only child and mental health

Every time I meet people and I reveal that I am an only child, they envy me. For most, being an only child is like heaven. Parents bend at your every wish, you get everything you say you want and more. All these just thoughts that many harbor. Although a lot of only kids are spoiled by their parents, that is not the case with each and every one of the demographics. There is an issue that is often overlooked. That is, being an only child and mental health. So, as we kick off the Advocacy Week of the #WinterABC challenge, I wanted to bring this issue to the table. Being that I too, am an only child.

Since time immemorial (kidding, just about the 1800s), only children have been described by different characteristics. They have been marked with stereotypes that cannot be taken off centuries later. Some of these characteristics that are well known are:

  • Selfish
  • Lonely
  • Antisocial
  • Spoiled
  • Bossy and more

As I write this, I am vividly reminded of all the negative things I have been called due to being an only child. And while some are true, some are not. Watching Keeping Up With The Kardashians has also shown me that such characteristics are found in families with siblings. For example, Kim has often been described as selfish and bossy, Kourtney as lonely and antisocial, Kendall as antisocial, and Kylie as spoiled. So, these issues are really not just found in only kids.

One thing though that most people never understand are some of the mental issues that only kids face. While there have been studies on these, most of them debunking the only child syndrome, I wanted to share my own thoughts of being an only child and mental health, especially those raised by a single parent.

only child and mental health: the effects of being raised by a single parent

I have read people try and explain the emotional attachment that only kids have with their parents. While some are very insightful, some are just utter garbage (mostly because they are written by people who are not and have never experienced the life of only childhood). But, there are so much that is there to understand about only kids, especially those raised by single parents.

I happen to be an only child that was raised by a single parent who does not openly talk about their trauma. Before you start coming up with your own dark twisted conclusions, being raised by my mum is the best thing life gave me. However, one cannot stay away from the mental health issues that seem to stem from such setups of family.

The other day, I shared something on twitter just to get the conversation going, and many agreed. See picture below

only child and mental health

Often, that is the reality of only kids raised by single parents. We are taught to understand that our parents are the only family we have, nobody else. This, factors in issues of early independence and self-reliance. I have learned that I am very self-reliant, and the only person I heavily depend on is my mother. Other than her, I believe in sorting issues on my own without the need to involve many people. Again, that also stems from trust issues that I have with most.

As I was saying, we learn to be independent and care for ourselves from a young age. However, there comes a twist to that. Because we have a soft spot for our parent, and share a deep connection with them, we also tend to share a lot of their pain.

Single parents to only children understand one thing, they are bestfriends to their children before everyone else. Hence, there comes a time when lines are blurred between parent and friend. Which brings a freedom to the sharing of information. As much as single parents are protective of their cubs, they will often share even their darkest of secrets to keep their kids in the loop. Do not forget, they are the only family they know. This has its positives, just like it has its negatives. One of the biggest negatives is the trauma that the kids are burdened with at a yound age.

experiencing subtle trauma as a child

a questionnaire about me

Before I embarked on writing this blog post, I did a little survey. I asked my exes and a few friends to ask them what they thought of me. The questions were based on the stereotypes that only kids are associated with. I chose my exes because they know me better than most people. Considering I have few friends, that was easy for them. Also, a lot of my exes are my buddies now (post-breakup) and are never shy to be honest with me. Let me share with you the findings.

A lot of them thought I was very independent and self-reliant. One noted however, that I was only dependent on my mum. Which is not a lie at all. Most said that I was antisocial, only ever going to places if there is a financial benefit attached (I like working at events). Almost all agreed that I do not get attached easily, a difficulty I realized early in life. They also agreed that I hardly share my emotions, just like I do not like sharing things and people. Yes, I am a little on the territorial side of things. Again, all of them agreed that I had daddy issues, which is so not true (it is so true).

What was intriguing to me was when I asked the last question, if they thought I was all that because I was an only child? All of them disagreed. In the words of my ex,

You are all that because of what you’ve been through, not because you are an only child

experiencing trauma

I never like to talk about the issues I have been through or my childhood. Because most of it has not been pretty. Even during the writing of my biography in the last year’s #WinterABC, I made sure to remove anything that would make it seem bad. Not because they are a taboo, they are just bad memories that have shaped the person I am today.

These issues are both things that happened to me, and things I saw happen to my mother. As a child, you never want anything bad happen to your parent, when it does, you get way hurt than they do sometimes. You end u holding issues until adulthood and such issues help you make decisions on the kind of person you want to be.

My childhood is laced with both beautiful and dark memories. Laced with so much loss (both to death and people walking out of it) and so much trust being broken.

Unfortunately, this is what most only kids have to go through. And having no sibling means there is no one else to share your troubles with, so we experience it alone and find solutions alone. That births coping mechanisms that we use even when we are older. When we are adults, we tend not to trust others, tend not to attach and become more self-reliant because people leave anyway.

Our parent is our only constant we know from birth. So, the fear of ever losing them brings torture to our souls. Also brings a fear of us ending up alone as we were born.

So, sometimes before you judge such people, be a little considerate of the kind of childhood they have been through that has made them end up the way they are.

What are your thoughts on this? Do share in the comment section below.

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13 thoughts on “Of Being An Only Child and Mental Health

  1. Wow Louisa! You hit home on being an only child raised by a single mum, especially the Mental Health issues you pointed out. I hadn’t realized how challenging being an only child is as I’d been focusing on sibling issues and all the dynamics involved, however, I now am now more empathetic to those who are #anonlychild. Thank you for sharing such great insights.

  2. I’m an only child raised by a single mum. All I can say is, it is not easy. If I had a choice, I wouldn’t choose to be an only child raised by a single parent. Nice relatable article!

  3. I honestly used to wonder what it’s like for those who are only children and now that you speak it I see it with those around me now how the children are burdened by things early on because they are the only other party.

    Thanks for sharing this will definitely be more conscious and considerate.

  4. I am a single parent to one child. And am grateful for this insight, I will be sure to not let my struggles be my child’s in the name of friendship. And I have been allowing her spend quality time with other people in my life so she doesn’t ever feel alone. I guess it’s a good thing to let them go. As a single parent you want to protect your child so bad you think everyone around you will hurt them. I chose to try and be more trusting of God mostly( humans will disappoint) and hopefully it pays off. She is 18 months

    1. Sometimes, it is not even what you share with them but what they also witness happening in your life. For example, if they see you being beaten by a man, they will make their own conclusions regardless if you tell them or not. So, it is not what you share but also the environment they are exposed to

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