Back in December (I think) I watched this video by Ingrid Nilsen, in which she discusses being an only child and it really resonated with me.
That might be surprising to some. If you’ve followed my blog for awhile, you know that I have siblings, so I’m not an only child. But, in some ways I am. I’m 21 years younger than my oldest sibling and the one that I’m closest to in age is seven years older than me. (Exactly seven years, actually. I was born on her birthday.)
After I was born my brother left the house and my oldest sister left shortly after. That left my other sister and me. When I think about that seven year age difference now, it doesn’t seem big. But when I think back on my childhood, it actually was. By the time I was three, she was ten and what ten-year-old wants to hang out with a three-year-old? Don’t get me wrong… I have lots of great memories from hanging out with my sister when we were younger, but I don’t think I was always her first choice. And it’s totally understandable! When she went to college after high school, I was the only child at home.
I’ve always been told that I’m the youngest/only child and I could totally see that. But my dad has also said that I’m more only than youngest. I wasn’t so sure about that one. I felt like I identified more as a youngest than an only.
And that’s where Ingrid’s video comes in. When she described the different ways that being an only child shaped her personality it was like hearing someone describe me. Learning how to be alone at a young age, finding creative ways to pass the time by myself, being more mature than other kids my age… it all fit my childhood experience.
So, of course after that I had to look up articles on birth order (like this one) to find the characteristic traits of a youngest child and, while I identified with some of them, I would say I identify most strongly as an only.
When I think back on my childhood, I remember comparing myself to my older sister (but that was all on me, my parents didn’t compare me to her) and I’ve always felt like the youngest when I’m with my siblings.
But the experiences that that have stayed in my mind definitely line up with being an only child–both in the video and in some of the research that I did after. One of the things that always comes to mind when I look back is feeling more comfortable with adults than with people my age. I had a small and close group of friends, but in school I often felt different than my classmates. In youth group at church, I was more comfortable around the adult leaders than the other youth.
And, most important to me, is that I spent so much time playing on my own. I created worlds in my backyard and told stories. That space still lives on in my imagination and it’s a place that I think back to when I’m feeling uninspired. I think it definitely shaped who I am as a storyteller and, when I really think about it, I wonder if having a sibling close to my age would have changed that, even just a little.
It turns out, my dad knows his youngest/only child pretty well after all. 🙂
Same here: my older brother (on my father’s side) is 22 years older than me, and my sisters (on my mother’s side) are 12 and 10 years older than me. This definitely had an effect on how I was living and seeing the world when I was young, and how I grew up. 🙂
I just realized that I have never thought about the questions you have asked! I am the only child and it is so natural to me … I have to think about the effect of that on my personality
I’ll have to check out this video! I’m an only child and I was actually thinking about writing about it soon. I love how birth order plays into many aspects of your life.
Interesting read. My youngest sibling is currently 6 and I’m 29. I have no idea how to deal with her. I also live so far away, I don’t communicate with her often.
I’m an only child and it has absolutely shaped me as a person. I’m very independent, I’m an introvert, and I’d rather just keep to myself. That doesn’t describe all only children but it’s definitely me lol.
I think being the oldest was hard watching my brother do so well and be so beloved on what I always was told was the opposite of how plans for me were set up so I’ve always felt like the first pancake.
I’m also an only/youngest. My dad’s other kids are 15 and 18 years older than me.
In terms of personality traits, I identify mostly with being an only child because that’s how I was raised. Neither of my siblings lived with us at any point of my childhood, and they didn’t visit very often.
My baby sister is in very much the same kind of birth order you had–I’m almost 16 years older than her and moved out when she was a year old. Her next closest sibling is 5 years older than she is, and she’s watched most of her siblings grow up and leave (4 of us are out of the house now). But there are still 3 left at home, and the funny thing is, that the one sister 5 years older than she is, they’ve always been ‘partners in crime’ in a sense. Little Sarah is usually the brains behind whatever scheme they come up with (writing a book, planning a party for the family, taking their teddy bears on an imaginary hawaii vacation…whatever it may be), and MaryGrace, the older one, is the one who does all the work of enacting the schemes. It’s a cute dynamic. Sarah decides they ought to make a special dinner for the family, and MaryGrace is actually old enough to cook, so she does that part while Sarah invites everyone and sets the table. One thing I think Sarah won’t like at all is when everyone eventually moves out, as is inevitable…
My dad has a similar set up with his family–his oldest brother was 17 when he was born! Because of the huge age gap, he wasn’t (and still isn’t) very close to his siblings, so he’s more like an only child in that respect. I do have a sibling (a sister who’s 2.5 years younger than me), but we both had similar experiences as kids as you did: we liked hanging out with the adults instead of the other kids and always felt more mature than our peers (something that I didn’t grow out of until I was well into college!). Since my sister and I were (and are) very close, that definitely wasn’t a result of us having siblings; I think it had more to do with the fact that my parents put an emphasis on respect and never really talked down to us as kids. Nature vs. nurture and family structures are SO interesting since there are so many factors that go into it!
I’m sure my brother probably feels this way. For our age gap, we are actually very close and have a good relationship, but I am 8.5 years older than my brother. When I went off to college, He was only 10. So from then on, he was basically raised as an only child. That’s hard for me. I don’t regret my college choice, but I wish I had been able to be a bigger part of his life during those years. Now he is almost 17! The craziness!
I am a youngest/only child. I have a sister through my dad who is older. It is different when you say you have a sister, but don’t have that everyday sibling type of relationship. I can identify the characteristics that you shared. I enjoy my own company, and I venture out when I feel like I need a little interaction. I enjoy people who are older than me too.
I love reading about birth order stuff! I think there is truth in it but like anything having to do with people there will also be exceptions! 🙂
So much about being an “only.” I wasn’t supposed to be an only child, but that’s just how it worked out.
I’d have to say that I was pushed more than most kids—pushed to try different things, but not forced to do something I was not good at or really didn’t like. Because there was only one of me, my mom was involved as a classroom volunteer and was more easily able to be a personal taxi cab. The good thing about her being involved is that she always knew what I was up to in school!
I am okay with being by myself and don’t need another person to entertain me.
This is so, so interesting, and particularly interesting that you seem to identify more as an “only” than “youngest.” I’m a Middle and identify very strongly with it.