Only Child Syndrome

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to: navigation, search

People procreate. Some do it a lot. Some really want to do it before time runs out. Some don't want to do it at all.

Yet, in fiction, people only procreate if it's relevant to the plot, and that includes Backstory. Some characters just don't seem to have siblings, and authors use this for every reason between heightening the angst of Parental Abandonment to excusing romance Genre Blindness. This applies even moreso in adoptive families—parents rarely adopt more than one child in fictionland, nor have both adopted and biological children unless the plot calls for it.

In a World of No Grandparents, all parents are also only children, which means no one can raise orphans except butlers, strangers or the school of hard knocks. The orphan in question usually is also an only child.

In shojo romances, the Plucky Girl heroine has seemingly avoided all interaction with the opposite sex until meeting the Troubled but Cute school bully. Ah, and Hot Shoujo Dad doesn't count. Plucky Girl doesn't have any brothers, and if she does, they are either too young to provide any model of what she is dealing with or they are far older and are in the parenting role, thus they also don't count.

The Chosen Ones, Last of Their Kind and other such fulfillers of ancient prophecies not only suffer from Only Child Syndrome, their entire heritage suffers from it. When a man curses a family's name or goes after descendants for revenge, don't be surprised if 100, 200, 1000 years later, there is only one descendant. All generations previous must have felt bad for the eventual fate of The Hero and only had one child each to make the revenge short. One would wonder that in a more realistic story, if being the descendant of some ancient ruler means that one has a right to the throne, for every Farm Boy who becomes king, there are 373 cousins who Missed the Call. I wonder how they feel about this.

Most examples of Parental Abandonment in a World of No Grandparents also features Only Child Syndrome. Oh, the Wangst.

Expect some people with Only Child Syndrome to have a few subtleties. Such as, for example, most people who can point out Only Child Syndrome in Real Life can say an Only Child is often used to never having to compete with anyone else for parental attention, or feeling like they're the only person against the world. Or even a subtle disrespect or having never truly learned to live or communicate (in the worst cases) with others their age. This is in spite of the fact that it has been repeatedly shown in scientific studies that there is not a measurable difference in the personalities of only children as compared to siblings (at least not most of the time - there're a lot of perfectionists in the only child world). Sometimes this also happens with Middle Child Syndrome, too. Only children also tend to mature faster.

Some stories use Harem Genre situations to replace the character's lack of a family. Fans may convert a sibling complex onto characters, since siblings are so damn rare. Either for that reason or to explain away attachments for Shipping's sake; the unwanted girl doesn't always have to die for the ship.

Contrast Middle Child Syndrome.

Examples of Only Child Syndrome include:

Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Averted in Black Jack. You would think that an Anti-Hero Doctor with notable Parental Abandonment issues would be an only child, right? Well... no, actually. He has a half-sister from his father's second marriage. They just don't keep in touch because she doesn't like him very much.
  • In Ichigo Mashimaro, Matsuri and Miu are the only ones who are explicitly only children; Nobue and Chika are, of course, sisters, and Ana... well, who knows? In episode 16, Nobue mentions this in connection with Matsuri's parents knowing to get her the new Harry Potter book. In episode 22, Nobue reflects on why Miu often feels left out.
  • Justified in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure - Dio (or another vampire, in the case of George Joestar) tends to take out one of the latest Joestar/Kujo's parents after the first child.
  • Every mermaid in Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch is either an only child, or they're all sisters. Because most of the other races are off doing their own thing and mermaids have a thing about not revealing their identity to humans, the only way that most of them reproduce is by having their pearl create a new mermaid when they die. Caren and Noel refer to themselves as Non-Identical Twins despite never even having met before the story starts just because they were born two minutes apart, and some of the songs refer to Aqua Regina as a symbolic "mother", but the Fridge Logic says they must all be only children.
  • Of the 12 Konoha genin in Naruto, only Kiba, Sasuke, and Hinata have any siblings, and then it's only one (an older sister, an older brother, and a younger sister respectively), while Gaara, Kankuro, and Temari are all siblings. A strange occurrence, considering that their clans are supposed to produce new soldiers to defend their entire nation. Of course, we know nothing about the family life of many of them, and there is a high number of dead parents so it's likely a lot of them didn't even have the chance to have many kids.
  • The Sailor Soldiers of Sailor Moon. Usagi has an Annoying Younger Sibling... and that's it, she's the only one with any siblings whatsoever.
    • Also, it's flat-out stated at the end of the series that Neo Queen Serenity only ever has one child in the future (Chibi Moon).
  • Miaka and almost all the Suzaku Seven in Fushigi Yuugi have siblings, while Yui and the Seiryuu Seven (sans Amiboshi and Suboshi) were only children (we're not exactly sure about Tomo, Miboshi and Ashitare, though). However, the Suzaku Seven's siblings were either dead, killed off halfway through the story, or unimportant and thus were never mentioned. Miaka's older brother Keisuke had a minor role in the manga but played a more important role in the anime.
  • This seems to be the case in Mahou Sensei Negima. Of the class of 3-A, only four characters have a confirmed sibling - the Narutaki twins (each other), Makie (younger brother), and Zazie (twin sister). Ayaka would have had one, but he died at birth, and Natsumi has to pretend Kotaro is her little brother, but she doesn't see him this way.
    • Negi has Nekane, though it is revealed she is actually his cousin. This does imply Nagi had one though, most likely an elder brother.
  • In One Piece, Boa Hancock is the only major character known to have biological siblings, as it eventually is revealed Ace is Luffy's adopted brother. There are a few minor siblings like the Nyaban Brothers, the Decalvan brothers, Hotori and Kotori etc. The series does much to say that it's not necessarily your blood that makes you family, though.

Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • Batman and all his proteges (though he adopted most of them; the various Robins seem to think of each other as brothers, for better or worse).
    • Some incarnations of the Flying Graysons, such as the Earth 16 version, have Dick's older siblings who were murdered alongside his parents, but these are rare and never make any noticeable change to the story.
  • Superman is doubly so - he was the only child of the Jor-Els (though granted, they may have had more if it weren't for the slight impediment of being dead), and he's the only child of his adopted parents (though in some incarnations the Kent's inability to have children is specifically why they adopted him so quick).
  • Wonder Woman's birth creation into a league of immortals doesn't raise as many eyebrows as to why few children are born. Since they don't die, if they had new children showing up as often as humans do, their home island would be standing room only after a few centuries.
    • Granted, Pre-Crisis Diana had a Black twin Sister. No, really.
  • Oliver Queen and his proteges.
  • An unusual number in Marvel Comics:
    • Steve Rogers (Captain America) was an only child. The Paradise-X storyline shows he just wasn't aware of an older sibling...
    • As was his archnemesis, the Red Skull (probably due to his mother dying in childbirth and his father killing himself immediately afterward). Red Skull's daughter Sin is also an only child.
    • Tony Stark (Iron Man) is an only child.
    • Bruce Banner (The Hulk) is an only child.
    • Matt Murdock (Daredevil) is an only child.
    • Peter Parker (Spider-Man) is an only child and an orphan to boot.
      • His daughter starts out the same way, but he eventually makes her an aversion.
    • All the Runaways are only children, but this is justified because each set of parents agreed to give their designated place in paradise to their offspring. Because there were only six places, the six couples had one child apiece. Victor is also an only child for obvious reasons. The same can't be said for Xavin and Klara, but then again, it's never been explicitly stated that they didn't have siblings back on Tarnax VII or in 1907.
    • Notably averted with the Guthries. All twelve of them.
    • Also averted by half of the Young Avengers: Hawkeye has an older sister, Wiccan has two younger brothers, and it's implied that Patriot comes from a large family. Speed might also have siblings; at this point we know next to nothing about his private life.
    • Averted once more by The Fantastic Four; Reed Richards is the only member to be an only child. Jonny and Sue are siblings and Ben had an older brother who died when they were teens. Reed and Sue also have two children.

Film[edit | hide]

  • Thank goodness Bootstrap Bill only had one kid, or the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie would have gone on forever.
    • Unless one of the kids was agreeable and forked over some blood, in which case the film might not have happened at all.
  • Anakin in The Phantom Menace is his mother's only child.
  • From book to the first movie of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants they removed one of Tibby's younger sibling so that she only has one, Bridget's brother so that she's an only child and Lena's sister so that she can go to Greece by herself. Lena's sister who we see in the second movie must have been jealous.
  • Catch Me If You Can portrays Frank Abagnale, Jr. as an only child. In Real Life, he had three siblings.
    • A background event later in the film hints that his mother has had another child, although it's not made clear if it's his half-sibling or stepsibling.
  • In pretty much every version of every fairy tale there is an only child who falls in love with an only child, which makes you wonder how those family weren't always dying out.
    • Not necessarily, though a lot of the ones that are well-known today follow this. Many other fairy tales are about a set of siblings; usually the youngest is the protagonist with the older siblings often serving as antagonists. Some of the famous fairy tales were originally like this: for example, variants of "Cinderella" have an evil mother and sister instead of step-relatives, and "Beauty and the Beast" gives the title character jealous sisters, though the two most famous movie versions replace them with an unwanted suitor.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • The Wheel of Time contains a particularly Egregious example. Throughout the first three volumes, Perrin never mentions any siblings and he explicitly says that he had no sisters. Then in the fourth book the trollocs come in and kill his entire family, including a boatload of siblings, some of whom are indeed female. Basically, they didn't exist until they became necessary to the plot.
  • In the Belgariad, Riva Iron-Grip's family has a tendency to produce only children, due to divine intervention. Garion, at least, is only alone because his parents were killed when he was an infant. (It's implied at the end of the Malloreon that he'll break the tendency - by having one son and legions of daughters. After all, the Prophecy stated the Rivan King would have only one son. It said nothing of daughters...) Belgarath the Sorcerer lampshades this.
    • In Polgara the Sorceress, it's stated several times that the line of hidden kings on occasion had multiple children (but not necessarily multiple males). Polgara presumably was only concerned with the eldest male child.
    • The main line itself flows through the only survivor of the Nyissan massacre, the king's "youngest grandson." Hopefully this was a one-off and all other all-male lines are extinct. We don't need another random challenger.
  • The protagonist of Tamora Pierce's Song of the Lioness quartet has a plot-significant twin, but her royal and noble supporting cast are almost all only children. In the case of Jonathan and Roger, it's explicitly for medical reasons: the Queen could bear no more children, and Roger's mother died, a condition stated to be very common. The follow-up series Protector of the Small averts this trope and has siblings up the wazoo.
  • Terry Pratchett and just about all of his protagonists. Though, considering how the Disc runs on narrativium, this may just be because the universe is aware of the trope. Meanwhile, Esme Weatherwax has an Evil Twin, and Tiffany Aching has about six older sisters and an Annoying Younger Sibling. Oh, and Mustrum Ridcully has a brother too.
    • Technically all of the wizards are an eighth child of an eighth child, but Ridcully's brother is the only sibling who really comes up.
  • In the Harry Potter universe out of the three main characters there is Harry, whose parents died when he was a year old, Hermione, who has no siblings and the Weasleys who are easily a case of Massive-Numbered Siblings. Then again, maybe that's why Harry and Hermione marry who they do.
    • Interestingly, Hermione was supposed to have a younger sister, but Rowling wasn't able to fit her in.
    • Death Eaters only have one child if any—just enough to satisfy plot needs: Nott, Malfoy, Crabbe, Goyle, Rosier, Mulciber, and Avery all have only one son. And these lines never go into three generations like real life would suggest. None of the original Death Eaters (Tom's era) have grandchildren in Harry's era, while none of the younger Death Eaters (Lily's era) have confirmed fathers who were Death Eaters (although there are some surnames that appear in both eras as Death Eater names).
  • The majority of kids born to the characters in the Star Wars Expanded Universe are lone children or part of a male-female twin set. Wedge had two girls and Leia and Han had twins and then a boy, but they're the exceptions; for that matter, those lone children are overwhelmingly boys. Actually, a lot of Star Wars characters fit that pattern.
  • In Animorphs Jake has Tom, Rachel has two younger sisters and Ax has Elfangor. The other three protagonists, over half of the humans, are only children.
  • The book Charley by Jack Weyland has a typical Mormon son (except that he has no siblings) who marries an only child and together they have exactly one child.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Almost all the main characters in both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel seem to be only children: Buffy (pre-Dawn), Xander, Willow, Cordelia, Fred, Faith, Spike and Wesley all seem to have no siblings. Only Angel (sister), Gunn (sister), Tara (brother), and Andrew (brother) are known to have had siblings - and two of those four were either already dead or were killed off straight away!
    • Andrew, interestingly, originally had to keep being introduced as "Tucker's brother," even though Tucker was a villain of the week who wound up being much less important to the series and only appeared in one episode.
  • In The Sarah Jane Adventures every protagonist is an only child including Sarah Jane herself. Her son is a special case, as he was grown in a lab by aliens.
  • Nearly all companions in the new Doctor Who are only children: Rose ( until Jackie and alt!Pete get together, but her baby brother is mentioned only once, and she's an only child for the majority of her tenure), Mickey, Donna, Amy, Rory, and River Song (as far as we know) are all only children. The exceptions are Martha (a brother and a sister) and technically Captain Jack (who, as it turns out, had a brother, but this fact is only revealed in his spin-off Torchwood).
    • Adric had a brother. Emphasis on had.
  • In Saved by the Bell, Kelly and Slater are the only children to have siblings. Jessie does end up gaining a stepbrother. Zack, Screech, and Lisa are all only children.
  • Paige Matthews of Charmed grew up as an only child and when she grew up, she discovered that she had three biological half-sisters.
  • On Zoey 101, Zoey is the only one of the main characters to have a sibling, her brother Dustin. Lola mentions a younger sister in passing (season three's "Surprise") who is never mentioned again and never seen, and none of the other characters seem to have siblings at all.
  • This is discussed in an interesting way in Everybody Hates Chris. Chris is jealous of Greg when he comes to stay with them because he's an only child and he expects all of the attention and does everything by himself, whereas Chris usually has to take care of his younger siblings. Near the end of the episode, Chris confronts Greg, and Greg says that the reason why he does everything by himself is not because he wants to, but because he has to, being an only child.
  • The fact that Claire from Heroes is both adopted and an aversion, having a little brother Lyle, produced vast speculation over his origins because it's so rare for a family with adopted children to have more than one.
  • Smallville begins with the lonely Clark. Lex has also grown up without siblings. Lana's parents died when she was young. Pete and Chloe also appear to be without siblings. There is no reference to Kara having had any. Lois might be the one exception having grown up with a sister.
    • Jimmy has a younger brother. (Also named Jimmy.)
  • House has the title character and as far as we know Cameron, Chase, Thirteen, Taub and Kutner. It takes a while to mention Foreman's brother, Wilson's brother and Cuddy's sister.
  • In Degrassi, the vast majority of the Loads and Loads of Characters that have appeared over the years are only children: Snake (older brother), Liberty (younger brother), Craig (half-sister), and Holly J (older sister) are some of the few exceptions.
  • Rory is her mother's only child in Gilmore Girls but that might be because Lorelai made sure she didn't have another child out of wedlock. Of course, the basic premise of the whole series is that it focuses on a mother-daughter team.
  • Sabrina Spellman has many aunts but and a couple of cousins but no siblings in Sabrina the Teenage Witch.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • While most main characters in the Fire Emblem series have siblings, with Alm and Roy and his father Eliwood being the exceptions, the other royal families are infested with this regardless of how important they are to the plot. Oddly this applies only to the royal families, even ones of minimal plot importance, with most side characters mentioning siblings or given so little attention it can't be said either way. Almost everyone in the second generation of the 4th game has exactly one sibling.

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Almost all of the Disney Princesses are only children. However, in the original poem 'The Ballad of Hua Mulan', Mulan has a Younger Sister, an Elder Sister and a Little Brother (which is who they named they dog after) who is not old enough to join the army, but old enough to kill pigs by the time she comes home. Also, the real Pocahontas probably had many brothers and sisters as Powhatan had quite a few wives. Belle is given an unwanted suitor instead of the two jealous sisters from the original tale. Cinderella still has her mean stepsisters, though. Ariel is an exception, having six older sisters.
  • Curiously, every child who had a prominent appearance in Danny Phantom is shown as being an only child. The only one who isn't is Danny himself. He has an older sister and if you wanna stretch it, an Opposite Gender Clone whom he treats like a little sister.

Sam: If you don't mind, we'll be over there doing the "glad-I'm-an-only-child" dance."

  • On Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy, Edd, Rolf, Kevin, Jimmy, Johnny and Nazz are all only children. Only Ed/Sarah, Eddy/his brother and the Kanker Sisters are siblings.
  • In King of the Hill, the three main kids—Bobby, Connie and Joseph—are all raised as only children, as were Hank and Luanne. Hank eventually gets two half-brothers, though (one born in his father's old age, one he just never knew about), while Joseph has at least one half-sister but doesn't realize it.
  • Of the six main characters in Recess, three (Gretchen, Gus and Mikey) are only children. TJ and Vince have elder siblings who have appeared in the show, and Spinelli has an older brother in jail.
  • In the early days of The Fairly OddParents, the only ones shown to be siblings were Vicky and Tootie. Since then, a character is an only child unless a story involving siblings is written. Several seasons later Sanjay was revealed to have a step brother that hasn't been mentioned since, and Timmy wished for an older brother that he inevitably unwished. In season six Timmy got a godbrother in Poof. Up in Fairy World, Wanda was eventually revealed to have a sister, and in a currently unaired-in-America episode, Cosmo has a brother.
  • Partially averted on South Park: while most of the minor characters seem to be only children (except for Craig, who has a younger sister), out of the five "main boys" three have siblings, though Butters and Cartman grew up as only children.
    • Uh, it seems Cartman can now be crossed off that list of only children. And Scott Tenorman...
  • Aside from the Simpsons family, The Flanders', Apu and Manjula, the Hibberts and Sherrie and Terri's family the rest of the couples have one child only. With the exception of the above, most of the kids from the elementary school are only child.
    • This is justified in an issue of Simpsons Comics that ends with all the adults in Springfield becoming sterile.
  • Apparently averted on Total Drama—of the twenty-four contestants, half are stated to have at least one sibling either in dialogue or online material, while only Cody and Beth are explicitly only children. Bonus points to Noah for being the youngest of nine.
  • In Metalocalypse, Pickles is the only member of Dethklok with a sibling.
  • Phineas and Ferb seem to play this halfway—there's the title characters and their sister Candace, Jeremy/Susie and Irving/Albert as siblings, but Isabella, Baljeet, Buford, Stacy and Vanessa all get lots of screen time and give no indication of having a sibling. Adults having siblings seems to be more common—Lawrence presumably has at least one (since Ferb has a Scottish cousin), Linda has Tiana and Doofenshmirtz has Roger.
  • On Hey Arnold! Gerald has two siblings and Helga has a sister, but otherwise all the kids seem to be only children.
  • On The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, not a single one of the main characters (Jimmy, Cindy, Carl, Sheen or Libby) has a sibling. Jimmy's lack of a brother was even the impetus of the plot of the episode "I, Brobot".

Real Life[edit | hide]

  • China's One Child policy is an enforced version of this. It resulted in mass abortion, infanticide and Gendercide to the point the country had 34 million fewer women than men.