"I am at a loss to conceive how a man should permit himself to write anything that would be truly disgraceful to a woman, or why a woman should be censured for writing anything that would be proper and becoming for a man."

13 October 2010

I'm Alone but I ain't Lonely (mostly)

As a member of the Only Child Society, this article spurred a flurry of thoughts and opinions... now, I'm not one for psychoanalyzing from an academic standpoint. I get the basics of psychology, but beyond that I just get how people work on an instinctual and experiential level. I grew up surrounded by kids in multi-child families (perils of private, religious-oriented schooling) while I often stood as one of very few only children in every classroom.
Was I an outcast growing up? Yes. Do I blame it on my being an only child? No. My socialization with others began at an early age, mostly with my parents' friends. When I began to disassociate myself with other kids my age, it was because I couldn't connect to them on a basic, internal level. They had Girls Scouts, I had books and reenacting -- and I wouldn't trade that to this day. Elementary and middle school were exceptionally difficult for me, but it's not because I didn't have siblings to help me through it, it's because I never fit in. I still don't. To this day there's only a handful of people who really know and see the majority of my real self, and that has nothing to do with the presence or lack thereof of siblings in my life.
Just as this article's author states, I had fill-in siblings in a couple of cousins and friends, though I knew it couldn't replace an actual sibling. Even at the time I didn't want siblings, usually. My loner sensibilities began at an early age. What that did for me in a positive way is instill a value which many people lack even as adults: self reliance. Granted, for other reasons, some of that reliance transformed into an inability to trust others, but it also allows me even now to understand and cope with a world in which, when all is said and done, we're all on our own. Whatever supports help carry you through the harsh times, there will come a time (often multiple times) when the only person responsible for your life is yourself. It's a terrifying prospect, and one that I've noticed takes most people a long time to come to terms with -- and even once they do they continue to look for crutches rather than deal with the problem themselves. Spending so much time on my own as a youth, I learned to cope and handle this at an early age. I still hate it, don't get me wrong, but I deal with it.
In fact, one aspect that is only hinted at in this article that I've seen with many other only children is that (many) only children grow up faster. We have to in order to live up to, well, the world. Some who are coddled more than others struggle with this, but those of us who grew up in nurturing, non-stifling, challenging environments are forced (or force ourselves) to mature faster. Much. Faster. That, in turn, makes us less apt to be selfish or spoiled, though it can make us lean more toward Lonerville than Socialtown because we're not adapted to the level of most of our peers.
Socioeconomic factors also enter into the picture when it comes to 'spoiled' only children. I come from a significantly-less-than-affluent family, so I was never granted every tangible whim and desire the way only children are painted with spoils of winning the war against their siblinged counterparts. Coming from this type of family I never felt over-indulged in terms of attention either, since both my parents needed to work extreme hours just to make ends meet -- again, point for self-sufficiency.
Being an only child can also redefine your concept of 'family' since your worldsphere is often smaller than those with larger familial branches. However, like any social dynamic, it doesn't necessarily predict whether that redefinition creates a smaller or larger extended family, it's just an attributing factor. And really, like the article points out, that's all any of us are -- an accumulation of factors that shape us as we grow up, yet ultimately we as individuals are the only people who decide how we are defined.

However, I will be the first to admit that on occasion I succumb to 'typical' only child moments and attitudes. Sometimes when my patience wears thin or my eagerness becomes overwhelming I want something when I want it and how I want it and everyone else be damned. It happens to everyone, though. The difference being I have a convenient, socially-accepted phrase to fall back on: I'm having an only child moment. Sounds a lot better than: I'm being a selfish, narcissistic jackass right now for no discernible reason.

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