The Perks and Problems of Being an Only Child

I just saw a former student from a few years back.

“How are you?” I inquired, looking at the almost-adult in front of me.

“Great,” she replied, “I just got my license today!”

“Awesome! That’s got to be a little freaky to have your first day driving on such a stormy day.”

“That’s why I brought my [younger] brother with me. That way, if I got into a wreck, I wouldn’t be alone.”


I am an only child. It’s a status that never gave me much thought as a child and when it was worthy of consideration, my attitude was generally one of gratitude as I encountered my friends’ obnoxious younger siblings. I was also a deliberate only child, raised by parents who were well-versed in the stereotypes and generalizations of solo offspring.

So it came as somewhat of a surprise to me the other day when I realized an undeniable adverse impact that being an only child had on me. But before I get to the downsides of being siblingless, let me begin with the positives. Because there is a LOT to be grateful for.

Only children…

Are comfortable with adults. In larger families, there is a divide between the children and the adults. They occupy two separate spheres. As the only child, my world intersected the adult arena more often and, as a result, I grew comfortable talking to and interacting with adults. As a teacher, this is often the first clue I have about the size of my student’s families.

Learn to be assertive. I didn’t have a sibling to look out for me on the schoolyard or to help me navigate uncomfortable situations. I had to learn to do it myself (I didn’t find it an easy lesson). I had to reach out to have friends accompany me since I had no built-in peer group. Only children have to learn to speak for themselves.

Have a flexible view of family. Without siblings, children have a tendency to find and build familial relationships with others. Family is defined by the relationships formed between the people rather than the mandates of the DNA. This is a lesson that has served me well in adulthood as my tribe has morphed over time and location.

Independence. Without an older one to pave the way or a younger one to assume the blame, only children have to learn to stand on their own and take responsibility for their actions. I learned how to take care of myself, entertain myself and go out by myself. All good skills to have as an adult.

Of course, there were downsides too. As Brock and I watched two brothers tussle on screen in a series we’re watching, he mentioned how he and his siblings used to do similar all the time. And it suddenly clicked.

Only children…

Don’t learn how to fight. And not just physically, as in the case on the show, but verbally as well. Most siblings are constantly battling for attention and resources. They antagonize each other and engage in frequent arguments and altercations. And unlike with a friend that you can discard, you have to return home to your sibling so navigating the discord is essential. Sibling squabbles teach kids that disagreements are natural and that you can love one another even when you’re fighting.

Have nobody to verify their experience. Only children do not have somebody else to talk to about their experiences with their parents. I was lucky, I only had the normal childhood parental gripes. But for those with parents who are toxic, abusive or narcissistic, the lack of a sounding board can be devastating and extremely isolating.

Limited lessons in learning to compromise and share. Yeah, kindergarten did a good job here, but it was still limited. After all, my room and my things at home were still my domain with nobody to challenge that status. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I became a teacher – it’s MY room! 🙂

Don’t have as much struggle for individuation. It’s always interesting to me how siblings assume family labels from a young age – “the athletic one,” “the smart one,” “the smart aleck one.” The kids have to find and fight for their individual identity from the beginning. And if they attend the same schools, it’s a struggle that follows them their entire childhood. As an only child, I never had to try to set myself apart from anyone.

I’m grateful for the recent ah-ha moment in my difficulty with interpersonal conflict and disagreement. It’s one of those areas where simply having an awareness pays dividends.

And as for Tiger, my current only canine child, we’re planning on getting him a sibling this fall in the hopes that he can pass on some of his awesomeness to the next doggy generation.




Guest Post: How I Told My Kids We Were Getting Divorced

For many people, the most difficult part about divorce is the impact on the kids. And this starts on the day that you tell them about the divorce. Author L.J. Burke shares his story and surprising revelation about the day his kids were told about their parent’s divorce.

 How I Told My Kids We Were Getting Divorced

The toughest part of my divorce was telling the kids that their Mom and Dad weren’t going to be together anymore. I avoided and agonized over this inevitable conversation for weeks. You don’t want them finding out through friends or other family members. You owe it to them to break the news as soon as possible. Preferably the both of you will do this together with your happy faces on.

I don’t think there is a perfect way to tell your kids that you’re getting divorced. There are so many factors; age, maturity, any kind of special problems with physical or mental health. There is no easy way to do this. I believe honesty is the most important thing to keep in mind. Don’t give your kids any false sense of hope that you will not break up. There are way too many Disney movies where divorced couples wind up back together in some magical zany way. Shame on you Disney!

This is how it happened to me: It was a nice summer morning and my soon to be ex-wife woke me up after I was sleeping for about three hours. I worked nights and this was my nighttime. We corralled the kids into the kitchen and my ex started the conversation with, “Kids, we have to tell you something.” She stopped and looked at me for what felt like an eternity. “OK, I guess I will do the dirty work,” I thought to myself. Now I was wide-awake. “There’s no easy way to say this, kids, but your mother and I are getting a divorce.” Both kids smiled at me and told us that they already knew. They both said they heard my soon to be ex having conversations with her divorce lawyer. (Remember, kids are incredible in hearing when they want to.) I went on and told them that we would still be a family; only it will be different now. I wanted to stress how we both loved them, and nobody was going to get abandoned.

I asked if they had any questions and they both said no. They both got up from the table and went on with their regular routines. I wasn’t sure what to think of this. My stomach was still in a knot, and I felt horrible. My ex just continued to pace and really didn’t say all that much.

I realize that wasn’t the perfect way to break the news to my kids, but it could of went much worse.

If you really have no idea how to break the news to your kids, I would suggest you go to a family therapist. Also, it would probably be a good idea for the kids to see a therapist at this very confusing and often difficult time. Make sure you reassure your kids often that you both still love them very much and will do everything in your power to make this process as painless as possible.   Do this often through the divorce process. Protecting your kids is priority one!

About the author:

L.J. Burke is the author of his new book, “Divorced Dad: Kids are Forever, Wives are Not.” Burke wrote this book looking back at his divorce with clarity, seeing what he did wrong and what he did right during this tough time.  It is his sincere hope that if you are contemplating, going through or have gone through a divorce, his book will help you through this very tough time. Burke is a Police Sergeant in a major metropolitan police department. The father of his two teenage boys, Burke recently remarried and is enjoying life with his new blended family.


Planning On Being a Stay-At-Home Parent? Make Sure You Consider THIS First!

Brock and I recently finished watching the series Boardwalk Empire, which takes place in the Prohibition-era United States. After watching one heart-breaking scene with a woman and her kids, Brock turned to me.

“It’s so sad how women were trapped in bad marriages or devastated when their husbands left or died back then because of a lack of resources and opportunity.”

“Sadly,” I replied, “It still happens. I hear from women in that very position all the time.”


Circumstances have changed dramatically since the early twentieth century. Staying at home to raise the kids is no longer an assumption, it is generally a carefully made decision. Couples weigh the pros (quality time with the child, no child care costs, more influence on development) against the cons (reduced family income, possibility of isolation or boredom for the parent who stays home, difficulty of re-entering the workforce down the road). It is still usually the female that elects to stay home if that decision is reached, yet increasingly, that role is given to or shared with the man.

The decision to stay home to raise children is an incredibly personal one, with many beliefs and goals entering into the process.

And I am not trying to sway you either way. That choice is entirely yours to make.

I just want you to think about all of the possibilities when you make your decision.

Because I often hear what happens when people don’t.


“I need to get out of this marriage. His drinking is out of control and he’s starting to scare me. I don’t want to raise my kids in this environment. But I don’t have any money and I don’t work. What can I do?”

“My tsunami divorce happened when he sent me an email and then left. The courts ordered that he pay child support, but he’s only made a couple of payments in the last year. I stopped working 10 years ago to raise the kids and I can’t seem to get a job now. What do I do?”

“We always seemed to be okay financially. But then when she died, I learned that there was all kinds of debt I didn’t know about. Since she was the primary bread winner, we decided that I would stay at home when the kids were young. It’s been so long now, my former industry has changed. What should I do?”

I hate reading these questions. I wish I could help them into a time machine and take them back along with the knowledge that they needed to form a contingency plan along with their child care plan.

And I get why people often don’t. You don’t believe that it can happen to you.


I was lucky. Even though I did a lot of things wrong in my marriage (secure in the belief that my husband really meant til death), I had my own career and my own income. My situation was also made significantly easier by the fact that we did not have children. I only had to worry about my own survival, not that of any offspring.

I didn’t follow up enough with the financial conversations that we had to ensure that his words matched the ledgers. I didn’t keep up with the myriad accounts, trusting that he had our best interests in mind. I didn’t have my own money, separate from his reach. I didn’t have an emergency plan for what I could do if the worst came to past. I allowed him access to my preexisting credit card. I didn’t know that he had canceled (or simply neglected to pay) the life insurance policy that let me sleep at night. And I trusted the courts would enforce their ruling that he was to pay me back.

I trusted him to take care of us. Of me. And I neglected to take care of myself.

And those mistakes cost me money.

If I had been a stay-at-home mom who made the same mistakes, the results could have been disastrous and so much larger than just a financial hit.

Because here’s the scary, sad and so-not-fair truth – It can happen to you.

You may find yourself wed (and dependent upon) an abuser. Scared to stay and yet unable to leave.

That same spouse that was so supportive of your staying home may decide that he or she no longer wants to return home.

The perfect parent may suddenly morph into somebody refuses to pay child support.

And through no fault of their own, your husband or wife may be struck down before their time.

And so as much as you hate to , consider those worst cases while you’re making life changes. Your life – and your kids’ lives – may depend upon it.


If you are the partner who will be staying home, consider implementing the following as part of an emergency preparedness plan:

-Build an emergency fund that you have access to. If your spouse also has access, make sure that you periodically check to ensure it’s there. It really doesn’t have to be some great amount. Just enough so that you never feel trapped in that moment because of a lack of funds. This isn’t meant to be a primary savings account or some source of anxiety. Just a small insurance tucked away, hopefully never to be needed.

-Have at least one credit card in your name with a reasonable limit. One problem people often face after staying at home for a period of time is that their credit takes a hit. Use the card at least every few months and then pay it off to keep your credit score high.

-Before you decide to stay home, develop some education or job skills as well as some experience. It’s never easy to return to the working world after a break, but it’s a little easier if you’ve been there before and had something to offer.

-Consider work you can do part-time or from home. Even if the pay is not great, it is something and it keeps you from feeling powerless.

-Maintain connections with people who are in the working world.

-Build and nurture a safety net of friends and family.

-Stay sharp. Enroll in free online courses. Take on freelance gigs that relate to your former career. Keep up with the changes and developments in your industry.

-Have an outline of a “If the sh*t hits the fan plan.” Hopefully the outline grows faded and dusty. But if it’s ever needed, you’ll be so glad you put some thought into it when you could still think rationally.

-Have a pulse on the relationship and the family’s financial standing.

-If divorce is in the picture, don’t assume that alimony or child support will be awarded or promptly paid. Try to put yourself in a position where that money is nice, but not needed.


There are times when you have to be dependent upon somebody else.

And that’s okay.

But never allow yourself to become dependent upon being dependent.

Because that’s a risk that may end up being too big to take.

This is one area where the motto I learned from the residents of a remote – and harsh – Alaskan town applies:

“Prepare for the worst. Expect the best. And live for today.”

Because even though it can happen to you, I hope it never does.

I just want you to be prepared just in case.

So that you are never in a position of asking somebody the unanswerable question, “What can I do now?”

Let Go (But Never Give Up!)

Life is a balance of effort and ease. Of fighting and surrender. We’re told to “never give up” and also guided to “let go.”

So which is it?

Should we dig in our heels, strengthen our resolve and keep working at it? Increasing the pressure in an effort to move the pistons.

Or, should we instead take a lesson from water and allow gravity to move us while depositing any burdens that are too great to carry? Finding acceptance in what is in a desire to move our mindset.

Trick question.

The answer is both.


Let Go Of…


When I booked the cabin for our annual Thanksgiving trip last summer, I selected a location that offered easy access to tons of prime hiking trails, our holiday tradition. Over the next few months, I gathered information about the hikes and created a list of trails, organized by difficulty and distance.

And then reality rudely collided with my dreams.

Not the weather this time, but an injury that my husband sustained in October that prevented him from doing much hiking.

Vacation blown.

Or so I thought, until I was able to release the trip I thought we would have and instead accept the trip we had.

Expectations happen when we create a narrative where life is fair and effort always pays off as we intend.

When we lead with expectations, we miss the life we have because we’re so busy looking for the life we think we should have.


I had to face this one the other day when my new (and hard-won) car sustained its first injury. The touch-up paint is sitting out waiting for a warm day and I’m actually looking at the wound with a smile now. Accepting that my car is no longer prefect relieves a lot of the pressure of taking it out of the safety of the garage each day.

An expectation of perfection happens when we believe that only the flawless deserve to be loved.

When we lead with an expectation of perfection, we fail to see the beauty in the things we easily classified as flaws.

Maybe I should repair my car with gold paint:)
Maybe I should repair my car with gold paint:)


I’ve realized something about myself recently – I find it easier to approach strangers with non-judgment than people I know well. With strangers, I have no knowledge and I give the benefit of the doubt. With people I know, I have just enough information to be dangerous; it’s easy to assume the worst by assembling what I know. And I know myself the best and judge myself the hardest.


Yes, I’m still learning🙂

Judgement happens when how things are doesn’t jive with how we want things to be. It is a twin attack of should and shame.

When we judge others, we are superimposing our beliefs on them. We rob them of an opportunity to be understood and we rob ourselves of an opportunity to learn.

When we judge ourselves, we focus on our perceived shortcomings rather than our gifts. We rob ourselves of an opportunity to accept and love ourselves and we rob others of an opportunity to see our brilliance.

Comfort Zones

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in 8th graders over the last several years. When I first started teaching, those young teenagers could not wait to get their driver’s licenses. They yearned for the freedom and escape of being able to get out on their own. Now? They no longer seem to have a drive to drive. They’re content to stay where they are.

Because they’re too comfortable.

Comfort zones happen because we dislike being vulnerable and we seek to avoid the risk of failure. We fear the unknown more than we want to change.

When we stay within our comfort zones, we are living in a pot too small to allow growth, stunting ourselves through self-imposed limitations.

 The Danger of Holding On

And Never Give Up On…


My biggest fears were always losing my husband and losing my financial security.And I lost them both (along with so much more) in one text almost 7 years ago.

I collapsed. I cried. I couldn’t imagine ever being okay again.

But I was determined to try.

And now, I’m not only okay, I’m happier than I ever was.

Never write yourself off.

You are stronger and more resilient than you’ve ever imagined.


My dad moved across the country when I was 11, and our relationship grew distant as well. And then, to my surprise (and probably his as well), he ended up being my first responder when my tsunami hit. We’re closer today than perhaps we’ve ever been. And if either of us had given up on that possibility, we wouldn’t be here today.

There are no crystal balls. You never know what is in store.

Just maybe, the best is yet to come.


I dreamed of being an architect. And then I wasn’t accepted into the program. I then dreamed of being a physical therapist. And then I lost all my credits when I moved across the country.

I never dreamed of being a teacher. But then I realized that it fulfills my dreams of being able to problem-solve creative ways of helping people.

You will probably never become a pro football player, the president of the U.S. or the PowerBall winner.

And that’s okay.

Instead, look to the core of your dreams. The seed that is comprised of your values and your beliefs. That’s the dream to hold on to.

Dream it. Then do it.


Hope that everything is going to be okay.

And make your hope an active verb!

“I’m Fine.” (But What Are You Really?)

“I’m fine.”

How many times have you declared those words?



Maybe more?

And how many times were those utterances accurate, describing your well-being as exceptional? Thriving? Or, in the more modern use of the term, simply satisfactory?

And how many times were they offered in reflex, in deflection or even as an outright lie?


Here are some of the true feelings that can hide behind “I’m fine.” Do you relate to any of them?

“I’m afraid that if I start talking, I’ll start crying.”

My world is a mess right now and I’m trying to just get through. I may look okay, but I’m really just going through the motions.

“I’m trying very hard to pretend that I’m fine. Please don’t intrude on my delusion.”

If I really paid attention to my intuition, I would probably know that something is not right. But I’m not ready to face it yet so I’m going along with the idea that I’m fine.

“I’m not fine, but I don’t feel safe sharing that with you.”

Things are really hard right now and I wish I could talk about it but I’m afraid that you’ll ridicule me or somehow add to the pain. So I’d rather play it safe and keep my feelings tucked inside.

“I don’t know how I’m doing, to be quite honest with you. I don’t really give it much thought.”

I haven’t allowed myself to slow down enough to be aware of how I’m doing. I stay busy and pretend that as long as I’m doing, I am fine.

“I’m afraid that if I admit to not being fine, you’ll see me as weak.”

I know you see me as the strong one. The one that holds it all together. And I don’t want to be seen as weak or have you think that I can’t be counted on.

“I’m not fine and that’s my problem.”

I don’t want to burden you with my troubles. You have enough on your plate.

“I believe that I should be fine, so I play the part to the world.”

It’s been a long time since the event. I have so much going for me. I have nothing to complain about. I feel guilty for not feeling fine when so many others have it much worse.

“I don’t have the energy to explain my not-fineness to you.”

I’m tired. Defeated. And even just the thought of trying to explain how I feel is exhausting. So I give you the two syllables needed to stop you from probing further.

“I’m frustrated or upset with you, but I don’t want to rock the boat.”

I’m not fine, but I’m afraid that if I tell you how I feel, you’ll be angry or disappointed. And my fear of your reaction is greater than the pain of holding back. For now.

“I was taught that my feelings aren’t valid. So I suppress them.”

My parents taught me that feelings were stupid. I learned that nobody will listen or respect my emotions. So they stay hidden. Even from me.

“I want to be left alone.”

I really just want to crawl into bed and hide under the covers until this fades. Please don’t come in after me.

“I need time to process my feelings and put words to them.”

I want to open up, but I need to do it at my own pace once I wrap my brain around what I’m feeling.

“I need someone who will just listen. Not try to fix things.”

I’m not fine. But I’m also not helpless. I want to be able to share my feelings without you trying to step in and fix everything.


I’m not suggesting that the next time the cashier at the grocery store asks you how you’re doing, you should respond with a truthful unloading of your current worries. Unless you want to be the one they all try to avoid when you walk through the door, that is.

After all, many of our daily interactions are superficial and that’s okay.

But not all of them are.

And when “I’m fine” becomes a habit, a reflex, that we apply to our friends, family, therapists, doctors and even ourselves?

We’re robbing ourselves and our relationships of the vulnerability and connection that comes from the courage to respond with authenticity.

So next time somebody asks how you’re doing, respond consciously.

Here are some words to choose from:

sad  nervous  excited  anxious  lonely  energized  confused  frazzled  aroused  irritated  content  elated  angry  lost  melancholy  fatigued  overwhelmed  engaged  hurt  fabulous  frightened  playful  relieved  embarrassed  awed  vulnerable  relaxed  jealous  unsure  apathetic  curious  grief-stricken  grateful       rough around the edges   better every day      making progress     happy to be here

Or even just fine.