Recently I caught up with a few mates of mine and the conversation was around siblings. Interestingly, the group had a mix of sibling hierarchy. Some were first borns, a few in the middle and others the youngest.
True to law of sibling hierarchy, the first borns were more assertive – the ‘enforcer’ type, the middle ones related to ‘acquiescence’ and ‘strategists,’ and the youngest didn’t care and were the ‘free birds’. Each one enjoyed their position and felt grateful to have siblings. Life according to them would have been boring without siblings.
I am an only child.
I am often met with a “oh! – don’t you wish you had siblings?”
Only children are often perceived to be pampered, spoilt brats, selfish, insensitive and narcissists. As young as my memory goes, my parents always insisted on me following the norms and etiquette society demanded. I can always remember myself sharing my pencils, books, food and toys with others, a tad short of being overgenerous, lest I am perceived selfish. Growing up, I was always concerned about those around me, albeit I would be the last person everybody would turn to when they ran out of friends. And I never perceived myself to be an extraordinarily gifted kid to be self-obsessed.
So here are some of the real challenges I have faced as an only child:
Siblings make you street smart, naturally cultivate your defence mechanisms. Only children live in their comfort zone, nestled in the safety of their parents. I did not know how to defend myself or protect myself from the taunts and snipes made by my friends. I was meek, submissive, passive and an easy target for anyone.
One of my earliest memories of being bullied is in year 3.
I am acutely myopic and wear glasses since I was 8 years old. Without my glasses, my vision is a challenge. I can only see blurry images and virtually cannot distinguish faces or objects. Technology in those days (1981) was not as advanced as today. The high index / number of my prescription meant my glasses looked like “Coke Bottles”. And this is where it all started.
Besides being called a lot of “funny names”, my biggest worry was being pushed deliberately while on the playground making me fall, and dislodging my glasses. It would then be a frantic attempt for me to be on my knees and pat the ground to see if I could touch my glasses and find them. Can you imagine what this instils into the mind of an eight year old? FEAR.
Here is another one which sticks to my mind.
Usually my Dad takes me to the optometrist for getting my pair of glasses. Once it had to be my Mum and we ended up getting a frame which apparently was a total mismatch to my face and made me look like a weirdo. These images are still very clear in my mind – a group of kids standing in a circle around me and teasing me for my appearance. I broke down and in the middle of sobbing said “Please don’t tease me anymore. I will ask my Mother to get me a new frame today”. The little eight year old boy soon lost his CONFIDENCE too.
I started shying away from sports and any sort of physical activity. Books became my best friends. I read ferociously and created my own happy place. A world of characters, imagination, expression and emotions excited me. By the time I was in High School, I was a very engaged kid actively involved in drama and school plays. ‘Fancy Dress’ was my favourite. That FEAR element was crushed with numerous on stage appearances at school. My Mother was a big source of encouragement for all my on stage acts. We would bounce ideas of what costumes would go with each fancy dress theme.
Growing Up — Teen Years
This is a stage of life where a multitude of things happen. The most intriguing time was when the physical changes happened to my body. I was confused and had a lot of questions. I learned most of the Nature’s aspects from conversations overheard between senior students in the school bus. In my days, there was a fine line of things I could share with or ask my parents. I found it very difficult to accept the fact that I was the result of a sexual intercourse act. The word ‘Sex’ was taboo, because I never really knew what it was in its beautiful form.
My circle of friends changed when I started Uni. My reading made me have intelligent conversations with people who I looked up to as role models. I used every opportunity to get on stage and public speaking came to me naturally. I found my confidence levels soaring.
Every only child dreams of having that ‘one person’ who will stand as a rock for them. I found it in my wife. We often joke about being polar opposites in everything except for our values and upbringing, which makes us totally compatible. What I lack, she COMPLETES. To date she has worked with me to “Let Go” of many sour memories. I am very thankful to her for that.
We have an only child.
Like every parent, I want our child to be successful. I have shared my experiences with her as and when appropriate. I have also shared these few things as a lesson for life:
- You cannot let anyone bully you unless you allow them to.
- Never pick on anyone for a physical disability because you don’t realise how badly you are crushing their world.
- Stay calm – for you’re intelligent.
Be warm – for you’re kind hearted.
Stay strong – in the face of a storm.
- One family, one money, open to any conversation.
Some of us only children may talk a lot to ourselves, enjoy being left alone. But deep down, we have a warm and genuine heart, willing to share and care. We are trustworthy and loyal and will do everything to see others happy. (And I have to admit we often end up getting hurt).
So the next time you bump into an only child, chances are you are looking at a ‘silent achiever’ who has a very different story to mine. We may not brag a lot about ourselves, for we are used to keeping things close to our heart. Trust and comfort are our gatekeepers and once we build that with you, we open the doors to our world and let you be a part of it.