A single child isn’t always like the stereotypes you know of

A single child is nothing like the stereotypes you know of

I’ve always wondered - do we have very concrete stereotypes about only kids? People say that they’re spoilt, that they’re selfish, they have too much for their own good. I have an older sister, so I’ve never known what it’s like to be an only child (although my sister might, if she could only remember the first one-and-a-half years of her life). I did make a friend, though, when I was four. And she was an only child - the very prototype of an only child.

I loved having a sibling. I looked up to her, I bossed her around (I still do) and she was my constant companion till middle school. Still, I somehow could never stop envying Pooja. For one, it didn't seem like her parents spoilt her, but she always thought a great deal of herself. Like every other child in the neighbourhood, she took lessons in Carnatic vocal music. Along with that, she went to veena classes, tennis classes and art classes. She loved showing off her skills in all of them. I remember a day when she bounced the tennis ball with her racket 100 times while the rest of us watched in silence. Or the time when she played a varnam on the veena so fast that it stopped being pleasant. Despite behaving in a manner that made the rest of her friends feel inferior to her, she didn’t lack playmates. In fact, it was to her house that the rest of us went to to play. Not because it was big - my house had a bigger garden, in fact - but just because it was
Pooja’s house.


It's easy enough to apply Pooja's behaviour to encompass all single children. Once we do, everything that I’ve related about her so far seems to shout out the fact that only kids are spoilt, yet they find ways to get around it with their peers. That, however, is what psychologists call conditioning. We come with a set of preconceived notions that have been drilled into us by our parents, by stereotypes that have circulated in society since our grandmothers’ time. Can you think why this could be? I have a theory. There were so many people in one family before our generation that most kids grew up in surroundings where they had to share everything: food, clothes, playthings, even space. Every now and then, my mother tells me the story of how she and her cousins spent their summer vacations together; they all slept in a row in an enormous hall for two months without complaints about privacy (“Sigh, those were the days. You kids have missed out on so much being born in the 1990s”). Could you expect only children to adjust as easily when they’re used to having their own space? Could you expect them to share their toys or their clothes as willingly when they haven’t had anyone to share them with? They were an anomaly in a world full of siblings, and every minority is discriminated against in some way or another.


Only kids are no longer as much a minority. But the idea that they’re snobs who hate to share hasn’t gone away. So what if we realised our mistake there now? What if we picked up the same stereotype and attempted to twist the notion around? Change the phrasing. See the other side of the coin for once. Single children aren’t spoilt, they’re given attention. They aren’t stuck-up, they just don’t have trouble with confidence like the rest of us do. They aren’t obsessive, they’re perfectionists. They watch Amma pour milk from the packet, and they try to imitate it exactly because they have no other role model to follow. They’re independent. They’re higher achievers - they aim higher and do better, much like middle children. But, unlike middle children, they don’t do it because of a dearth of attention. Their parents usually spend more money and effort on their education when compared to parents of siblings because there's only one of them to provide for. True enough? At least, it justifies why I’m a struggling writer for a parenting website in Bangalore, while Pooja works in one of those fancy-shmancy MNCs in America, after completing her MS there.


So, the next time someone whispers in your ear, “Look at Shreyas. He broke his fancy helicopter and he won’t stop crying till he gets the exact same model again,” then adds, “What can you expect, he’s an only child,” what will you say? Nod and grin? No, you won’t. I have faith in you.