The Truth About Only Children (From An Only Child)

by Michelle Zunter
An ashamed only child in the middle of other people pointing fingers to it

“It must have been nice to get all your parents’ attention.”

“Only children are usually selfish.”

“Weren’t you lonely?”

“You must have been spoiled.”

“I bet you entertained yourself a lot.”

“Only children don’t learn how to socialize as well as other kids.”

If you’re an only child then you’ve probably heard at least two of these inquiries or statements as you grew from a child into adulthood.

I am an only child. I liked being an only child growing up. Did I sometimes wish I had a sibling to share certain experiences with? Sure. But, for the most part, I was quite content with my situation.

Did I get lots of attention growing up? Yes and no. While it was great at times to have all my parents’ attention — there were certainly times when I wished I had a sibling to distract all of that attention away from me. On the flip side, I was often so adept at keeping myself busy that my parents rarely had to keep tabs on me and I tended to just do my own thing — especially as I got older.

Being an only child can be a bit like being placed under a microscope and left to operate solo at the same time. Being an only child is a dichotomy of sorts.

Am I more selfish than others? When I was younger I probably was a bit selfish — yes. But so are most children to an extent. However, like every child, I grew out of that phase and was able to express empathy and compassion for other people.

Though I had no lack of creature comforts or material possessions growing up, I didn’t become particularly materialistic or incapable of giving to others simply because of the fact that I was an only child. I consider myself to be an objectively generous and selfless person. A lack of siblings doesn’t necessarily breed selfishness.

Was I lonely? There were moments when I felt lonely — but the biggest obstacle for me was boredom. Loneliness and boredom are not the same things. You can be fine with your own company and not desire to interact with someone while still wishing you had an activity to engage in. There were more moments when I was bored with nothing to do than moments when I felt significantly lonely.


Getty Images/Westend61

The thing about only children is that they become so comfortable with their own thoughts and company that they don’t necessarily need to have people around them all of the time. This can be a good thing.

Was I spoiled? I would say that I got just about everything I wanted as far as toys, etc., growing up. If that’s some people’s definition of spoiled — then yes, I was. However, to be spoiled actually means that your character is in some way harmed by an excessive overindulgence.

I like to think I have a pretty good moral compass as well as a decent sense of gratitude for what I already have without asking for more. Just because some parents may overindulge an only child to keep them from getting bored, it doesn’t necessarily equal a rotten character down the road. Being an only child doesn’t have to mean being “spoiled.”

Am I good at entertaining myself? Yes, I learned from a very young age how to entertain myself. I live inside my head most of the time even as an adult. As an only child, you are generally in the company of adults more often than other children and you learn to engage with them in a way that is either entertaining to them or you simply sit and listen to them… observing quietly.

I can entertain myself anywhere and to this day I am grateful for it. You learn to keep your own brain stimulated. Only children can also grow up to become excellent professional entertainers or performers. Self-amusement is underrated.

Being an only child does come with its own kind of pressure. You’re the only one. You’re the first, last, and only. If your parents had any ideas or dreams they wanted to project onto their children YOU ARE IT, BABY.

This includes the task of reproducing, so if you’re someone who’s not down with having kids, that weird guilt about not breeding to create grandkids definitely has a seat at the expectation table.

Am I terrible at socializing? This is where things get interesting. Though I spent a great deal of time by myself and did tend to be a loner at school, I always had a handful of friends and I have had long-lasting relationships with those friends that have lasted for decades.

I would often hear people say that only children are at a disadvantage because not having siblings means you never learned how to fight properly or to react well to confrontations.

Did not having any siblings to fight with leave me socially disadvantaged for the challenges of the real world?

No. I worked for over a decade in customer service and was quite good at it. Only children can be fantastic communicators because they observe people and pay attention. Though only children may generally need people less, we are capable of understanding the needs of others in a unique and useful way.

I think people make too big of a deal about only children and I think only children get a bad rap in general. Besides that, none of us had a choice as to how many children our parents had and whether we had siblings or not. We all cope the best we can with whatever family environment we arrive in.

Being an only child isn’t the tragedy some people make it out to be. Being an only child doesn’t mean you’re automatically a selfish, greedy monster. Those types of people can come from any family background.