An Only Child’s Guide to Surviving Life

October 8
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An Only Child’s Guide to Surviving Life

When people find out I am an only child they usually have a strong reaction. Either their eyes bug out in complete shock or they do a subtle head nod as if to say, “some things are making sense to me now that I have this information.” They also feel the need to tell you that they once knew another only child. Perhaps their cousin or their freshman lab partner was an only. As if to say, you are not a freak, others like you exist.You don’t see that happen when someone says, “I am the first born in my family.” They never say, “I think my neighbor is a first born. Crazy, huh?” But finding out someone is an only is like sighting Big Foot; you have heard it exists but you never believed you would see one.

After years of making my way as an “only” girl in a sibling world, I have compiled 5 simple rules for only children to help them navigate their way through the world. Sticking to these rules will help them avoid much pain and embarrassment.

Rule 1: Sibling Rules Change by the Household.

Notable Point: Suzy’s mom hovers but Jane’s mom is tired.

The level of sibling love or disdain varies from family to family. Take the case of Suzy vs Jane. Suzy’s mom makes a point to remind you and Suzy to include her little brother in all activities. If you and Suzy are building a blanket fort, little brother is right there too – all up in your fort. Jane’s mom has a job and 2 other kids in the house. She is too preoccupied with responsibilities to impose any type of sibling-inclusive expectations. You and Jane are free to lock the little brothers out and carry on with your fort in private.

Try to gauge the temperature of little brother/sister expectations on your first visit. This will save you the embarrassment of doing or saying something inappropriate. You do not want Jane to think you are uncool because you invite her little brother into your sticker club, nor do you want to shun Suzy’s bro when he asks to ride bikes with you. If you will be playing at many houses, it may be helpful to keep a notebook. When you don’t have a little brother, they all tend to look the same.

Once you master the house rules you can reap some benefits of having a little brother. At Suzy’s, you can be a patient teacher and caretaker for her brother. When at Jane’s you can flex your big sister muscles and make signs to that say, “No boys allowed!”

Rule 2: Learn the Secret Sibling Credo.

Notable Point: No trash talk, no headlocks.

This is hands-down the most important knowledge I can bestow upon you. I want you to understand, no matter how bad your friend treats their sibling(s), under no circumstance can you be part of that action.

Let me be clear, your friend with verbally ruin their siblings with put downs and name calling – do not take this as a cue to do the same. There is an unspoken code among siblings about trash talk: they are allowed to be hateful with one another, but no one else can mess with them. If your friend’s sister has a giant mole on her face that your friend refers to as “cockroach,” pretend like you don’t even see it. As far as you are concerned, your friend’s sister has a flawless face with nothing out of the ordinary to comment on. Do not offer her sister a gummy worm because you thought the cockroach looked hungry. The sister’s eyes will fill with tears and your friend will default into sibling-protector mode and you will be sent home. Sibling bond will always trump friend love.

Other things that are frowned upon:

  • Putting little brothers in headlocks.
    Trying to turn siblings against each other.
    Spinning a little sister around so fast and hard that her clavicle breaks when she hits the ground.

Rule 3: Have some good come-backs prepared for rude only child commentary.
Notable point: You just got served. 

People love to say insanely inappropriate and uncomfortable things when you tell them you are an only child.


  • Do you get everything you want for Christmas?
    You’re so lucky, you had your own room.
    You don’t seem selfish.

It will behove you to have some standard replies when these situations arise. A few suggestions (respective to the above statements):

  • Christmas? I get everything I want every day! Nana,nana, boo, boo.
    I know! My room is fabulous!
    You don’t seem crazy.

These may be sarcastic and a little eccentric, but let’s play into the only child mystique. If they are going to make an outlandish statement about your onlyness, than meet their outlandishness and and raise it one! The important thing is to walk away from the conversation being able to say, “you got served.”

Rule 4: Don’t bother putting brother or sister on your wish lists.
Notable Point: Santa does not bring siblings.

There are reasons mom and dad have made the decision to keep you an only and the sooner you accept your fate, the better. You cannot waste your time and energy waiting for Santa to bring you a sibling.

Rule 5: Don’t create fake siblings.
Notable Point: Brett and Mickey do not exist.

Telling people you have brothers and sisters to fit in will not make your life any easier.

In the 7th grade, I met a new friend and as we were getting to know each other I told her I had two brothers. As we became closer, she wondered when she would meet the infamous brothers who I joked about so much. That is when I had to come clean and tell her that they lived in Canada. That’s just where they had to live and please don’t ask any questions. Surprisingly, she didn’t. She quickly became my best friend and I had to really come clean and tell her, “Brett and Mickey are not real.” To my surprise, she was completely fine with this information and to this day she is still my best friend. That’s when I started to realize that a solid best friend is better than two made up Canadian brothers.

If you can understand and abide by these rules, life as an only child will be a breeze.

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