January 14, 2023 | Maria Cruz

Only Children Share Things That People With Siblings Don’t Understand

To those who are lucky enough to have a good relationship with their siblings, there’s nothing quite like the bond. However, from those on the other side of the pond, there are some things about being an only child that you’ll never understand.


#1 Completely Alone

Now that I'm older, I've realized something. I will be completely alone when my parents pass away. Also, when the time goes and one parent passes away, I will be nearly all the other one is left with. The more I think about it, the more I realize that I truly don't feel adult enough to have to deal with that.


#2 One and Only

Your parents will follow you to the ends of the earth. My mom is almost completely dependent on me for companionship because growing up it was only me and her. It's nice to be close, but now that I'm older and independent, it's awkward when she "jokes" that she wants to move in with me and my partner. I know a part of her is very serious.


#3 Emotional Enmeshment

My therapist recently helped me put a term to my experiences: emotional enmeshment. Essentially, my mother was so over-invested in me and overly dependent on treating me as “the other adult” that she literally does not see a boundary between us. It’s a lot to deal with. A lot of people made comments about how I was lucky I got so much of my mom’s attention when I was a kid. The reality was that I would’ve given pretty much anything to get less .


#4 Something Missing

I have a big family but no siblings, so I lived with my granny after my mom passed. Family gatherings have always been this weird blend where everyone else has someone to look out for them while I’m left looking for a space to fit in. Going to family weddings, I'm awkwardly placed at a table wherever there's space left between the other families. Christmas becomes a point of looking for people to give presents to but not knowing if those same people will have thought of you because they're not obligated to do so. I miss my mom.


#5 Game of Life

There’s no one really around to play board games with or hang out with. I used to play Life all by myself. I was very happy when I lucked into a best friendship with another girl who loved the game, so we'd spend a couple of hours playing several games back to back. We’d also name our husbands and all of our children.


#6 The Loneliest Part

How your friends become your siblings, but for your friends with siblings, you don’t become theirs. Growing up (and still) I had a core group of friends. One is an only child and the others all had brothers and sisters. I feel closer to this set of friends than almost anyone else after 25+ years (even my husband). But, I’m always aware that they have siblings who they are closer to than me. For me, that’s the loneliest part.


#7 I Did it My Way

When I got to college, and even after I was done with college, I found it difficult to have roommates. Honestly, I was used to things being just “my way” in my living space as I never had to share that space with other peers for years while growing up. It took me a long time to learn to cohabitate with others.


#8 Blessed and Cursed

I’m 24 and I can't tell who I'm staying for at this point. The culmination of my fears outweighs any sort of yearning for true independence. I've just tried absorbing all my financial burdens one by one to ease the guilt of hanging around too long. But then I really think about it and wonder why I would leave when I'll just be feeling the opposite guilt on the other side.

The more I think about it, I’ll also have the added bonus of struggling to stay afloat. Not to mention, I hardly see my mom as is because of work, and I'm supposed to just ship off somewhere for whatever reason and see her even less? Part of me is going insane trying to work all this out. I feel equally blessed and cursed.


#9 Problems at Home

If you have trouble with your parents, you don't really have someone to talk to who is that close to your parents as you are and who understands like you do. So, it’s only you who has to deal with your parents' frustration of life, their disappointment in you, their anger because you don't live your life like they wanted you to, etc.


#10 Driving Them Away

I’m 30, divorced and their only son. Every time I mentioned dating someone new, I could hear the uptick in my mother's voice, and the half-hearted chuckle in my father's tone. She wants grandchildren, but it's like my dad has already resolved himself to the fact that neither of them are going to get them. When I moved away from home after the split, surprise surprise I was greeted with, "Well, why would you move so far away?" That and, "Why would you do this to us?" Well maybe because I decided I needed to?

If I'm being honest, all this has kind of driven me away from them emotionally. The pressure to make something work with someone with whom I'm not necessarily compatible with is palpable. And the deflation when it doesn't and they ask, "How are you and 'X' doing," is among the worst feelings. I wish I didn't feel broken because lately, it doesn't seem like I can make anyone happy or do the right thing.


#11 Constant Chatter

Much like my introverted friends, I really do need my alone time. That being said, though, I’m not being antisocial nor am I a hermit. I had about 20+ years of keeping myself entertained and it's exhausting to have constant chatter in the background now. Sometimes I just want to be left alone with my thoughts.


#12 Split in Two

You are both the golden child and the scapegoat. When you do good, praise rains upon you. When you mess up, you get their undiluted wrath. I'd like to clarify that while my childhood was sometimes frustrating and confusing due to the dual roles, my folks weren't toxic nor, in retrospect, do I believe they were intentionally manipulative.


#13 That Awesome Bond

I’m an only child of divorced parents. I’m not super sure why, but I never formed this awesome bond with my parents that I see other people have. I guess it just never happened. I see the way some of my friends and my wife interact with their parents and it kind of bums me out that I don’t have that bond with mine.


#14 Bottom of the Garden

It was only me and my mom growing up. I didn't leave home to go to university until I was 26, so for most of my life, it was just me and her. She's coping with me not there, but I always feel guilty that I "left her.” She occasionally makes comments about living next door or at the bottom of the garden. It's hard being the only one she has, especially when I had no choice about it.


#15 Biologically Speaking

I worry that if I marry another only child, my kid won’t have any cousins or aunts. I also worry about the fact that I will never be a cool biological aunt. I get that you don't have to be biologically related, but it's the closest to a guarantee of aunt-hood. I'm not even close to my biological family (an exception being my parents), but it would be cool to have the option to be involved in someone's life like that. I wanted cool aunts and uncles and never got them. The rest of it is banking on forming close bonds with friends into adulthood or getting married to someone with nieces and nephews.


#16 Playmate Wanted

How much it sucks growing up and not having someone to play with you. Both my parents worked two jobs when I was a kid, so I had to make up games that I could play with myself or just kick a soccer ball against the wall. I remember I got a really cool Star Wars Monopoly game for Christmas one year, but then I realized I had no one to play it with unless I had friends over. So, it spent a lot of time gathering dust. It did get better when I got a dog, but playing with a dog is not entirely the same as a sibling.


#17 How Bad it Was

I grew up in a tiny house and my parents’ fighting could be heard all over it. There were points where I'd be lying in bed listening and would have to scream at them to make it stop. In reality, I yelled at my mom because if she realized I was upset, she'd stop and come up to me. None of my friends really understood except the fact that my dad was mean. But even then, they didn't get how bad it was.


#18 Last Man Standing

I’m an only child AND an only grandchild — on both my mothers and my father's side. And it’s not like my parents were only children, both have siblings who married, so I have eight aunts and uncles, but no first cousins. It made for a very different upbringing because all of our holidays and family gatherings, there was no kids table.

I sat with the adults and had to have discussions with adults all the time, which helped me intellectually. But there were so many times where I would just want to be a kid. It’s kind of ironic, I would get lots of toys at Christmas and my birthday, but never had anyone to play with them. As for what people don’t understand, the immense pressure of expectations. Also, every conversation you’re the only millennial who now has to speak for an entire generation in front of 10 adults.


#19 All I’ve Ever Known

I need my quiet times because I don't mind being alone at times. I’m used to it and nowadays I kind of need it. My girlfriend who has siblings had to get used to that. In the beginning, she took it personally when I said that I preferred some time alone. Apart from that, I don't know how my life would have been if I had siblings. I would have been a very different person. One thing is that I probably don't really understand a sibling dynamic, how close or not close people are with their siblings. I really don't mind being an only child, it's the only way I have ever known.


#20 Trying to Bond

My dad and I were super close and he passed away last month unexpectedly. Now all I have is mom. My husband is an orphan, too. My mom gets on every nerve I have and I know it’s just a matter of time before she’s gone too. But she’s trying, and in trying she wants to bond… but I’m still dealing with my dad’s estate stuff and college on top. It’s rough.


#21 Avoid the Awkwardness

I get along great with anyone who isn’t within 15 years or so of my age. Kids typically love me, and I’m good at socializing with them. Older adults too. I spent most of my life surrounded by people older than 60, so seniors and I get along really well. But my lifestyle growing up didn’t really give me a lot of chances to learn how to make friends with people my own age and I think that stuck with me.

I’ve had friends, but I’ve always felt separated from them. I never really know how to talk about things they’re interested in, and I don’t party so I didn’t enjoy most of the social events they planned. Most people think I’m antisocial, and I probably am to an extent, but it’s really just because I don’t connect with my peers and I want to avoid the awkwardness.


#22 Disrupting the Flow

When I got roommates, the thing I couldn't handle was the noise . Something as simple as a door closing at an unexpected time would startle me. I had gotten used to my parents' quiet routine in a long house where you could be at the other end and not hear anyone else. Also, I never got used to roommates moving my things around or not taking care of my things like I would. Twice I've had roommates wash my cast iron pan with soap and ruin the seasoning.


#23 Won’t Think Twice

Anyone who has betrayed an only child will most likely never get that friendship back. The apology or circumstances don’t matter because once an only child does trust you, you become a filling piece to make up for any family members they don’t have. So they’ll cut you out after a mistake and not think twice about it.


#24 Well, Be Careful

When you become an only child as an adult, be prepared for never-ending “be careful” lectures. My mom must think that I’m some kind of an idiot now. It’s like, I’m just checking to see if the new season of that show is on Netflix yet. Then I somehow get, “Well, be careful.” May or may not be a slight exaggeration.


#25 It’s a Mystery

Relationships are hard. I've always envied people who had not just siblings (because, yeah, learning to have another person in your space is hard), but siblings of the opposite gender. Growing up with an understanding of how the opposite gender thinks/feels about their body, about friendships, how they deal with fears and insecurities, and react to power-struggles among their peers... all that is a complete mystery to only-children. It's also a complete mystery when you run head-on into it in your first relationship.


#26 On the Hierarchy

There's no person of approximately my age in my family. I've got one cousin but she's 20 years older than me, so I've always perceived her like another aunt. Her children, on the other hand, are 10 and 15 years younger than me and we don't even meet much. Because of that, I cannot grasp the concept of having a non-hierarchical relationship with your relatives or basically having a relative who's also a buddy of yours.


#27 Loving Every Minute

I don’t know, I'm an only child and I loved it growing up. I saw the stuff my friends with siblings had to put up with and it seemed awful. Also, my folks were able to give me so many more experiences. I learned to be very self-sufficient from a young age, and also how to behave with a wide variety of ages of people. Whenever I see an adult who is at a complete loss for what to do with themselves when they’re alone, I'm grateful to my folks.


#28 Playing Two Roles

I'm 25 and still live with my parents. I moved out once and they threw hissy fits if I didn't come to visit every day. One morning, I woke up for work and I was running a little behind. My mom knocked on the window to my bedroom to wake me up. I wasn’t wearing any clothes, so I absolutely lost it. I really don't know what to do. I can't have a full life living with them, but they are literally dependent on me. Not just emotionally either. I help them with bills too. I pay for their phones, part of rent, and a vehicle. Plus they're always asking for money. It feels like I'm their dad, not their son.


#29 Equal to Them

I’m an only child and grandchild. There’s a really weird dynamic where the adults expect you to behave like an adult (sitting at the dinner table participating in conversations you don't relate to), but they also still want to treat you as a child. It's almost like being a pet in a certain way. I definitely grew intellectually from this dynamic, but I didn't and still don't really feel like an equal to them.


#30 Need Some Help

I'm 30 and an only child, so I’ve spent the last 14 years helping the family look after sick relatives because we were all they had. I nursed my father, two grandmothers and grandfather through dementia and old age. I cleaned things and saw things no grandchild should ever have to. Even one sibling would have made this whole process much much easier.


#31 Social Skills

The complete lack of social skill development. My parents basically let me do my own thing when I was little and nobody I went to school with lived near me. It was just me and my PS2 for many, many years. There are some weird things I still do today that my fianceé will often point out. If she hadn't, I would have never noticed.


#32 Relating to Others

I find it hard to relate to other people since you spend your childhood mostly alone or with parents and older people (that is until you get friends). The idea of having someone on your level is alien. I found being an only child a very isolating experience. For the longest time I wanted a sibling and I often wondered how different my life would have been.

I definitely think I would have found it easier to make friends and be more social, it took me far too long to be able to fit in. Even then, I forewent a lot of things I enjoyed to avoid being alone in favour of more extraverted social things. Even with all that, I find it far to easy to fall back into introversion, it's like slipping into a pair of comfortable shoes you haven't worn for a while.


#33 Occupying My Time

I know what it's like to spend a whole day occupying myself. I think I can largely credit my only child experience with how creative I am. I spent time drawing or inventing stories with my toys, building things and dreaming. I think this general thought process has translated well to my everyday life problem solving and designing as an aspiring architect.


#34 Angry Shell Mode

Bless my dad, but he couldn't understand why I used to get so angry and emotional when he used to tell me to “stop kicking that ball against the wall.” I loved playing soccer as a kid, and since there was no one else to play with, it was either play against the wall or just run around in circles. Every time he told me to stop, I'd get really angry that I didn't have the opportunity to play with someone else. I'd then go into my angry shell mode for the rest of the day.


#35 To Truly Know Someone

When your parents pass away, there's no one else in the world who knows exactly how it feels. There’s no one else who can really relate because you were all they had. You're the only human being on the planet who knew those people as parents. So, when they finally do pass away, you are completely and totally alone.


#36 Time With Dad

I'm an only child and find it extremely hard to relate to most only children. I loved being an only child and spending time with my dad as a kid was the best. I will always remember how much fun I had with my dad building LEGO and playing computer games together even though it wasn't seen as the typical thing for a girl to enjoy.


#37 Get Your Own

Selfishness. Really. There's a level of selfishness that you just can't shake off if you grew up as an only child. Understand that only children don't have to share their favorite toy, no need to share food, no reason to fight for attention. Sure, you learn in school that sharing is caring; but deep down, you don't understand. Why do you have to share your Skittles?


#38 Carrying the Torch

You are the one to carry the legacy. You will be blamed for ruining your family or making it greater than it ever was. We also seem to be a bit more content with being alone and are a bit more emotionally mature due to mainly speaking to grownups. At the same time, we have trouble making friends a bit more. That's more due to us looking for someone that's just as content as we are in ourselves.


#39 Fend for Yourself

When you get bullied at school, there is literally no one to back you up. Sure, having siblings doesn't automatically mean that they will be cool siblings, and having friends helps, too. But most of the time, there is no older sibling to show you the ropes in anything or any backup from any younger ones. It is almost always you against every scummy person in the world.


#40 Handling the Burden

The responsibility of taking care of one’s parents. Most of my friends didn’t understand what an undertaking it was when my mom got sick last year. I was responsible for all the decisions. I had to be available for everything, court dates, meetings with social workers, hospice planning. Most of my friends have one sibling who could help out or they could tag team. I carried a case of documents in my car so if I was called when not at home, I could look up answers.


#41 Chore Overload

The chores that my friends would share with their siblings were all mine. My parents came from huge families. My dad is a mechanic and my mom is the daughter of a farmer and with five acres to tend to, so I spent a lot of time doing yard work. No one (including my parents) understood that the "kid’s chores" were only given to one kid.


#42 Getting Spoiled

I definitely got the “spoiled” thing a lot, especially from friends who saw me with stuff they never had growing up. I don’t know what people expect me to say. I’ve been blessed with parents who could afford to give me almost everything I wanted. But then I feel guilty for feeding into the “spoiled only child” stereotype.


#43 Making it Up

I loved board games as I kid, absolutely loved them. I got to play them maybe twice ever because there was just no one to play with. I usually made up my own one-person games with the pieces, or got out my toys and pretended they were other players. But the entire time I was wishing I had someone else to actually play with.


#44 Pick and Choose

I tend to find that people coming from large families have a sense of unity that an only child has to build for themselves. I had a poor family life, so I didn't think of myself as a part of something for most of my life. When I compare my life to certain people who always have family to rely on, it used to make me sad. It did help me pick my friends more carefully as I got older. Even though it was a rough childhood, I can safely say I found my family who like me for my faults and don't enjoy everything I do.


#45 Imaginary Friends

How incredibly lonely it is. I lived in a rural area where there weren't many kids my age to play with. As an only child, I spent most of my time in my own imagination. I didn't have many friends, so I made up stories and stuff to help deal with the loneliness. If I ever have kids, I want at least two so they wouldn't have to feel that kind of loneliness.


#46 Be My Sibling

Most people have that need for a familial bond, and without siblings, it’s easy for us to put that desire, love and responsibility on our friends. We want you to be our siblings. But that’s not fair to you because you already have that. You just want friends. Those offsetting needs can create turmoil we ourselves don’t understand until we realize what we’re doing. It took a lot of therapy for me to realize this, and that it was just that my friends didn’t like me much.


#47 Going Full Force

As an only child, I never learned how to play-fight. Because of this, I weirdly lack the skill of not using all of your power when play-fighting with someone. I just go full ballistic and end up hurting the other person even though I don’t mean to. I simply don’t understand how to physically limit the amount of power I use. Also, food envy. Horrible food envy. After a third date, there’s no way on earth we’ll share that milkshake. You get your own.


#48 Truly Alone

When both of your parents go, you are truly alone. I don’t currently have a partner and my father passed two years ago. It’s just my mother left. I don’t speak to my family that live in the same state, so when my mother goes and I’m still single then… I have friends, great friends, but as for family, my mom is it.


#49 Ahead of the Curve

I have found I have an appreciation for movies my peers usually do not. Yes, sometimes I got to pick the movie or TV show to watch, but usually my parents did. So I was the kid who watched bad ‘80s blockbusters or movies my parents considered classics, which was fun. I'd seen all the John Wayne movies long before anyone I went to school with knew who he was.


#50 All Mine

Everyone’s like, “Oh, you must have been lonely growing up.” No. I was alone, but not lonely. I loved it. I had my own room, my own toys and books and my own TV. I might not have been able to have all that if I had siblings. My mom had to have a bunch of surgeries just to have me and they spent a few years trying to have another one. But, I’m glad they couldn’t have any more. A lot of people I know don’t even get along with their siblings. Both my in-laws have no contact with their siblings and if they do, it quickly becomes an argument.



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