5 Challenges of being a Firstborn

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].

Here’s why:

  • The firstborn will always be expected to be a good role model

20160603_101230We 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

20160701_100333This 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

20160528_173106My 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

20160620_170320There 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.

20160602_171843Usually 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?



Published by Suchitra

I am a former Communication Studies professor turned stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) to two multiracial kids. I write about my adventures in parenting and living a multicultural life with my family. Blogger at: www.thephdmama.com Follow me: @thephdmama

6 thoughts on “5 Challenges of being a Firstborn

  1. This is so insightful. We often read and write about the ‘neglected’ second child who doesn’t always get the same over excited first parent treatment but the first has a lot to putnupmwith too. My two are so close in age I don’t think my daughter, even now, knows it any other way but there certainly are thing I ask of her that are beyond her years, simply because she was born first. Sometimes her emapthy and understanding astounds me, such as at nap time, other times I am tearing my hair out trying to parent her needs around her brothers. I guess it is what comes with being the older sibling to some extent but I am so glad you have highlighted it and made me stop and think! Thank you xx #familyfun


    1. I have a tough time sometimes raising two kids who are 2 years and 1 month apart. I can’t even imagine how you do two so young and close in age. There are all kinds of moments in a day but the bad ones stick out the most, don’t they? The great thing, like you wrote is that your kiddos will grow up together not knowing anything different and that should really lead to a strong sibling relationship in the future. Thanks for stopping by.


  2. I’ve never really considered the older siblings needs against the younger ones before or vice versa really. As I only have the one at the moment he does get all my attention! We often talk about having a second and we do want to have one but we worry about when is the best time as how would we cope with the two. I guess there is never a right time and we and he would adapt apropriately! Life is like that I guess! Thanks for linking up to #familyfun


    1. Like you said, there is never A right time. There is a time that works more conveniently than others, if that. Absolutely right that everything around us then simply starts to adapt, whether by choice or not. For us, our biological age was a big deciding factor. All the best with deciding.


  3. Really interesting post. You’re quite right to highlight the challenges of being the older sibling. I think many of these extend through life. I am the first born and I know that whilst I got away with nothing, my sister could do almost anything she liked with no repercussions! #familyfun

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know, right! I feel that way with my kids already and the little one is only 7 months!! Also, I wonder if sex plays a role in how and if siblings get treated differently. Intuitively, I would think that does happen. Hmm.

      Liked by 1 person

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