I was glad there wasn’t anyone else or she would have been ever more stressed about money which would have resulted in her taking her frustrations out on me even more. I always laugh when people assume I was (or still am) spoiled. More amusing, my mother would say that I was spoiled. She saw me being fed and taken to the doctor as luxuries she was affording me. My Grandma has always gone out of her way to make sure I had the things I needed and some of the things I wanted but with my mother constantly denying me things or reminding me how much I (and my illness) cost her, most of it really just seemed to be given to me out of pity. My boyfriend spent his first Christmas with my family last year. He mentioned that he was surprised that I didn’t get any presents beyond the Secret Santa gift from the game the adults play. I wasn’t spoiled as a child and I’m definitely not spoiled now. I’m so grateful for my Grandma. She has given me all the good things I’ve ever had in life.
I recently discovered Dr. Nicole LePera and I heard her talking about how she didn’t have many memories from her past. I don’t either and most of the memories I do have are not positive. Over the years, people have reached out to me on Facebook wanting to reconnect with their childhood friend and then are incensed when I have no recollection of them. For a long time I felt bad for having no memories of people that my Grandma confirmed as my friend, maybe even a friend who spent the night at my house multiple times. These are the times I wished I had a sibling. Someone to compare notes with…or someone to fill in the many gaps. Someone to back me up when my family is trying to gaslight me. But as Dr. LePera explains on the School of Greatness with Lewis Howes, how chronic stress and the inability to have emotions present in the home can cause a lack of memory. It’s called dissociation. Symptoms might also include not feeling connected to your own body or like you are watching things happen around you without feeling them. I was under tremendous strain during my childhood, suffering from severe Crohn’s disease and having my only parent constantly taking her every emotion out on me. I really wasn’t allowed to express my feelings, even my fears about being so sick. Much of my childhood is a dark abyss and what I remember used to send me into Crohn’s flares.
People ask me if I wish I had siblings now that I’m an adult. While it would be nice to have that life-long person to confide in and turn to, I have to remind them that having siblings doesn’t automatically guarantee a deep connection. I know many people who have little or no relationship with their siblings. Or they have a contentious relationship with their siblings that causes a lot of stress and anxiety. I’ve had to learn to cultivate close relationships. It hasn’t been easy but the relationships that are most “sibling-like” (and the ones I appreciate the most) are the ones with people who are vulnerable and very honest. People I can say anything to and know they will tell me the truth, regardless of how it will feel for either of us. The more I talk to people the more I realize just how rare these relationships are today. I’m finding many people lack deep connection with anyone and that makes me value my close friendships even more.
I started a support group, Only Me, for adult only children and parents of onlies. I want to give others the opportunity to connect and discuss anything that is on their minds in a supportive and compassionate space. We just had our first Zoom discussion and it was absolutely amazing! The emotional shares and expressions of fear were so brave. It’s always so sad to hear that parents are afraid to voice their doubts and fears because of judgment from other parents. Every parent struggles and needs support. Hearing the participants verbalize their joys, their difficult experiences and their deep-seated fears was truly inspiring! It’s so refreshing to see mothers show up for their children and do the hard work on themselves to improve the lives of the whole family. It gives me hope for myself even though I didn’t have a good model of that in my own home.
If you are an adult only child or the parent of an only, join Only Me. We would love to meet you!