STAFF OPINION: What’s the deal with only children?

Only child syndrome might be real, but it’s not a fatal diagnosis

By Camille Kuroiwa-Lewis | April 12, 2024 2:45pm

Me and my mom. Photo courtesy of Camille Kuroiwa-Lewis.

There was no little sister awaiting me under our three-and-a-half-foot tree. At five years old, that Christmas morning made for the worst day of my life. I began harboring a resentment towards my parents for not giving me siblings.

Only child syndrome is a theory that justifies the general consensus regarding only children: that only kids are selfish, lonely and generally worse behaved than their sibling-ed counterparts. These negative traits are posited as the child’s reaction to excessive attention from their parents.

Growing up, the worst thing someone could say to me was that they could “tell” I was an only child. In the way you might be able to “tell” that someone has lice based on how they scratch their scalp — I constantly wondered what it was I did that gave it away. I made a conscious, though difficult, effort to share. I (sometimes) thought before I spoke. I showed the signs of an otherwise normal upbringing. 

Though I pride myself on being a covert only child, I’m not ashamed to admit I cry everytime I see a wholesome bond between siblings. I still talk to my imaginary twin about our life’s ambitions. I’ve considered joining a convent for the sisterhood. 

My most clear symptom of only child syndrome is my loneliness — but the reality remains that though I may not have siblings, I do have parents who care about my day (unless my FaceTimes are interrupting my dad’s video gaming). I am well integrated into my best friend’s family (at least to the point I am sometimes invited to their 4th of Julys) and I am capable of finding community wherever I am (even without converting to Catholicism).

So what, then, is the reason behind my jealousy of siblings? 

I’ve known many sets of siblings, and some are no longer on speaking terms. Too often I conflate my only-child-ness with my loneliness — when really, it’s not that I desire to be near just anybody, but near someone who gets what it's like to have grown up in the same household. Who gets what it's like to visit your Midwestern family. Who gets what it's like to learn to drive in your dad’s car.

On one hand, my loneliness causes me to worry endlessly about being a good friend and daughter. But my only-child-ness causes me to worry about the sibling that never was. 

I used to ask my friends with siblings how they might feel if they’d never had their brother or sister. While I hoped they’d affirm that life would be better as an only child, one classmate instead told me that she would rather be dead than without her brother. That was the last time I ever asked a question like that. What if I was living out her hell of a parallel universe? What if there was a sibling out there, somewhere, waiting for me?

I don’t have any hopeful answers to these questions because frankly, I do suspect there is a piece of me missing — one that might only be healed by a sibling. 

Only child syndrome makes siblings seem great. I do sometimes think that having a sibling would solve all my problems. I would love to have another person to blame for the next time I get slime in my parent’s carpet. I would love to have someone to steal clothes from. But siblings are not perfect — and they are not dolls you can play with whenever you want, which is what I thought having a little sister entailed when I was five.

But even with all my dreams of having a sibling — I still couldn’t imagine my life as anything different. I’ve blamed my mom after spilling wine on a cushion. I’ve stolen my dad’s sweatpants. Sometimes, my mom comes to me for advice about what books to teach next year, and when I was ten, my dad stole my cotton candy and taunted me with it as I chased him around the living room.

My family is complete, even if at five-years-old I begged to differ.

My mom and I have a good time together 9/10 times. Usually when we have food. Photo courtesy of Camille Kuroiwa-Lewis.

Camille Kuroiwa-Lewis is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at

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