An Individual’s Perspective in a World of Groups


Abby Stanlick

“Did I teach your brother?”

“You look familiar, do you have older siblings?”

“Are you two related?”

These are common questions people get from teachers every day, almost everyone has probably gotten at least one of these questions in each year of school. Including myself. Most people respond with “yeah, we are siblings,” or “no, but you taught my sister,” but there are a few people who have a different conversation entirely.

The “only child” is a somewhat rare creature which, in most circumstances cannot be identified by others as anything other than an average person. Despite this successful camouflage, I’ve found there are many stereotypes surrounding people without any siblings.

Selfish, spoiled, bossy, dependent, immature and antisocial are among words commonly associated with only children, but any of those characteristics can be found in people with 8 siblings, and in people with no siblings. It is widely considered wrong to judge children of gay couples, regardless of your opinion on gay marriage, because the children had no choice in who their parents were. So why then, is it so common to judge only children based on their lack of siblings, another choice that they couldn’t make for themselves?

I have been an only child for 17 years, and throughout my life it has fluctuated from being a well-known and often-mentioned fact to something that I and everyone around me forgets about entirely. In early elementary school, we used to decorate gingerbread men and pizzas and all sorts of little crafts using questions about family life to show how everyone is unique. This works great for kids who have pets and siblings who have full pizzas and gingerbread with fancy buttons and hats. For the kids who have no siblings or no pets or even just one brother or sister, the activity became a long time to just sit and stare at the naked gingerbread on the table. Teachers would walk up and get mad because I wasn’t doing the project and I should be doing the activity with the rest of the class, but when I told them I had no siblings and therefore could not do the craft, they never had anything else for the rest of us to do. Since that time, these activities are about decorating only and don’t involve questions about family life, and still show how no two people are alike, while allowing each kid to create whatever they want. Since elementary school, there are fewer and fewer instances or questions about of siblings coming up in school. There is the occasional teacher who does groups based on how many brothers or sisters you have, and then scrambles to shove the only child into a group somewhere, but for the most part you forget.

In high school, being an only child is pretty great. I go home after school and I have the house to myself. I have my own car, I don’t share a bathroom, there isn’t anyone besides my parents to argue with about anything. On the flip side, if I have a terrible day, I go home to an empty house, I don’t have anyone to talk to besides my parents, and I don’t have anyone who can automatically drive home if my car decides to break down. Reading this, you might be thinking, “I don’t think only children are spoiled, that isn’t a thing anymore, nobody says that,” and you’re probably right. Most of the time most people don’t even know that they are talking to an only child and they keep any judgement to themselves. Just keep in mind, though, that whenever an only child has to tell someone that they have no siblings, there’s a moment of fear about whether they will be judged in that person’s eyes as the spoiled bratty stereotype that we all know. If you do have siblings, be happy that you have a person to share your life with, to help you through hard times, and to maybe someday make you “the fun aunt/uncle.” If you don’t, there’s a lot more of us out there than there seems, and we may never know for certain, but life likely isn’t dramatically different with any number of siblings. Everyone has their own outlook on the world, and it might be good for us to try to understand at least one perspective besides our own. That way, we may find some similarities between the billions of individuals living in this world of groups.