The strong sense-of-self for only children

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The strong sense-of-self for only children

One of the most interesting things that I learned in my research, which I think about a lot as an only child myself and I certainly think about it in terms of my daughter, is the notion that only children tend to have very strong primary relationships with themselves. So most people look to other people as their primary relationship, and the experience of loneliness is often what occurs when what you are looking for isn´t there. If you can look to yourself for your confidence, for your self-esteem, for your emotional support instead of looking outside yourself, you are always there for you. And I think that that has a lot to do with why only children demonstrate such strong confidence and such achievement because we have our own support system that we learned to build inside ourselves. It is interesting because we think of being an only child as an experience of loneliness but what that primary relationship really does is arm you against loneliness in a really exceptional way, which is why researchers who look at loneliness often find out only children are in fact less lonely than other people. It is important to remember though that there is no such thing as one default only childhood just like not all sibling relationships are the same. We all tend to be incredibly different, and it is interesting we often use our only childhoods to explain everything about ourselves. And I found that, for example, interviewing introverts, they all believe they are introverts because they are only children and interviewing extroverts, they believe that they are extroverts because they are only children. So tell ourselves these stories about who we become and how we become who we become, and it is so individual. So truly even though there is incredible uniformity within the literature about who children tend to be when they grow up without siblings, within the lived experience it is so complicated because we are all different people with different influences.

See Lauren Sandler, MA's video on The strong sense-of-self for only children...


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Lauren Sandler, MA

Journalist & Author

Lauren Sandler is the author of One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child and the Joy of Being One, and a journalist who writes on cultural politics and gender issues for publications like Time, The New York Times, and Slate. And she’s as an only child and the mother of one herself. 

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