I'm an only child who married the oldest of 7 kids. I'm grateful I didn't have to compete for my mom's attention growing up.

  • Growing up I felt like I was missing out by being the only child of a single mother.

  • I married my husband, who is the oldest of seven siblings.

  • I love them, but I'm also glad that growing up I didn't have to compete for my mom's attention.

"The Brady Bunch" became ingrained into pop culture when I started seventh grade and was anointed immediately as my fantasy family. As an only child of a single mother, who grew up in a Bronx neighborhood rife with large families, I was already obsessed with being part of a brood.

I envied the girls with older sisters who knew about the latest fashions before I did, the ones with younger siblings who seemed more mature than me because of their caregiving responsibilities, and the girls with older brothers who were wiser about guys.

I started dating a guy with 6 siblings

By the time I graduated college, I had accepted my place in the world as an "only" but still felt I'd missed out by not having brothers and sisters. So, a year into my professional life when I met my husband Neil who had many qualities I wanted in a partner and was also the oldest of seven children, I believed I'd hit the jackpot.

On our first date, I fixated on Neil's status as "Greg."

"We were never 'The Brady Bunch,'" he deadpanned. "The only show that almost came close to us was 'Eight Is Enough.' We all started to watch the first episode then my father said, 'This is about a family with lots of kids? It's been on for 30 minutes and nobody's broken anything or had one argument. Turn this off.' And that ended that."

Neil's reality was not my fantasy, but I was falling in love, and the potential of having siblings loomed large, even without Brady-like hijinks.

Couple posing for photo in restaurant
Courtesy of the author

I learned so much through my extended family

My four brothers-in-law and two sisters-in-law put the "party" in wedding party of which they all were members. My teen female sibs wanted me to introduce them to the downtown Manhattan scene, much to their mother's chagrin.

Life had become a celebration — literally, because it was always someone's birthday or graduation or something.

As a world-class grudge-holder, I marveled at how two of them could go at it, then put their beef aside long enough to share a meal at the dinner table. And I was entertained by how at that table they would all talk at once and call it conversation. I also found it fascinating that seven people could grow up in the same house under the same rules and guidance, yet be so different.

I now appreciate being an only child

But as much as over the years I have come to love them, watching them interact, from when they were teens well into adulthood, has made me glad — finally — that I grew up as an only child.

Even though being doted upon by my mother, uncles, aunts, and older cousins and having my every move discussed, dissected, and disputed often felt oppressive — especially in high school, it was preferable to the alternative.

As much as Neil and his siblings generally get along, I've now spent decades witnessing the lingering competition for parental recognition, accusations of who isn't doing whose share of whatever, relentless teasing, and never-ending gratuitous opinion-giving. It's shown me that as a sensitive, introverted girl, all the day-to-day bickering and bossing would have been too much for me to take. Their noisiness alone would have sent me into sensory overload.

I'm grateful to have become one of many after my formative years when I was lavished with attention and never had to share my mother, even though it denied me what my siblings by marriage have in spades: resilience, grit, and the ability to stand their ground.

They may have started out as my fantasy family but for the last 40 years (and counting) Neil's brothers and sisters have become my well-needed dose of reality.

Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of three novels, the most recent is "The Last Single Woman In New York City."

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