My eldest has a rough deal, in my humble opinion. I am sure he would whole heartedly agree, he often has that hang dog look of the severely put upon. And the reason I think he has it so tough is because he is the eldest child of two eldest children.
Birth order and it’s effects on children has always fascinated me. I would like to say that I have conducted extensive scientific research, or at least read a lot of literature on the subject but that would be a complete lie. Between child rearing and writing this blog there is no time for such niceties. As such there will be no bibliography or references on this post, instead my opinions and conjecture will be based purely on my statistically very insignificant sample of three….backed up in part with my own childhood experiences. Buckets of salt required on your part then.
So here goes, deep breath and in we plunge.
My husband and I (she says very regally) are both first born in our respective families. I think it is fair to say that we both conformed very much to a ‘type’ in this regard. I was a serious, diligent and hardworking child. Not particularly talented at anything but very willing to give everything my all. I was a control freak. I was the teenager with the colour coded revision timetable pinned to my wall stretching forward many more weeks than the average child’s.
I was not satisfied with 75% in tests anything below ninety meant failure to me. Oddly I can never remember my parents saying to me- really 75% is not all that good Sarah- and yet that is exactly how I always felt from being very small.
And these qualities have continued into my middle years. I am still a control freak, wedded to my to do lists. I still do everything I tackle from child rearing to school governorship with an intensity which borders on the pathological. And my husband is the same. He is a work-a-holic giving it more than his all. He runs with an intensity that is frankly scary.
And so we have very very high expectations. Of ourselves, of gadgets, of companies and of our children and most of all our eldest son. It is something I am very aware of as eldest picks his way through his life under the kosh of those high expectations.
And leaving all that aside being the eldest is tough. I am sure all you none eldests out there are screaming at the screen as I speak but I still hold it to be true. They do everything first. Start nursery, start school, have swimming lessons, go on cub camps, residential school trips, take exams, push the boundaries of curfews, succeed in nagging enough to recieve a gadget previously banned. And all this is harder when you are the first to do it.
How much easier it is when you are following a sibling, have watched from the sidelines, have a mate already there, can use the argument ‘well eldest got that/did this at my age’.
And then there is the matter of parental blame. I quite often and automatically blame my eldest for any ruckus between my children. Sometimes he is not even in the room. I assume he is the aggressor when often he is not. It has taken me quite a long time to realise that youngest is no longer the defenceless baby at the mercy of her toddler brother, but a manipulative child who will give herself a Chinese burn and blame it on eldest. Naturally he is outraged at this injustice and quite rightly so.
He is a hard working, diligent and serious boy. He has high expectations of himself and they are probably transferred however unintentionally from us. He is conforming to our type. It is hard to say that those first 18 intense months with undivided parental attention has moulded him to some degree, but it is tempting to assume so.
And so middlest has some things easier than his brother. He followed along relatively quickly and has had his elder sibling to rely and lean on for as long as he can remember. He is also a totally different character. Since he appeared in the world he has been intensely laid back. He used to lie in his Moses basket asleep with his hands crossed behind his head looking for all the world like he was sun bathing on a remote desert island beach.
But it isn’t all plain sailing. He follows his brother through life, in consecutive school years, trying his hardest to live up to those high standards already set by him. In many ways he succeeds but in others he cannot hope to. Eldest is an all rounder, passably good at everything he turns his hand too, backed up by his amazing work ethic. Middlest cannot hope to replicate that. And he shouldn’t have to. But a small part of him feels he ought to. And I know he finds it tough that he can’t draw, play rugby, swim as well as his elder sibling. He has many, many strengths where he can outshine eldest but he focuses, if we are not careful, on all he can’t do rather than all he can.
He doesn’t have the same work ethic and has to be cajoled to stick at things. He is a bit of a butterfly flitting from one thing to another. He is the joker, the light hearted one. As a result he is the happiest to loose (mostly) to keep up the status quo, he is self deprecating and he is the peace keeper, the pourer of oil on troubled waters. He will admit he is wrong and make amends with both siblings. He is the jam in my children sandwich, holding it all together. These are extremely mature skills for a nine year old and will stand him in good stead but when he is sobbing that despite all his efforts his siblings still ‘hate’ him my heart breaks a tiny bit.
He has also never had my undivided attention for any lengthy period of time and never will. He has always had to share. He had more than his fair share of relatively minor medical issue as a baby and small child and when we finally got discharged from his last outpatient clinic we were both a little sad. We had enjoyed our many afternoons sitting in hospital waiting rooms, with the other two at school, chatting without interruption.
And there is that other thing for middle children. No one ever says ‘well you did that well, considering you are the middlest’ …
My youngest gets that a lot. You did that so well- considering you are the youngest. I am never sure if this is a compliment or not…it seems rather back handed to me. It is hard for me to empathise with youngest. My youngest sibling is a full ten years younger than me and so whereas my middle brother and I had similar issues to my eldest and middlest, youngest’s position is totally different to my childhood experiences coming, as she did, a mere 23 months after middlest, and three and a half years after eldest.
There are advantages. She is given the benefit of the doubt much more often and in many circumstances. She is given leeway and my addled brain lets much more slip with her than the other two. Which they of course note and place in my debit ledger. No doubt to bring up later in therapy.
And after her brothers started school she got me all to herself for long periods until she went two years later. And she will eventually have me all to herself again assuming the other two trot of to college or university leaving her behind for another two years.
On the other hand she has had to grow up very fast or be left behind. When the other two were seven they weren’t watching Storage Hunters, playing poker or wrestling to WWE rules. She is. She has to be the goalie in front of her 11 year old brother’s pounded footballs, hit balls bowled at speed with her cricket bat and generally run, jump, swim and play harder and for longer than they could ever have managed.
And it is not just physical. Emotionally and intellectually she is given no quarter. I wouldn’t have dreamed of making eldest watch Atlantis at age seven but we all get a bit annoyed at her snivelling in the scarey bits.
She hasn’t been able to do those small-childish things for as long. Like soft play barns, petting zoos and watching CBeebies. That makes me a little sad. On the other hand she is so very adventurous that the more advanced opportunities she experiences probably suit her better.
She is massively independent, and always has been. After the first two, who were still proffering their feet to be shod at age three, the shock of youngest who wanted to dress herself at age one was enormous. And it’s hard to know whether it is the result of her constant striving to ‘catch up’ or her personality. I suspect a bit of both.
So there you have it. Who really knows if birth order makes any difference. Surely this blog has shed hardly any light. Interesting though eh?