First Born Daughter by
(115 Stories)

Prompted By Birth Order

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Conscientious. Cautious. Bossy. Achievement oriented. Structured. Driven. Responsible. Type A. Nurturing. Check to all of these traits. Ask my younger brothers if you don’t believe me. Being the first-born child in my family, and the first-born grandchild on my father’s side of the family, definitely shaped who I am.

With my paternal grandfather, pre-siblings

I’m pretty sure my younger brothers would agree that, even at our ages and retired persons status, I can still be pretty bossy.

I’m sure I benefitted from two-and-a-half years of being an only child. My parents, and especially my paternal grandparents, lavished attention on me. Unfortunately, I don’t remember these golden first 30 months of my life. What I do remember is being punished for a toileting accident shortly after the birth of my brother. My mother claims I was trained (or she was) starting right after my first birthday. Even though the book had just come out, my mother did not rely on Dr. Spock to tell her that regression after the birth of a sibling was normal. Thus, I have a vague memory of having done something shameful and deeply disappointing. And like all first-borns, pleasing those adults who doted on me before my brothers came along was extremely important.

My second younger brother was born when I was six. I was definitely nurturing with him when he was very young. Mother’s little helper, of course. Responsible and conscientious, I loved taking care of him and even broke my ankle giving him piggy back rides. But once I became old enough to babysit my brothers, the nurturing big sister became quite bossy. I took my job seriously and meted out punishments for non-compliance. My older little brother was a typical middle child. He ignored me and went about being his rebellious and adventurous self, doing whatever he wanted to do. My baby brother just poured on the charm characteristic of last-borns and made me laugh, thus escaping all of the rules I thought I was supposed to enforce in my mother’s absence. My father didn’t make or enforce rules. Rather, he lectured us to death, which was far worse than the discipline my mother meted out.

School was made for first-borns like me. As an adult-pleaser, I wanted to impress my teachers. As a conscientious rule follower, I did my work, raised my hand, and completed all of my homework on time. Being achievement oriented meant striving for an all-A report card. Although I resisted my mother’s push to get a teaching certificate “to fall back on,” I reluctantly complied, and fall back on it I did. Teaching high school English returned me to an environment in which I had succeeded. It was the cautious move, and I was not a huge risk-taker. After a brief time of cutting loose at college, I was back on terra firma. But this time, as an added bonus, I got to be the boss as well.

After taking a ten-year break to have three kids and satisfy my love of nurturing children, the predictable path for women of my generation, I cautiously started to substitute teach and then accepted a part time teaching position at the preschool my children had attended. This was a perfect environment for my need to care for young children now that mine were getting older, as well as a return to somewhat familiar and comfortable territory. After returning to school to earn a Masters in early childhood education (because I had to keep my dance card full, learn more about what I was doing, and earn a few more A’s), I became the director of the preschool. That would have been where I stayed if fate hadn’t forced my staff, families, and me out of our safe haven. I described how a new minister at the church housed, non-sectarian preschool cast us out in Betrayed by a Church.

Starting a new preschool played into all of those first-born daughter traits. Like many eldest children, I tended to take charge (what my brothers saw as bossy). Like the majority of US presidents, I was ready to lead. After all, “out of the first 44 presidents of the United States, 24 were first-born children or first-born sons.” As an aside, does the fact the Trump was not a first-born son mean anything? I was driven to accomplish this task, and the work appealed to my Type A personality. Creating a place in which children would be nurtured was extremely important to me. Finally, I found the perfect fit for all of my first-born daughter characteristics.

Yes, this saga relies heavily on stereotypes, and many other factors beyond birth order play into a person’s character. But I’m pretty sure my younger brothers would agree that, even at our ages and retired persons status, I can still be pretty bossy.

With Mom in 2013

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Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Laurie, it seems that you put your personality traits to good use, both the leadership skills (your brothers might call it bossy) and need to nurture, in your teaching ventures.

    I, too, got my teaching certificate, as “something to fall back on” (exact same terminology!), but in 1974 Boston, with forced busing, I never got that teaching job (I applied to 12 suburbs – the KKK was marching in Boston), so had to improvise.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Betsy, I think your career took off in a great direction. If you had become a teacher, a “fall back” profession, who knows what difference that would have made in your life. I’m older enough to have benefitted from a teacher shortage at that time.

  2. Marian says:

    I can identify with this story, Laurie, and I love the babysitting interactions. What I learned was how your career choice turned out to be low risk, given your firstborn traits, which I hadn’t thought of before. But, as other older children can attest, you did take charge when circumstances demanded it and did some innovative things.

  3. John Shutkin says:

    These may be stereotypes, Laurie, but, as we know, sometimes even stereotypes are true. And you really do sound like the quintessential older sister, equal parts bossy/nurturing, depending on one’s vantage point. And I sure have an older daughter who sounds a lot like you.

    I also love how your nuturing/bossiness (which can also be a nasty word for leadership skills) then carried through into your professional life. I’m wondering if you ever took a Myers-Briggs Assessment test and, if so, what it revealed as to your career aptitude. In any event, thanks for sharing your interesting story with us.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Thanks, John. I think I did take that test at freshman orientation for college (was it also called the cooked carrot test), but since I think I met a counselor once in 4 years at Michigan, I don’t think I ever received the results. It’s funny how women are bossy but men are assertive. My firstborn was a boy who was only bossy with his little sisters but otherwise a gentle and sensitive soul. His sisters do fit the stereotypes.

  4. Suzy says:

    Laurie, you do such a great job of analyzing the the birth order construct, and how it applied to you. I hope the doubters in our midst read your story and pay attention (not to mention any names). And I love your pictures too!

    Not exactly on point, but I’m intrigued by the fact that one of your brothers has a full head of hair and the other one is bald – I thought that was determined by the maternal grandfather and that there was no getting around it, as my son and nephew know all too well. (If it’s a toupee, please just delete this paragraph before posting.)

    • Laurie Levy says:

      OK, Suzy, I will share the secret about my little brother — it’s a toupee. In person, it looks awful in my opinion (being an opinionated big sister, here). Not only was my maternal grandfather bald, but so was my father and paternal grandfather.

  5. Laurie, I have to echo the sentiment in the first paragraph of Betsy’s comment. To me, it’s almost as if you were born to follow the path you’ve taken, and it’s served you well along with so many others you’ve nurtured along the way. In my lifetime I’ve known others for whom the same can be said — my twin brothers, for instance, who were the last-born in our family — and I wonder why the path is so clear for some and not for others. Birth order may play a role, but as you mentioned in your last paragraph, there’s so much more to it. Another beautiful and beautifully written story…thank you!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Thanks, Barb. In my case, I think being the only daughter and firstborn had a definite impact on who I am. My mother, especially, had very definite expectations for me. On my father’s side, being the first grandchild led to unrealistic expectations that my brothers and younger cousins did not have to meet.

  6. Laurie, reading all you’ve written in the past about your pre-school I have no doubt how wonderful an early childhood educator you were, and no doubt that it’s about the most important job in the world!

    And how wonderful to see the photo of you with your two grown-up little brothers and your mom!

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