Most people, myself included, will be forgiven for thinking that firstborns have all the advantages over their younger siblings. After all, they got their parents’ undivided attention for a while before the next one came along. They were fussed over, hovered over, and attended to perhaps far more than any of their siblings. Parents could probably write instructions manuals on how to raise kids based on all the Googling we did for every little whine or whimper Junior expelled.
Once the second child is born, however, there is seismic shift in parental priorities for at least as long as the littlest member of the family can defend herself or is a fully functional little human. What this means for the firstborn is that he is no longer the only apple of his parents’ eyes. One eye maybe, but that eyesight will have to be shared by two [or more] apples now 🙂 My point is, once a sibling is born, it is no longer all fun and games for the firstborn and hitherto only child. [this is not to say that it IS all fun and games for firstborns or single children. I am not talking about general discipline and boundaries].
The firstborn will always be expected to be a good role model
We all get that the firstborn didn’t ask to be born first but that’s just the nature of the birth order dynamic where the younger siblings win. The firstborn child is expected to be a good role model so as to set an example for those down the birth order. That can put pressure on a young child but can get worse and even stressful as the child grows up to want to do his own thing or make nontraditional choices but fears that missteps may invite parental wrath about not being a responsible older brother (or sister).
The firstborn may have limited or constrained opportunities to behave like a child
This is especially and may only stay true until the younger child is able to participate in play activities. In our home at least, I have to constantly remind TJ to play quietly, stop screaming (his joyful screams over something exciting), or read by himself while I put baby to nap, or because she is already asleep or because she gets startled easily [she IS a baby!] and cries over unexpected loud sounds. Every time I tell TJ to quiet down, I feel bad for him because he is only behaving like a two-year-old should and it’s not fair to him that he has to contain his enthusiasm because his sister is sleeping. Part of it is of course the fact that he is doing his bit as a member of our unit and being respectful toward the needs of the youngest member of his family. Besides he shouldn’t be screaming or yelling too annoyingly loudly anyway. Still, a child needs to be a child.
The firstborn will be engaging in helping tasks early
My little big boy helps me a lot around the home when he is not also being destructive. Of course most of these times I end up doing more work cleaning up after him than I originally anticipated but I do believe that children should be given age appropriate chores and tasks around the house at a young age. Doing so teaches them about responsibility, how things work, what it takes to make something out of nothing or something else, contributing to their family unit, and being helpful in general. It encourages collective living, being part of something bigger, and instills a sense of cooperation. His favorite things to help me with are gardening and baking but there are other things he voluntarily enjoys helping with as well. That said, because there is a younger sibling, baby related tasks are the most helpful to me- he gets my Boppy pillow when I need to nurse Baby E, fetches diapers, throws them away, brings me burp cloths or wipes as needed if I am not in a position to get up right away, and does other minor baby-related tasks, most of them voluntarily (loves throwing her diapers away!!).
The firstborn will have to learn that sharing is a way of life
There was a time in that firstborn’s life when everything was his and his alone. Not anymore. As a parent, most of us want to teach our kids to appreciate the value of sharing and this begins at home. Now I am not advocating taking something from one kid and giving it to the other when that first kid is in the middle of playing with that particular thing. That’s just not fair. Besides the child who wants to play with it too will learn patience and waiting one’s turn if that thing is not handed over to her immediately. What I mean by sharing here is strictly in the context of playing together with things that lend themselves to such play. E.g., trains, cars, tea parties and so on. This kind of sharing is an age-related milestone and should not be rushed. To my point, while the firstborn enjoyed all kinds of exclusive entitlement to say toys and a room, when it is time to share, that’s a value that needs to be taught and learned.
The firstborn will have to work around the younger sibling’s schedule too.
Usually it is my younger one that is inconvenienced due to her older brother’s schedule. She will have fallen asleep in the car but has to be awoken once we get home from dropping TJ off to early preschool OR she is at home sound asleep, napping peacefully when I have to wake her up so we can go pick TJ up. Because we can only do TJ’s activities in the morning – library story times, visits to parks, or the farm or the zoo, Baby E has to sleep on the go in the car, the K’Tan, or now, the Ergobaby. Then there are days when TJ’s activities for that day have to be cancelled because Baby E decided to take a two hours nap taking up all of our morning and making it too late to go anywhere and return in time for lunch at home. In this situation, TJ has to spend all morning at home and I have to find activities to keep him entertained. Thankfully, he is a creative kid and plays well independently and we do have fun reading, cooking, cleaning, baking, and gardening during these rare days. Still…he is a child with a lot of energy and then some to spare so keeping him home seems unfair to him. Thus, even a firstborn child whose schedule is usually the one followed by younger siblings will need to work around the younger sibling’s schedule [this may not be the case if the age difference between kids is more than say 2 years].
Do you have any tales of your firstborn child or of others you know?