Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2013

Document Type




First Advisor

Dr. Cindy White


The purpose of this study was to examine how only children view their role in the family based on family communication and to explore, the memorable messages that work to shape the onlychild situation and identity. Defined by Knapp, Stohl, and Reardon (1981), memorable messages are “remembered for extremely long periods of time and which people perceive as a major influence on the course of their lives” (p. 27). In the past, only children have been depicted as maladjusted individuals as a result of growing up without siblings. Though there are many challenges to the only-child situation, there are also advantages of being an only-child. This study seeks to understand the value of the parent-only-child relationship rather than focusing on how only children might forever be socially inept in the absence of siblings. Family communication processes were analyzed to understand how only children view their role in the family, giving insight to character-specific attributes of the only-child birth order position. Retrospective interviews were conducted with 14 young adults who were raised in only-child households. The narratives acquired from the interviewed young adult only children give an understanding of how they view their role in the family in this unique triadic-family structure. Interviews also explored memorable messages about the only child-role and growing up as an only-child. The memorable messages, grouped into a handful of themed categories, represent the expectations these only children found themselves striving to achieve. This study develops our understanding of the only-child situation and family with respect to their familial position as an only-child and the role expectations of the only-child situation.