Wednesday, February 19, 2014

I am an Only Child, and I am Diseased by It

"Being an only child is a disease in itself."
                                       - G. Stanley Hall

Who am I kidding? After twenty years and a few months of being one, I have learned, ignored, seen, and accepted that a portion of society is prejudiced against only children. Nature has taken its course, just as it did with age, gender, and race. Yet, the thing with weaknesses is, when life gives you lemons, make a lucrative fruit store out of it. Yes, yes, I may have taken a particularly capitalistic route when it comes to my status as an only child, but hey so far, so good. 

In the past few years, more and more of my friends are having children. I didn't mean to alarm you. What I meant was most of my older friends, those who are five or six years older than I am, are currently with child or have already popped one or two out. Oftentimes, when they meet my mom they'd ask what she thinks about family planning. Common questions include, "Why did you only have one child?", "Was it anything biological or was it purely based on your preference?", "Don't you think raising an only child is harmful for the child itself and not to mention society?" One of our family friend recently said that he regretted having only one child. He said that ideally he'd have two. When asked why, he said that maybe his son would be better off. Of course, his wife rolled her eyes several times and looked at him weird. Then she sighed and admitted to wanting a girl. 

The number of children a couple has is surprisingly political. Historical, national security is closely connected to birth rates, not to mention the gender of the child. Policies are made in various countries in an attempt to control birth rates. China, for instance, implemented the one child policy in 1979. Other nations, like Japan, have made considerable changes to encourage an increase in child rate. On a more micro level, there is a definite social stereotype against people who were raised as only children, as well as parents who choose to only have one child. My parents, for instance, were pressured by several relatives to have more children for a number of reasons, including eugenics. 

One thing that makes the thought worthwhile is the amount of discrimination only children face. Deemed as being more privileged than other children, in terms of the resources available to them, only children are generally dubbed as spoiled brats. There isn't a year that goes by without someone discounting my achievements and competence due to my upbringing as a single child. This blog, for instance, has been perceived as a result of the amount of freedom and training my parents had given me in English, writing, and creative arts. And to be honest, they have definitely hit the bull's eye. Even today, I am spoiled, i.e. my reputation to be a go-getter and ambitious; I am bossy, which surprisingly translated to my competence as an editor and stage manager, which does not necessarily require one to be imperious; and I am socially aversive, i.e. I spent Valentine's Day writing all day long. Come on, if everyone is going to expect you to boast maladaptive traits, why not capitalize on it? 

So, to those who ask whether it was a mistake to only have one child, I would say it depends on you and your child, just like it did with my parents and I. Additionally, let's avoid making sweeping generalizations about a particular group of people. "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," as is aggressiveness, loneliness, brattiness, and bossiness, which have become common labels for only children. Each individual has the power to categorize these traits as negative or positive. Whether it is a good thing or a bad thing, I have learned that the elements that made my childhood extra unique were the ones that prepared me for life. For example, as an only child, I'd spent a third of my vacations in meetings and with my parents' friends. 


When there is only one child sitting in the table, grown ups tend to forget that there is any at all. So, as an observer, who has learned to remain silent in these situations, I spent the entire dinner absorbing information that did not really pertain to my life as a child. Did I need to know that the world was going to crumble financially in 2008? Maybe through the news, but at the dinner table, over ice cream? Give me a break! Shouldn't I be running around Disney Land, instead of going to conferences to follow my parents around as they negotiate all day long? At the time, luckily, I was too amused by the characters that my parents were spending time with to really snooze off or throw a tantrum. For an eight-year-old nosy eavesdropper, three hour dinners equates to a trip to Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, and trust me, I looove chocolate. Having the privilege to listen in and also enjoy the entire experience provided me with a good foundation for me to work professionally, contribute to a visiting team of fashion designers, as well as do research. 

Last summer, many of my high school friends had their first internship experience. During one dinner, the entire table nodded as one girl shared how terrified she was to step into an an office and join a team of well-established businessmen/women. Deep down, I realized that not everyone spent their long weekends in the office, running around sending mail, or stayed up late, looking through applications (which is highly unprofessional), whilst compiling them for review. Not everyone has gone on dinner meetings or watched a presentation in their spare time. 

Just as always, I was missing out on a common link that bound many of my friends, who had siblings, together. They'd reminisce about fighting over the remote control or sharing clothes with their sisters or brothers, or sitting together in a flight with their siblings. It is only human to not experience every single phenomena in life. What's more compelling is that it is only human to improve ourselves based on our respective experiences. Some of my teammates in high school complained about my bossiness, but I'd complain about their inability to focus during meetings or complete their delegate tasks. At the end of the day, as cliche as it may sound, diversity completes us. By having contrasting experiences, we could create an effective machine to overcome numerous obstacles. 

Truth be told, sometimes I wish people would just stop being prejudiced. Yes, I am bossy, socially aversive, and bratty, but I hope you'd learn that by talking to me, spending time with me, essentially getting to know me. Don't run towards the opposite direction because you judged me prematurely. Who knows maybe we'd make a great team for selling lemonades? Maybe we'd make better rivals, instead. At the very least, if you are going to be prejudiced, don't let your perception hinder you from what could potentially be something wonderful, or from a mistake that you are required to learn from. So, the next time a girl or a guy says to you that they are an only child, don't forget to think about the endless possibilities ahead of you, whether it is an expensive and irresponsible night out or a chain of lucrative fruit stores. 

*Author owns rights to all photos above

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