Advanced search

Mumsnet has not checked the qualifications of anyone posting here. If you need help urgently, please see our domestic violence webguide and/or relationships webguide, which can point you to expert advice and support.

Does anyone else struggle with being an adult only child?

(65 Posts)
didldidi Fri 02-Nov-12 10:39:46

Because according to my counsellor she (and so do I) think I do. I am an only child in my 40's with a mother who is also an only child and a father who never had much to do with his side of the family. It mainly seems to affect realtionships with others (currently my husband - it's a relate counsellor) but I recognise an ambivalence with friends. Also an inability to love unconditionally.

I struggle with the noise and fighting between my children and the 'interference' from my husband's family (he has two siblings) drives me mad!

I also worry about the future and not having any help/support with my ageing parents.

Does anyone else have any similar experience?

didldidi Fri 02-Nov-12 11:44:46


VoiceofUnreason Fri 02-Nov-12 11:52:41

Hmmm. Yes and No.

It made me very independent from an early age, which I think is good. I think in some ways I grew up quicker than many of my peers and I always got on with much older people very well whereas a lot of my peers didn't.

I do tend to find I expect too much of people and think they have the same standards as I do and I wonder sometimes if that's because I never had to adjust to being with a sibling a lot of the time and perhaps learnt a bit more about compromise? But that could just be ME and not because I am an only.

I certainly don't have a problem loving unconditionally. But I do have a problem with noisy children - possibly because I never lived with it at home when I was small myself, or had noisy fights with a sibling.

I would have liked to have had a sister and think this is why I have many close female friends.

The only time I really notice it is at family gatherings and Xmas. I shall go to my parents for Xmas Day morning and lunch, come home to my flat in the evening and that'll be pretty much it. When that's all the family there is, it makes for a rather quiet, uneventful time - and quite lonely, too. If I'd had a sibling, they might be married with kids and then it would be very different as I'd be a popular Uncle.

I'm popular with my goddaughter and her brother (I can't have kids myself) but it's not the same.

rainbow2000 Fri 02-Nov-12 11:58:26

As an only child myself the only bad thing is i find it hard to make friends.I dont know why.
Ive 5 kids myself and it would be only rare the noise gets to me.
I dont like interference either i love being on my own and dont like people calling unanounced.But then i dont know if thats down to being an only child or not

didldidi Fri 02-Nov-12 12:15:26

Yes I'm the same with people calling unannounced. I really enjoy time on my own and would hate someone intruding on that!
It's really hard not having anyone else to share childhood experiences with too.

VoiceofUnreason Fri 02-Nov-12 12:22:45

Ah, one additional thing. This for me is the biggie.

I find being long-term single and not seeming to meet anyone to date gets me down a lot more than people who have a big family. It's much more an issue for me than it is for them. And I think it's because once my parents are gone, if I don't have a partner, I will be totally and utterly on my own. And it's a different sort of being on your own somehow. Friends aren't the same.

higgyjig Fri 02-Nov-12 12:32:55

If it's any consolation I have a sister and it's utterly shit.

didldidi Fri 02-Nov-12 12:35:43

Yes it's true about friends - they can come and go throughout life, a minor disagreement might mean the end of a friendship. I suppose it's that blood is thicker than water thing.

OpheliaPayneAgain Fri 02-Nov-12 12:36:02

There is a generation gap between my brother and myself. Effectively we were both only children, I had no relationship with him until I was 14, mainly because he was working abroad.

I too cannot stand the noise children make. Solitude and quiet is a wonderful thing. I am very self reliant and resourceful. I was also no where as near as immature as some of my peers during my school years.

didldidi Fri 02-Nov-12 12:37:20

sorry to hear that higgyjig :-(

didldidi Fri 02-Nov-12 12:40:50

Don't get me wrong there are lots of positives too I'm sure for some people and it's not something I mope about a lot. In fact it wasn't until we started relate that I realised there was this subconscious destructive pattern to most of my previous relationships.

Disappointedbuyer Fri 02-Nov-12 13:00:11

Yes. It affects me far more as an adult than it ever did as a child. Of particular concern is caring for aged parents. I am thinking that when the time comes I will have to leave my husband and children and go and live in another part of the country to be with my parents. But there are all sorts of other issues. Every day I feel I am a disappointment to my parents and I am sure if I had siblings there would be one good one and one wayward one (me) which would take the pressure off. I know I will never be able to please them but if they had other children maybe their expectations would be lower.

My mother treats me like a child and I wonder if that is something to do with being an only child or if I am reading too much into it. As a child I was very mature for my age and had a lot of freedom and independence, but as an adult my mother will happily tell me what to wear and it is not unknown for me and the children to all have to change before we can go out with her. Also if we were in the kitchen and I said the coffee goes in that cupboard, she would make a big song and dance of saying she will ask my husband where "he keeps it", as though it is not my house. Husband works away so is less likely to remember where things are kept than I am.

I worry terribly about my parents dying. I have lots of cousins but they all have siblings and I don't know them that well. This sounds odd but I don't think of my husband and children as being my family. I feel as though I will be all alone in the world once my parents are dead. My MIL excludes people who marry into the family so I don't think of them as family. I do have a nice BIL but he is in a different country so we only see him every few years.

I do have friends but it is not the same. My best friend has family get-togethers on a regular basis which hammers it home.

Incidentally, I was always told as a child, by adults who were not my parents, especially teachers, that I was a spoiled brat, even though I am sure I wasn't. I was the only only child in my class throughout school, and I don't ever recall meeting another one. I was able to talk very articulately to adults but I never learned to rub along with other kids and it is only as an adult that I have become very outgoing.

Another weird thing is that I have two children. I would like more. I worry that one will die and the other one will be left alone. The thought of one being left alone in the world upsets me more that the thought of one dying. I hope I wouldn't feel like that if one did die, but it is odd to think like that.

Disappointedbuyer Fri 02-Nov-12 13:02:57

The noise really gets to me too.

Alaska77 Fri 02-Nov-12 13:12:53

A little bit. Increasingly as I get older and now have a DS of my own.

Becoming increasingly aware that I am the only person responsible for my parents when they age.

Also I would love for my DS to have cousins his own age (he has 3 cousins on DH's side but all grown up). That being said, we plan for DS to be an only child.

The noise really gets to me too. I can't stand big family do's (DH's family, of which there are lots) and the wider family giving their (often unwanted) opinions or taking offense if they're not considered. Noth something you have to contend with when you come from a small family!

BessieMcBean Fri 02-Nov-12 13:15:02

I have a friend who is an only (she is 60 now) and is quite bitter as to how she has had to see to her aged mother, daily visits, for decades now. V demanding elderly mother. I found, as the eldest daughter, that I was expected to do most but set boundaries (2 visits a week) yet still promise myself regularly that I WILL NOT MAKE SUCH DEMANDS ON MY DCS WHEN I AM OLD (it is selfish imo).
We think parents are old at 75 but remember they could have another 25 years of you 'looking after them' so be cautious.

lurkingfromhome Fri 02-Nov-12 13:19:36

Only child of two only children here so very small family, which has more downsides than upsides, I think. I do worry a lot about what will happen when my parents get more dependent as even if I were the only one to take on the actual physical responsibility of caring for them, it would be good to have a sibling to share the worry, help to make big decisions and so on. My parents are lovely but can be difficult in various ways and I long for someone with a bit of the same perspective that I could call up and say "Is mum being totally mental here or is it just me?"

I too can't be doing with noisy children and love peace and quiet (don't like unexpected visitors At All). Mind you, sometimes I think it would be lovely to have a big noisy happy family gathering with children, aunties, uncles and assorted cousins all shrieking round a table (possibly over-romanticising it a bit... grin). Christmas Day, for example, I always find underwhelming and a bit sad, because there are only the four of us (DPs, me and DH) and it's exactly the same as any normal Sunday dinner, just with presents!

I too am very very content in my own company despite being happily married. As others have said, though, it's impossible to tell how much of that comes from beiong an only child and how much is just the way I am.

BeatTheClock Fri 02-Nov-12 13:36:21

Interesting thread.

I'm 40's and an only. I have 3dc and am glad I have a larger family, in fact set out to have one, but yes 100% to struggling with the noise and chaos. It completely unsettles me and I have no reference of it from my own childhood.

I try not to snap (although I often doblush because I think its inevitable and also means my dc are having a better childhood than I did. One where you have to speak up, compromise and compete a bit and where the focus and pressure isn't only directed towards one.

Where everything is more lively and busy. It's what I want for them and I enjoy watching them enjoy it, but feel as if I'm standing at the edge looking in unsure how to be part of it myself iyswimconfused

I'm def an introvert and find dh's large noisy family gatherings a big strain. I do struggle a bit with friendships. I don't like too many friends and don't do well around bossy alpha type women. I'm friendly but push people away if they become too demanding or let me down. I crave time on my own and prefer it to being around friends. Probably not a good thing if I think about it.

didldidi Fri 02-Nov-12 13:38:38

I can totally relate to it affecting me more as an adult - as a child I didn't know any different!
The trouble is I take it quite personally - like was I so bad that they really didn't want any more? sad

CalmingMiranda Fri 02-Nov-12 13:45:28

I can't stand gaggles of noisy kids, interference from DH's family, unexpected intrusions into my times of calm and peace...and I am one of 4. I struggle with my parents treating me like a child, and also feel the weight of responsibility as for various reasons my siblings are not well placed to step up. In fact in different ways they also present a feeling of obligation. I am the oldest girl, and am aware of the pressures which always seemed to be put on me because of that.

Undoubtedly many things within our upbringing and circumstances affect us, including our position in a big family or a no-sibling family, but I wouldn't hang it all on being an only child, it sounds like a peg of convenience. I would have thought that the way an only child is parented is as or more important than the onliness itself. Is it the way your parents made you feel, as an only?

didldidi Fri 02-Nov-12 13:51:03

I'm sure you're right Miranda. The family dynamics certainly had something to do with it - parents with manual jobs who rarely socialised and spent most evenings in front of the telly asleep. I also avoid conflict at all costs - not having experienced the whole fighting/making up thing as a child and not spending time in any sort of childcare/nursery until I started school.

lurkingfromhome Fri 02-Nov-12 13:57:35

Oh yes, I hate conflict and confrontation of any sort. Can't bear arguments. I'm sure that's to do with not having experienced the sibling banter/arguments that are a normal part of growing up. In fact, I remember once, when I was about 10, going to stay with a friend for a week. Her brother was about 14 at the time and I couldn't work out why he was being so awful and horrible to me and vividly remember just staring at him, completely baffled as to what I had done. All he was doing was treating me the same way he did his sister and teasing me the way teenage brothers do but I could not get my head around it at all.

Thenutmegofconsolation Fri 02-Nov-12 14:36:42

I'm the only child of a mother who was an only child, married to a man who is an only child, whose mother was an only child = I have no family and it has left me feeling very vulnerable and lonely as an adult. I have 2 children, but now I worry that they have no Aunts/Uncles or relatives.
My memory as a child is of repeatedly begging my parents to have another child, as I was so lonely, and hated always being with adults.

When my father died I was devastated.

The cruellest thing about being an only child is that when your parents die, you have no one to share your childhood memories with, no one to say "Do you remember that day on the beach" because there is no one else left who can remember, only you.

herbaceous Fri 02-Nov-12 14:43:47

Oh please don't all say this! I have an only child, and would dearly love another, but don't think it's going to happen.

But, OTOH, I am the eldest of three, and suffer all your symptoms: dislike of noise and chaos, mega-avoidance of conflict, being crap at making/keeping friends until I was about 35, difficulty with 'teasing', etc etc. It's not exclusive to only children.

Crikeyblimey Fri 02-Nov-12 14:52:31

Very interesting thread.

I am the younges of 5 so never had other small children in the house when I was growing up (18 year age gap between my eldest sister and me). I too struggle with noise and upheaval.

I have an only child (not by choice really) and I do worry about the responsibility this will place on him when me and dh are old and knackered. I just hope we'll remain unselfish.

My mum died recently (dad died 31 years ago) and it really hit menthat whilst I had 4 siblings to share this momentous event with (not to mention arranging a funeral etc.), ds will have to do all this by himself. I made my nieces and nephews promise to help ds out when he has to go through this. He (ds) is only 9 and his cousins on my side are all in their late 20s and 30s.

I really hope, for him, that as it is for me - I don't know what being from a small immediate family is like and he doesn't know what having siblings is like.

Wittering now - soz.

noddyholder Fri 02-Nov-12 14:59:53

I am one of 4 and we rarely see each other. My ds is an only child and the house is always full. He loves a crowd and we are always busy I love solitude! I don't think you can generalise. I think it seems harder as you get older but siblings are only a positive if you communicate and get on. My friends and their kids are closer to ds than most of my family! My sister and her dp are close to him though.

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now