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I Never Wanted an Only Child, But She’s Turning Out Pretty OK

Photograph by Leah Campbell

"The good news is, at least she doesn’t act like an only child," my friend said offhandedly not too long ago. She was referencing my daughter, and I know she meant it as a compliment. But oof.

I immediately took a deep breath as I decided how to respond.

"What does that mean, exactly?" I finally said. "How does an only child act?"

My friend paused, shot me a confused look, and said, "You know, like … spoiled. Siblings usually teach a kid how to share and sacrifice, and kids who don’t have that … you can usually tell."

She then went on to reiterate, again, that she wasn’t talking about my only child. For a moment, I wanted to push. I wanted to maintain my offense and talk about how very wrong this stereotype was—how very wrong my friend was for holding on to it. But then I remembered, it wasn’t that long ago I believed the same about only children myself.

The truth is, I never wanted my daughter to be an only. I always wanted a really big family with tons of kids running around. But infertility and life have made that harder to achieve than I had once hoped. I still have the goal of getting us into a bigger home so that I can renew my foster care license, and maybe one day there will be more children in my home and heart. But, for now, my 5-year-old daughter has been raised as an only her entire life.

And you know what? I do think she turned out pretty great. In fact, she’s nothing like what I once thought an only child must be.

Even though my world certainly revolves around her, she never acts like it. She’s helpful and observant, and quick to accept her punishment whenever she does behave out of line.

She’s nothing like what I once thought an only child must be.

She's also hugely empathetic, always attune to the feelings of those around her. She's a great sharer, and quick to make friends with just about anyone. When all my friends and I get our kids together, and a few inevitably end up at each other's throats, it’s almost never her in the middle of the fighting. Instead, she's far more likely to be the one trying to cheer up whomever it was who got their feelings hurt most.

Since that conversation with my friend, I’ve wondered a lot about why my daughter doesn’t live up to the stereotype. Is it because she’s adopted and has a laundry list of medical conditions to contend with, so it’s not like everything in life has just been easily handed to her? Or is it because we have such a tight-knit friend group, with about nine kids all around her age that we spend a lot of time with, so she has always had kids around and is rarely ever truly on her own?

Or maybe it’s just that the stereotypes are mostly crap to begin with. Maybe there is nothing inherent about being an only child that is sure to condemn that child to a life of selfishness and loneliness. Maybe those who do grow up to fit into the stereotypes would have been the same no matter what, with or without siblings in the picture. Because, let’s be honest, there are plenty of kids who grew up with siblings who still become terribly selfish, and plenty who grew up lonely, never really forming any kind of distinct or worthwhile connection with their brothers or sisters.

My daughter isn’t perfect. Not by any means. Young children all have their bratty moments. But she’s a good kid. And I’m sure she would make an amazing big sister, if the opportunity arises. Just as I’m sure, beyond a shadow of a doubt, she’ll be fine if that dream never becomes a reality.

Because she doesn’t act like an only child. Or at least, she doesn’t act anything like what the stereotypes would tell you an only child should be. And I’m willing to bet she’s not the only one.

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