Relationships

How Many Siblings Do You Have?

How Many Siblings Do You Have?

I have…

Zero. Growing up, this wasn’t something I noticed, because it was the only thing I knew. The only time my single child nature became apparent was when board games were labeled “four or more players,” because there were hardly ever four or more people in the house.

Sometimes, I would go to my friends’ homes and notice how they had similar-aged people they fought with, all raised voices and slamming doors. Then, in college, my roommates’ siblings would come to visit and say things like, “Mom did the thing again!” with a knowing glance. Cue the existential spiral. In my world, no one else would ever know what it’s like when Mom does the thing. For better or worse, my experience was mine alone.

Don’t get me wrong, there were good things, too. I became comfortable filling time by myself, a skill that has proven most useful in adulthood. As an only child, you get to be all of the things (there can be no “smart one” or “loud one” or “sporty one” when there is just… one). I developed into who I am, unaffected by how it might compare to anyone else. As a kid, I spent many hours with my electric typewriter, writing weird stories, which eventually became my job.

Many an armchair psychologist has waxed poetic on birth order and personality — Internet quizzes abound. They are often uncannily accurate, but at the end of the day, we are the products of many different factors. Not all firstborns are hyper responsible overachievers, and not all babies-of-the-family are super social comedians. We are more complicated, more nuanced, and shaped by many facets of our environment and experiences. And family is something we can choose for ourselves.

As an adult, my sibling-free existence isn’t something I consider very often. Until last weekend.

My boyfriend gave his family 23andMe genetic test kits over the holidays, and the results just came back. As the siblings compared their data, like who was more or less Neanderthal, it once again hit me: I don’t have siblings. “I AM ALONE!” I wailed. “I AM AN ISLAND. NOBODY SHARES MY DNA.”

This blew over in around four minutes. In the end, I am who I am — still that same kid hunched over a typewriter — and I wouldn’t change that, even if I could.

I’d love to know: How many siblings do you have? Do you think it affects your personality? Did you ever wish for something different?

P.S. On having an only child, and what’s your personality?

  1. Mary says...

    Hey Lucy! I would love to know what you think your parents did to create the wonderful dynamic you grew up with. Any ideas would be very much appreciated!!

  2. Nicole K says...

    “Not all firstborns are hyper responsible overachievers, and not all babies-of-the-family are super social comedians.”

    I laughed out loud at this because, while it’s not true for everyone, it is DEAD ON for me (the oldest of three) and my youngest brother. Caroline didn’t mention middle children, but my middle brother is exactly what you’d expect from a middle brother… a total Jan Brady! Love both of them so much though!

  3. Sarah says...

    I’m an only child, and I actually enjoyed being an only growing up. I got the full attention of my parents and I had other girl cousins to play with. But there were times I would be envious of friends who had older siblings who could “show them the ropes” and be there for them for significant life events such as weddings and baby showers. My husband has two older brothers, and I am envious of their brother friendships. His family gatherings are a lot more festive too. I guess that’s why my husband and I decided to go with a mid sized family of four–we have a toddler boy and a baby girl on the way!

  4. Catherine says...

    I was miserable without siblings. I have always been good at making friends and have close friendships, but as my parents are aging, it’s really striking me that I’m it and I’m 100% taking care of them with no one to really share the emotional tax. Maybe that’s why I had four children of my own. They’re all very young still, so the dynamics are all over the place, but even though I am naturally more inclined to be alone and get overwhelmed by this big family quite often, I wouldn’t change this noise for anything. I can only hope they love each other as they grow. My husband has a large, loud and loving family. I think I wanted to create that too.

    • Ashley Webb says...

      Hi Catherine,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts about being an only child. I too am an only child and still do not like it. It probably has to do that my parent never had a good marriage and got divorced when I was in middle school. What you voiced is one of my growing concerns as I, and my parents, get older, that I am 100% responsible for everything regarding them and that is an extremely daunting task. Thank you again for sharing as it is always nice to know that you are not alone.

  5. Kat says...

    I’m third out of four. There is a gap of 12 and 9 years between my older sisters and I and then my brother is 2 years younger than I. Out of my siblings I’m only close with my oldest sister even though we didn’t even really grow up together and I have only a few memories of us ever living together as she moved away for college when I was in 2nd grade and never moved back. But somehow we’ve always been close to each other while we are not close with the others. My other sister and I have almost no relationship and it’s always been that way. She was perfectly content being the “baby” of the family when I came along and it ruined it for her. I don’t think she’s ever gotten over it. She treated me horribly my whole childhood and while we made up and reconciled when I was in college we still never became close. We see each other maybe once or twice a year even though she lives just an hour away. She did not even attend my wedding. My brother has always been “special” with many mental/behavioral problems and my parents have done everything they can to protect him his whole life even proclaiming him innocent when we went to prison for things he absolutely did! They have always enabled him and I always felt neglected my whole childhood as they did everything for him while I did everything for myself. As children we fought endlessly- physically and verbally- and I hated him with a passion. Everyone told me that when we grew up we would appreciate each other but I have to say it’s not true. We can be cordial and say “hi” these days but that is the extent of our relationship. And my parents still baby him and do everything for him and now his baby that they are basically raising for him. He is still a drug addict and dealer and yet my parents are proud that he has his own successful business. Me on the other hand, i have a masters degree and a great career and yet I feel like they could care less about my accomplishments. All this to say, siblings are complicated. Even though my oldest sister and I are very different people we still have a strong bond and love spending time with each other when we can. Today, as grown ups we don’t get together for holidays. We always celebrate them with our own families and each do our own thing.

    I hear a lot of people say that only children will have a hard time caring for their aging parents but I also think that 2 of my siblings will be absolutely useless too and I already know there is going to be a big power struggle and fight for their inheritance when the time comes. I saw my dad and his sibling go through it when my grandma passed away. While my dad was at the hospital with his mom the others were at her house basically raiding it. By the time we got there there was nothing left for us to have to remember her by.

    As for me, I have a 6 year old daughter and think that I’m one and done. But it’s a hard decision because she desperately longs for a sibling. She tells me she is lonely and wants someone but I try and reinforce in her all the positives of being an only child. But I also feel guilty at times that she won’t have the opportunity to have a sibling that she might possibly get along with; but I’m hyper aware it’s not a guarantee.

  6. Bren says...

    I am the youngest of 3 (sister, brother, me…all exactly 2 years apart) and I am super close to both my older brother and sister but they seem to really struggle with each other. I am constantly defending each of their quirks to the other sibling. “But don’t you see how compassionate she is? She loves you!” or “He just gets overly excited and that’s why he talks about himself excessively sometimes!” Sometimes I think, how would you all even survive without me, for real?! I am the glue! I bring the fun! I bring the jokes! And I think it’s part of why I always wanted 3 kids, and when they both chose to be done having children after they each had 2 kids, I almost felt offended. Like, hello, did I not enrich your life?! Do you not see the value in that extra opinion?! I AM THE GLUE! hahaha, I’m kidding of course (sort of). I even tell my husband, who just has one younger sister “Don’t you ever wonder what your family would be like if you had another sibling? I feel like you all NEEDED another sibling!!!” All this to say…my own birth order has led me to think about my own family. I have a 3 and 5 year old and just found out I am having TWINS so naturally I am shocked/freaking out/excited. But mainly I think, how awesome is this going to be?! Everyone will have a buddy and our house is going to be out of control and so loud and so messy and I’ll be sleeping in crumbs but it’s going to be the BEST!!

    • elle says...

      Congratulations, Bren! I can tell you that our 3rd child (though not quite 3 years old) is definitely a peace-keeper and tension buster when our older two squabble. He’s been such a wonderful addition to our family, that I can’t help but yearn for a fourth!

      I love your attitude: “our house is going to be out of control and so loud and so messy and I’ll be sleeping in crumbs but it’s going to be the BEST!!” <- that's so refreshing.

  7. Sara says...

    I’m the oldest of 5, my youngest sibling was born when I was a freshman in college! There’s so much space between each of us I find it hard for feel particularly close to any of my siblings because I got pretty burnt out being a “second mom” growing up.

  8. Maureen says...

    I am the oldest of 7. No multiples and only 10 years between me and the youngest.
    I was 19 months old when the next came (a sister).
    I do not really know any different. I do not have any children where those of my siblings who are married do have children. I have been married for 20 yrs but I have a health issue and was unable.
    I was always considered “mommy 2” but as we got older it was not so much that . I was responsible and was able to help my parents.
    I carried that into married life of helping. Now I want to do some caring for myself and my husband.

  9. Cornelia Maria Colindeata says...

    I was also a only child, I grew up with my cousins both boys, because their parents worked a lot and they were always at my house with my mother. Although we had a lot of fun, when their parents picked them up, I felt lonely. I remember a time when I tried to convince my mom to adopt. And when mom died, I felt really lonely like no one understood my grief. When I was little, I always wished for a sibiling , now maybe because of having friends to talk to, I never think about that. I also have a 11 yo daughter and wished for another, but her dad doesn’t, so she will end up also being a only child, but she is more artistic than I was ( because I liked to do things with someone) and she does like artistic projects by herself that takes up a lot of her lone time. So I guess that every child lives and feels diferently this only child situation.

  10. Katie H says...

    Proud only child. I often get the backhanded compliment that I “don’t seem like one .” Drives me nuts!

    • Mary says...

      Hi! It’s looking like my husband and I are unable to have more children. I’d love to know what you think your parents did well to parent you and how we could help our baby be a proud only child too. Thanks!

    • Lucy says...

      I second to request below – I’m a happy only child & would love to hear what other families did to crate a wonderful dynamic like ours!

  11. Christina says...

    I grew up as an only child with my mom during the week and one of five with my dad on the weekends. I still feel, even now, that I got the best of both worlds. I got my time to myself and the feeling of being a parent’s centre of attention, but I also had the experience of being one of many, learning to share, learning to navigate a (sometimes/often) volatile environment!

    It’s funny because I barely, if ever, fought with my actual siblings (I realize now that my anxious little self was trying to cause as little trouble as possible—whoops), but I ended up having the more “classic” sibling relationships with four cousins of mine who happened to live nearby and who I spent a lot of time with growing up.

    Overall, I feel really lucky to have experienced (and continue to experience) such varied and complex relationships with myself, my siblings, and other members of my family. Never a dull moment!

  12. Monica says...

    I have one brother, 5 years younger than me. We didn’t always get along growing up, but we always loved each other deeply. Two years ago, we lost our dad suddenly, and I couldn’t imagine grieving without him. Plus, I get to see little glimpses of my dad through him every day. I wouldn’t trade him for anything.

  13. CC says...

    I have one younger brother, it’s just the two of us. We’re 3.5 years apart so we never really ran in the same circles, and we live in different cities now and have very different personalities. Growing up I often wished we had one more sibling to help bind us all together. I think having only one sibling puts a lot of pressure on the relationship since you’re the only siblings each other will ever have. Maybe it’s different if it’s two girls / two boys.

    • Kristina Ellstrom says...

      It’s not. In fact, I think it was worse having a sister than a brother. Always a competition. To this day we are really only frenemies :(

  14. Jules says...

    Siblings are life. I don’t know where I would be without my brothers. My cousin was pretty great too though….and my friends. But in my particular family situation I am glad my brothers were there.

  15. Colleen S. says...

    I’m the oldest of four girls. I am the mother hen of the group, but bossy I am not. That role falls to my next youngest sister, who also thinks she is the ruler of us all. She is the typical middle child, and is the main reason I would have had two kids (I’ve decided they’re not for me, although I like them). My youngest sister is twelve years my junior, so I had the hardest time when she entered adolescence because she didn’t need me anymore.

  16. Maureen Lyons says...

    I am #6 of 12 kids. I have 7 brothers and 4 sisters including an identical twin so I did not grow up with my own individual identity. In my small home town, I was “one of the McDermotts” or “one of the twins”. Loved going off to a big college and being anonymous! I have wonderful siblings and it was a great way to grow up, just different. It made me less self centered and more fair minded.

  17. Jen says...

    I have 5. I’m the middle so it’s six of us. Three and three and all of us act like we are the only child lol weird right lol not so much we get a long and that’s something to be proud of. Lol. It could also be our age differences. The oldest is in her mid 40s and the youngest in her early 20s my mom doesn’t look a day over 40 lol ( I have to say that cus I’m in my early 30s lol)