One writer reflects on the highs and lows of growing up without siblings.
When people find out that I’m an only child, their first question is often: “Do you like it?”
The answer seems to change each time it leaves my mouth.
“It has a lot of benefits.”
“I used to hate it but now I don’t mind.”
“I’ve always wanted a sister.”
Over the years, I’ve had a complicated relationship with being an only child. When my friends would argue with their siblings, their parents would tell me how lucky I was to not have to squabble over who told on who or borrowed a top without asking. But really, I yearned for it: the camaraderie, having someone to get grounded or gang up with.
Growing up, I never felt lonely. I had plenty of cousins my age and close friends who became more like family. As we’ve grown up, we’ve remained close, but as they become aunts and uncles to each other’s children and I remain a more distant relative, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel like I was missing out on something.
Of course, I know not every sibling relationship is perfect, no matter how much I’ve idealised it in my head, but it’s still something I wish I could experience for myself.
When you have a big family, stories and anecdotes become whole group events. Dinner tables come alive with “Remember when you did this?” and “Who was it that did that?” But my childhood memories exist alone. I never had anyone to get up to no good with or keep secrets from my parents for. I’m the sole witness to family holidays, Christmas shenanigans and school celebrations.
Not having anyone to channel my sisterly energy into has always been a sore spot. I’ve proudly become the go-to advice friend, the one who buys the drinks and gives the most thoughtful birthday gifts.
It’s led me to spend years trying to cultivate other relationships which mimic that sibling bond. It’s helped me to meet some of the best people I could ever wish for, but there’s always a risk of rejection.
In seeking to make sisters out of my friends, I’ve learned hard and hurtful lessons about closeness and how the feeling isn’t always mutual. But with siblings, whether you wish to be related or not, you’re tied to that person. The bond can’t be doubted or the biology untangled, for better or for worse.
But despite those twinges of sadness for what could have been, I don’t think I’d ever forsake the closeness I have with my parents. Growing up in a unit of three meant they could provide me with the most incredible support and opportunities they may not have been able to had there been more of us.
I also deeply value the confidence and independence I think being an only child gave me. A true extrovert, from a young age I became used to being the only child in the room.
At my parents’ dinner parties, I’d gleefully soak up the adult conversations, like I had a key to a world other kids didn’t get to enter. On the occasion there were children for me to play with, I never wanted to. I wanted to sing and dance and talk and watch where the grown-ups were. It’s given me an ease of socialisation that has served me in good stead throughout my adult life.
Being an only child has undoubtedly shaped who I am for the better. Despite my wishes and the occasional pangs of jealousy, I know that I am a sister. I have many wonderful siblings, even if not through blood, and those relationships are ones I cherish every day.
Images: Amy Beecham