The best part of being an only child is also the worst

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Only children get all the attention.

I don’t hold it against them. In fact, I am an only child, and I can tell you that on the whole, getting all the attention is fantastic.

We aren’t unicorns: In JSTOR Daily, Joanna Pocock, mother of an only, writes that 23% of Americans have one child.

There’s always someone to admire your drawings and coo over your report cards. You always get to read the book you want to read and play the game you want to play and watch the TV show you want to watch. No one ever interrupts your conversation with your parent(s), and visiting relatives come laden with gifts and compliments for you and you alone. They’re very impressed with your skill on the recorder.

It’s a sweet deal.

Research tends to agree that little harm is generally done by having all the attention, all the time. Fellow only Rebecca Harrington of Business Insider points out that research has consistently disproved the myth that only children are selfish and spoiled, and that they tend to have better relationships with their parents. Sociologist Judith Blake found that only children tend to have better grades and higher IQs than those from large families.

Getting all the attention is one of the best parts of being an only child — but it’s also one of the worst.

And not for the reasons you might think. Believe it or not, I grew up perfectly able to share and play nice. Sometimes I’ll read the book you want to read, and I don’t expect you to be impressed by my skills on the recorder.

I’ll put the drawbacks to those of you with siblings like this: Imagine someone was watching you all the time. Imagine you never got away with even the most minor transgression, because you couldn’t blame an adult and clearly your dog couldn’t have reached that. Imagine your parent(s) never forgot about a homework assignment or report card or birthday party for that boy in your class you’ve never spoken to. Imagine there was no way to divert a child-focused grandparent-to-be and imagine knowing that if you aren’t calling your parents once a week, no one is. If you don’t send a Mother’s Day card, she won’t get one.

Having it be all about you, all the time, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Like most things, this gets clearer as you get older. When an entire household is holding its breath for your report card, it’s one thing. When that household is waiting for you to get a job, it’s another. Playdate: one thing. Marriage: another.

Two hands aren’t much to hold someone else’s hopes.

The stakes get higher as time passes, and there’s no younger sibling living in your parents’ basement to distract them. No older sibling planning a wedding or buying a house or having a baby — another baby, have you heard? No twin who suddenly quit her job to hike in the Himalayas and I don’t know where she’s finding the money either.

Granted, there are a few assumptions here. This is much more likely the case if your parent(s) are involved and available and loving. It assumes your parents have the time and attention to lavish on you instead of handing you the remote control for hours at a time. It assumes your parents are still alive and well and in good enough health to care how your job is going. These are all incredible privileges and by no means the case for everyone. It assumes that at one point in time, if not through present day, you had a pretty sweet deal.

And I had that sweet deal. I’m unspeakably lucky to have parents who cared about my report cards and recitals and are happy to hear from me when I call. You only get all of the attention because you also get all of the love, and that’s a great place to be. But, like anything else, it’s not perfect.

Whining about “pressure” seems a little too only-child for comfort, so I’ll leave it at this: Like exercise, or candy, or birthday parties — the fun, the sugar, the staying-up-late — the best parts of only childhood are the same ones that become the worst parts as an adult.

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