Monday, 4 February 2013

Being an only child

By Carla Caruso

I’m currently writing a story where the heroine’s an only child. I have two sisters, so have no experience of this. I did some research, asking a writer friend, Laura, exactly what it’s like. Here she fills me in. Perhaps you relate?...

What do you love and hate about being an only child? I love that I really enjoy my own company. I can always find a way to occupy my time and I’m very rarely bored. I genuinely enjoy spending time alone – I recently went to Canada and New York by myself, for example, and had a ball. I definitely think only children learn to create their own fun!

Although I grew up living with just my mum, my dad was always involved in my life and both parents were and are enormously proud and supportive of everything I do. It’s nice to know there’s a team of people who are always passionately on your side! If I’m honest, I was spoiled rotten as a kid, and that was pretty nice.

There was nothing I really hated growing up, though at times I definitely wished for a sibling. Not because I genuinely felt anything was lacking from my own life; more because all my friends had brothers and sisters and the grass is always greener when you’re a kid. I do think there is perhaps more pressure on only children – a heavier weight of expectation from parents and other relatives. (Until I was 12, I was also the only grandchild in my family, so everyone had plenty of ideas about what I should and shouldn’t be doing!)
Did you ever feel envious of those with siblings? Absolutely. I often thought it would be fun to have someone else to hang out or gossip with. In my teens, I even thought it would be fun to have a sister to fight with! Even as an adult, I do still catch myself occasionally feeling wistful that it’s just me, particularly because my husband has a younger brother and sister that he’s really close to – I think it would have been nice to have that kind of relationship myself.

Do you think it has made you more grown-up/independent or more sheltered? Are you more self-contained or less? I wasn’t babied or sheltered – my parents divorced when I was very young and I had some tough times growing up, so I’ve certainly never been under any illusions about the way the world works. But I’m very grateful for that, because it’s made me self-sufficient. As I've said, I’m 100 per cent comfortable on my own, and I genuinely believe this has been a big part of why I’ve always had healthy romantic relationships – I know I’d be OK alone if it came to it, so I’m comfortable about the boundaries I set in relationships. I think being an only child definitely helped me learn to respect myself at a young age.
I also think I’m better with money as a result of being an only child. I’ve always been a good saver, and even though I’ve been married for six years we still have separate bank accounts (in addition to a joint account). I really value my independence, even in the context of a happy marriage.

Who did you look to as a peer not having an older sibling? Hmm, this is a good question! I’m not entirely sure. My best friend and I have been inseparable for 20 years, and there was certainly nothing I didn’t run by her. But thinking about it, my mum and a lot of her female friends were real role models to me growing up. Mum always included me in her social life, so from a young age I was around successful, independent women and involved in adult conversation. I think this played a big part in shaping who I am today.
How do you think being an only child has impacted on your personality? It’s definitely made me strong, independent and self-sufficient, but I do think it’s probably contributed to the issues I have with assertiveness. I really struggle to stand up for myself in a lot of situations, and I think perhaps that has something to do with not always feeling able to speak my mind growing up. With it being just me and Mum, I was (and still am) always very mindful of her feelings, so I probably did bottle up a lot of stuff that would have been better off expressed and dealt with.

If your parents are driving you up the wall, who do you turn to? Haha, good question! These days it’s the husband and my best friend. They’ve heard it all!

Do you think being an only child enriches or plays havoc with your relationship with your parents? A bit of both! I’m close to both my parents and feel I could tell them literally anything. However, there is that sense of expectation as well – there are no brothers or sisters to absorb some of the focus, so anytime I disappoint them it’s magnified. And because they’re super proud of me, I have to be judicious about the things I do tell them, because anything I say is immediately relayed to every other family member and friend of the family. (Sometimes I think friends of my parents who haven’t met me must think I’m the most insufferable show-off, just based on how much the parentals brag about any minor achievement.) I’m glad I’m an only child – I love my family and wouldn’t be who I am today if I’d had siblings. Having said that, if I have kids, I will probably have more than one.


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