Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Firstborn

Growing up as the older child of two, I considered my firstborn status to be something of a liability. I may have looked just like Grace Kelly - still do, naturally - but I still felt disadvantaged by being held to a higher standard than my younger brother. Where he could get away with some parental handholding - help on a term paper, for example - I never did; it wouldn't ever occur to me to ask, so surely would I have been laughed away & lectured on the importance of self-sufficiency. The curfew that was rigid in my case proved flexible in his. Then my brother solidified his seemingly favorite status by going into the family business - that is, the Navy - while I - self-sufficiently! - blazed a different path in choosing the law. (And yes, only in my family would law school be a rebel's choice).

And so when Master P was born, crazy as it may sound, I almost pitied him his firstborn status. Would I make my mistakes on him & go easy on our imaginary (yet mandatory, according to the Anonymous Husband) second child? Would I hold him to a different standard than Imaginary Child #2?

Inevitably - yes, in some situations; the flip side, however, struck me yesterday, as I took Master P to get his first 'do:

Real men wear pink, even pink mother-son hairdresser's smocks
Though I may - ok, have, and will continue to - make newbie blunders with my firstborn, he's also the beneficiary of this special time in which he gets to be the center of mom attention. These firsts - first birthday, first tooth, first 'do, so many of them! - are exciting and novel for me, and I imagine some of that fun must translate down to him. I relish this time in which I just get to focus on figuring him out.

Sure, I'll go through these same milestones with Imaginary Child #2, but it won't be the first time I'll have gone through some of those. I won't be able to make IC2 my entire maternal world as I have with Master P.  While I'll try mightily not to compare the two kids, Master P lives now in a world without such temptations, whereas IC2 will inevitably feel the brunt of measuring up at some point.

I feel a smidge kinder towards both myself and my parents & grandparents having stumbled up on this firstborn truth. At some point I was the center of their world & blunders too. I realize they may have treated me differently not only because I was the firstborn, but also because I'm just different than my gentler, easygoing little brother (whom I now adore, I should note). As much as I disagree with some of my parents' decisions even now, they were likely doing their best, like I'm trying to do mine. I'll fail as surely as they did, but we're trying.

Any other firstborns out there? Did you feel like you were treated differently as a result? Better or worse? All of the above? Question mark?


Maura said...

Ahhahaha. My memoirs will be devoted to the differences between the life of the oldest child (moi) and my three younger sibilings. In some ways it was better. I am strong and self-sufficient, a natural caregiver and leader. My parents were better off as I got older, so the littles got more "stuff." But, my parents did their best. I don't begrudge my childhood at all. Except maybe that I was not allowed to watch TV until I was a senior in high school and, as a result, have zero pop culture knowledge from my youth. Melrose Place? What's that?

Maura said...

One more thing, actually. I am much more cautious and less likely to take risks than my younger sibs. My parents also instilled in my a fear of/respect for authority figures, which is remarkably absent from some of the other kiddos. I wonder if that's a first-born thing.

Huddyma said...

Another eldest here. I had to blaze that teenage trail first and in return, I gave 'em hell. The two that followed me were given liberties so shocking to me, I'm still bitter. Okay, not really, but it's okay if it's a tad annoying 16-18 years later, right? Right.

I'm going to try and give my eldest the benefit of the doubt...here's to hoping he doesn't prove me wrong. His brother and the child that follows (IC3) will likely have it even easier. I mean, don't most parents give up on the next go-round? If they don't, I guess I have it coming.

Belle on Heels said...

totally a firstborn. and totally giggling over the "never would've thought to ask for help"...exactly how i was with my parents vs. how my little sister was.

nestra said...

I am the youngest, but in my family it was the elder two boys who had more freedom than me. I wonder if the boy/girl thing has anything to do with it?

Lisa said...

Hahahaha....I am the oldest, and I never would have asked for help either. If you want an example of differing standards siblings are held to, when I was a senior in high school I came home 5 minutes past my curfew and was grounded for a month. THE SAME WEEK my 13 year old sister came home DRUNK and was grounded for 10 days. Or how about I had to pay my way through a college I did not wish to attend, but my sister went to my first choice college, paid for by my parents, because, quote "she is smart." My family is full of engineers, but I "only went to law school."

I'm not bitter.

I am kind of hyperaware of how I treat my kids. As they get older and their personality becomes more pronounced, I've noticed that my oldest is just like me---impatient, bossy, demanding (as is my youngest). My middle child is a laid back, easy-going wheeler dealer whose first reaction is "lets compromise!" He is certainly the easiest one to get along with, and rarely gives me any lip, unlike the oldest. I make an effort to make sure that my oldest feels loved and has enough mommy time, even though I spend a lot of time sending him to time-out for beating the shit out of his brother. I also have a weeeee bit more sympathy for my mother, because dealing with someone who is constantly arguing with you is kind of wearying.

Tracy said...

I am an oddity, I was the baby (two older half-siblings), I was the only child (by my parents, a marriage that lasted most of my raising) and I was the middle child (my father adopted 2 after his 3rd marriage) as an adult. Each has so many different feelings, and I feel like I have felt them all.

Raising both my children now, I realize 100% that, as parents we simply love our children differently. I don't love either my son or daughter more than the other, I just love them different. And that, hopefully, will cover over all the many mistakes I have made. Good luck, it is a big job.

for a different kind of girl said...

I'm a first born and have the first born pleaser gene. It is strong in me to this day. I still cringe thinking about my younger sister and what a last worder person she is. She must have the last word in any situation, and I was always standing in the background, silently sending thoughts I hoped would reach her and get her to hush. Not to stifle her, necessarily, but to keep me from getting in trouble by proxy for whatever stance she was taking. As a first born, I definitely didn't want to get in trouble!

I don't see these sorts of birth order traits in my own children, at least not yet. They're both so even path, do as necessary kids that I wonder if they don't have a chunk of my first born and a chunk of my husband's last born, arrived 10 years after the last baby, only son stew and are just going with that.

Perfectly Imperfect said...

I'm a first born and definitely feel like I bore the brunt of the pressure from my parents. Now, they will even admit that is the truth. But.. I don't think I would be the same person I am today without that pressure. Whereas my younger brother wouldn't be the goofball he is today without the slightly more laidback upbringing he had. I also sometimes feel bad for BG for being the firstborn, but at the same time, she's the only one who will ever have this much of my undivided attention. So that makes her pretty lucky right?

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