published Sunday, April 29th, 2012

Harpe: The pros and cons of being an only child

Corin Harpe

On April 10, I noticed on Facebook that many of my friends celebrated National Sibling Day. This day reminded me that like being left-handed or having a twin, there is a subtle aspect of my life that makes me unique, and that is being an only child.

I was born later in my parents' lives -- they were both age 40 -- and I could easily have a sibling a generation older than me. My existence was a last-minute plan of my parents, who decided that if they were going to have children they needed to go ahead because time was running out.

On days when I am feeling depressed, I sometimes think that I am lucky to be here and that I am here for a purpose because they could have so easily made the other decision not to have children.

I have been given financial opportunities, such as the ability to attend any college, in part because my parents did not have to save up for anyone else.

But there are also disadvantages to being an only child. With a sibling, I feel that there is a special bond formed when you know someone your whole life and you were raised in the same family. Your siblings are an extra support system, you can go to them for advice, and they can talk to you and relate to your experiences. You also have an automatic friend, someone you can go places with and spend time with.

I appreciate the support of my parents, but some parts of my life are exaggerated because I am an only child. For example, if I stay out too late one night, my parents act like it is the end of the world and that I am going to fail in life. Or if I do have an actual setback, then I have to experience the additional agony of my parents because they don't have an experience to compare it to.

Being an only child has definitely shaped my personality. When I was young, outside of school and day care, I spent many hours playing alone, so I had to learn how to entertain myself. This usually consisted of making up plays and stories with my dolls and stuffed animals, and then putting on a production for my parents.

Spending time in solitude definitely cultivated my imagination, and the intellectual and creative ability I have now I attribute to the time spent by myself.

But there are disadvantages to this solitude. Because I am comfortable being by myself, I cultivated more of an introverted personality.

I find myself needing alone time. If I spend a week straight going out and being with people, as on a vacation, after a few days I find that I need some time to myself, to rest and re-energize. Sometimes though I have quite the opposite feeling. One summer, all my friends were out of town, and with no activities planned, I found myself spending every day home alone for a straight month and a half. At first this was great. I was able to relax and get away from the stress of school. But after a few weeks, I started to become depressed because I was lonely.

Loneliness has been a great fear throughout my life. I feel that friends and significant others can come and go, but my parents have always been there. When they are gone, I sometimes worry that I will be left completely alone.

Being an only child has shaped my life. If possible, I want my own children to have siblings, if anything, to give myself a new perspective and a new experience on what it is like to have a brother or sister.

E-mail Corin Harpe at corinharpe@gmail.com.

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