There’s still a stigma around the ‘lonely’ only child in Ireland – but growing up without siblings can inspire confidence and independence.
In her latest Irish Independent column, writer and commentator Barbara Neeson warns that ‘unhelpful’ myths about the impact of being an only child still persist in Ireland.
She said the stigma is jarring for someone who has had an “overwhelmingly positive” experience of both being an only child and raising one.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, she said that while the stigma still exists, it does seem to be reducing over time.
“I probably was one of the early first wave, you could say, in the 80s’ in Belfast, as an only child,” she said.
“I was one of only two in my class of 36 in primary school, so it was very rare and would have garnered a lot of negative comments for my mum and family over the years.
“There's a lot of negative connotations around being an only child. You know that they're selfish, that they're not well socialised – all of those things I would have grown up with quite a lot of that.”
She said many of the comments would be well-meaning and off-the-cuff – but they do build up over time.
“What I'll say though is since becoming a mother myself - my son, Flynn, he's four-and-a-half - I have experienced those comments but not to the same degree as my mother would have,” she said.
Ms Neeson said a lot of the preconceptions about being an only child actually come from a study written in the 19th Century which declared only children ‘misfits’ and suggested being an only child was “a disease in itself”.
Asked whether it is lonely growing up as an only child, Ms Neeson said: “There's a big difference between being lonely and being comfortable being alone”.
“Of course, like anybody, you have periods where you feel lonely,” she said. “That’s totally natural, but what I would say is, I just became very comfortable on my own.
“That may sound lonely if that's something you're not familiar with but I was able to go to school and go out with my friends.
“It was very free and I had a huge amount of independence and confidence; I could indulge my own hobbies and habits without having to fight and share with siblings and again, that may sound selfish, but anyone who has had siblings will know, those arguments can get vicious.
“That can be a really challenging dynamic to navigate.
“So, I'm not of the opinion that a child needs to have a sibling - obviously I'm not - you know, my own experience has shown that not to be the case.
“There's a big difference between being lonely and being comfortable being alone.”
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