Author: Tasfia Ahmed
There is a reason why people tend to ask those who are stubborn or a bit self centred if they are an only child. We do have it easy in many ways. Some of the positives eventually take a backseat with age. Whether it is the constant reminder that you are the sole caretaker of your parents or how much every single decision you make will affect their futures heavily, it can get a bit overwhelming. Then there are the overlooked disadvantages, which come at the cost of the perks you get from having no siblings. Here are some of the advantages of being an only child which tend to be double edged.
No One is Around to Interfere with Your Free Time
Although I love imagining that my sibling would be a miniature version of me, with the same ideals and taste, along with a tendency to always sacrifice their own needs for me, that probably would not have been the case if I actually did have a sibling. There would have been a lot of sharing, negotiation, bargain, and light hearted blackmail over schedules, time, resources and electronics. As a kid, I never had to wait for an older sibling to get off the family desktop or landline so I could use it after school when my parents were at work. There was no heated negotiation, screaming or physical altercations over television schedules for that time window either. I did not have to cancel plans to attend to sibling sitting duties. How I spent my free time was always up to me growing up, other than when I managed to tick my parents off.
But No One is There to Interject During Fights Either
Without any siblings, especially older ones, it can be a bit challenging to get an outsider perspective or support during any disagreement you have with your parents. When navigating and negotiating the amount of freedom I should be able to have at certain milestones in life, I didn’t really have anyone back me up on some of the things I would swear almost everyone of my friends were allowed to do. I can’t blame my parents either since the only time they had to figure out the amount of freedom a child should have started and ended with me. There was no experimental first child. On the other end of the spectrum, there were times I did throw tantrums which may have been uncalled for (my hair still pays the toll for the countless times I bleached my hair against my mother’s will) and an older, more responsible sibling probably would have helped me understand where my parents were coming from in such cases.
These issues trickle well into your adulthood, and make standing your ground increasingly difficult.
You Are the Designated Friend
Sometime after I turned 20, there was an apparent dynamic shift I had with my parents, especially my mom. After every ‘dawat’, she would tell me all the gossip she gathered about her friends. I would send screenshots of questionable things my older cousins who I was not ‘friends-friends’ with would post on Facebook. A lot of it was definitely not things parents usually share with their kids in South Asia, due to the age gap and dynamic in question. I was actually treated somewhat like an adult without the actual decision making power it entails. I’ve noticed this unfold to different extents with my friends who are only children. While for some, it meant that breakfast conversations required no self-censorship, for others it meant reporting trivial relationship milestones from the first date.
While this is not entirely specific to only children, this shift usually required outside interference or special context for my friends who did have siblings. The ‘friend’ role is often reserved for the eldest sibling, or is transferred to younger ones when the eldest gets married or moves out. For me it was automatic.
..And The Designated Intermediary
When you’re the designated friend, it also means you’re the designated intermediary. When your parents fight, you are the only one who can walk on eggshells and try to get them to see each other’s perspectives. Sometimes the fights can get as trivial as disagreements about the actual message of some Netflix show you are a bit tired of hearing about. Sometimes this leads to you and one parent cornering the other one. From deciding whether or not your mother indeed has been using her phone too much, to more heavy decisions like taking one of their sides regarding health issues and doctors, being the one who helps settle indecision between parents can be mentally taxing. For heavier things, this may mean that you are the one to finalise a decision which could really backfire. For lighter things, one of them may be a bit irritated with you and accuse you of loving the other more.
They Have No One To Compare You To. For Better
No matter how much parents try to hide it, as an outsider it seems as if one sibling is always the more loved one. They are the one others are compared to, be it verbally or during internal monologues. Sometimes the comparisons lack all sense of rationality. One of my friends still continues to be told that she will never be the all-rounder her brother is even though she has her life together, finances almost all her own spendings and single handedly takes care of her parents while her brother seems to find new ways to throw his life away every other year. The apparent favouritism often has no base other than gender sadly. I have always been grateful to be exempt from all that drama as an only child.
Although there is no one to compare you to, every hiccup you have during your developing years is almost always met with drastic measures and ridiculous reactions.Your parents are more likely to label the most trivial coming of age markers as a warning of your permanent demise. This usually plays out as a result of them being more reliant on your success, and also because no one else is there to normalise mess ups. Without any siblings to exemplify how commonplace such teenage glitches are with their own actions, or to interject with verbal reminders, your parents have the tendency to increase the severity of common road bumps by tenfold in their heads. Without anyone to pave the way, an ordinary teenage slip up is a sign that you are headed towards an irreversible downfall. This dread infiltrated into my adulthood too, with my parents being heavily invested in every decision I made. Be it my decision to freelance for a new publication, to sleep into the ‘late’ hours of 10 AM, to spend time with people my age who were a bit ‘different’, all of it often mattered more to them than necessary.