How Being an Only Child Teaches the Value of Self-Reliance

“You don’t have to share a room? Or any toys? You’re soooo lucky!”

I heard things like this all the time when making new friends. For most kids, this tends to be the first thing that comes to mind when meeting an only child.

But just as my classmates wondered what my “lucky” life was like, I often wondered the opposite. As an only child, I wanted to know what it would be like to have siblings. Sure, I got a taste of it when I went to a friend’s house. But regardless of how much time I spent around different types of families I couldn’t fully understand what it’s like to have siblings.

However, as time went on I became more aware of how my experience compared to others. Certainly, being the only child in your family can be lonely. It can be pretty boring too.

But the more time has passed, the more I’ve come to appreciate what being an only child taught me: self-reliance. It’s something I’ve observed and reflected on quite a bit. So, here are a few examples of why only children have to become more self-reliant.

You cannot hide from your parents.

From a young age, I was a high-achieving kid. I took accelerated classes in school and always wanted to take on new extra-curriculars. My parents didn’t push me to “get involved”… I just naturally enjoyed trying new things. But, my varied interests and desire to achieve make me somewhat of a perfectionist.

I remember getting my first bad grade. I was 9 and I got a 75 on a Math quiz. I was so upset, I took it home, crumpled it up, and threw it out without telling my parents. They took an interest in my academics and were surprised that I hadn’t yet gotten my grades back.

I didn’t have siblings to distract from me and my behavior, so my parents knew what was going on, and asked that I be honest. Though I didn’t feel ‘lucky’ at the time, this was an important lesson. Behave as if you cannot hide anything and act with integrity.

You have to entertain yourself.

I was deliberate about making a lot of friends as a kid, since I didn’t have siblings to play with. Despite being involved in karate, baseball, and having my fair share of play dates, I still spent a lot of time alone.

There were countless afternoons where I could have said I was bored because nobody was around to play. I probably did complain about this. Yet at the end of the day, I got accustomed to entertaining myself.

I would run around outside shouting, jumping, climbing. I had imaginary friends. Sometimes I still do that in my apartment when nobody is around (just kidding). But, I think it was immensely valuable for me to explore the inner-depths of my imagination. You cannot rely on others to have fun when you’re the only one around.

There’s nobody to ‘beat’ but yourself.

You can’t rest on your laurels in school, sports, or anything else. As an only child you certainly get more attention. But you also don’t have the luxury of comparison. You can’t clock out because your brother is dumber, or your sister is weaker. The only person you have to make comparisons with is your past self. So each day is an opportunity to get better. For some this can become an unhealthy obsession. But with the right guidance this helps build a habit of constant self-improvement.

Being an only child isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. But, there are some valuable lessons to be learned.