I am the oldest of 4 on my dad’s side and the oldest of 2 on my mom’s side. I married the oldest of 3. Unless we are an only child (which has its own idiosyncrasies), we are going to find good things and bad things in regards to our birth order. My husband and I have three sons and even though their personalities are very different (as are their looks), I wonder if some of what makes them who they are is based on the order in which they were born. For example, I wonder if my middle son loves that he was in the middle because he wasn’t the “guinea pig” the oldest might have been and he wasn’t the one youngest either.
Growing up, I didn’t like being the oldest. I realize now that the things I dreaded most was hearing the phrase, “You should know better.” Especially as this came back to bite me when I retaliated and I was usually the one who got caught. Even when I tried to just have my own space and keep my two little sisters (who are 11 and 14 years younger than I am) out of my room, they would always still find a way in. The scribbles in my junior high yearbook have all the proof I need. With my brother being just two years younger than me, we did a lot of things outside, including playing tackle football in our front yard. I still have the scar on my knee from when I tried to tackle him and I slid into a metal sprinkler.
Now that I am older (and still the oldest too), I wanted to share a few things that actually benefit the oldest sibling in any family. The burdens once placed on us now have a different twist and have shown me why those moments really weren’t so bad after all. If you are the oldest child, expect to hear a lot of, “You are so lucky”…even if you aren’t sure why.
1. You set the precedence for every other child.
Every rule, every milestone will happen for the other kids only when it happens to you first. You are essentially where everything begins. You are the model for everything your brothers and sisters will ever get. You are the gauge for every important milestone — If you get a TV in your room at 12 years old, then your younger siblings will want to be 12 too. You are the example — whether it come to trying a musical instrument, going out on a date, or even just getting the chance to pick the paint color for your own room. That bar is set with you. In addition, you will get to try more things. Depending on your experience (and your parents’), chances are your siblings getting to try new things may get lost as the years go by. If you fall in love Boy Scouts, other younger brothers might be nudged in that direction too.
2. You never have hand me downs.
Let’s face it…we all like to have new clothes. There is just something about putting on something that isn’t found in any other family pictures with your brother wearing the same outfit 2 years earlier. However, having two of my sons just 13 months apart, their clothes were practically interchangeable. The only guarantee the younger ones were getting new clothes is if we were doing a family picture and we all needed to wear matching clothes. Even that backfired on me once — we just don’t talk about the striped sweaters anymore. If you are the oldest, you are going to get stuff with the tags still attached and sometimes, you are glad you have moved away from the velcro shoes that light up when you walk.
3. You never have to share a room.
Especially as you get older, the oldest child ends up getting his or her own room because “they need their privacy.” The younger kids don’t even know what that means, but they want it too. Growing up, I loved never having to share a room with my sisters and it meant I had one place in the whole house that was MY place. Growing up, it was where I could do my homework, listen to my music, and basically, whatever I wanted. The hardest part of having your own space was keeping it to yourself. In my case, my little sisters went to great extremes to be with me — even when I didn’t want to be with them. (Side note, today we are all very close and very good friends.)
4. You are given more responsibility.
Sometimes, this was a burden more than a good thing. I became the automatic babysitter for my younger siblings, but many times because they required more care and attention, I usually was left to fend for myself more. Don’t worry, I never really got into any trouble when given the benefit of the doubt — I was too much of a goody two-shoes to try anything too crazy. But being the oldest meant you didn’t have to prove yourself right away. Your parents didn’t know what you would or would not try because they couldn’t compare you to “what your older brother or sister did.” Being the oldest, I became very independent as I transitioned into an adult.
5. You have more childhood pictures.
As a mom of three, I know I took more pictures of my oldest son that I did of the other two. I am hoping they don’t notice. With one child, your time and attention is devoted to that child — you don’t have to split your time between other kids and you can even tag team your spouse to fill in when you need a break. With our three boys all under the age of six, we were completely outnumbered and because of that, we probably missed a few really great pictures of the younger two. Not that you have a shrine built in your honor, but finding a childhood picture for the yearbook is much easier for the oldest children. I’m just saying.
6. You are never pushed around.
Growing up, I remember my brother getting picked on in elementary school and once, he found me on the playground and told me what was going on. He never got made fun of for getting his “big sister” to stand up for him, but no one ever picked on me. The oldest becomes the “fighter” for the other kids when someone outside the family steps in. There is a phrase out there that reads something like, “I can pick on my little brother or sister, but you can’t.” Whether there is just two of you kids or 13 — the oldest ones are told to look out and protect the younger ones. No matter what.
7. You are a role model.
I know, just what you want…someone watching your every move, right? Who didn’t get tired of the “He’s copying me!” game that never seemed to end until you just stopped letting your younger brother or sister “get” to you? Even at a young age, you represent who your younger sibling wants to be. They watch everything you do. They look up to you — even when you want them to look “the other way” or remind them to “not tell mom and dad.” (This is usually done once until they rat you out and then you are just done with telling them secrets.) The truth is — you are their hero and being related to someone “as cool as you” is something every little brother or sister wants. You just never know what they will remember and use later in life, so be careful what you show them.
8. You have your parents all to yourself.
Although you were probably too young to remember these years before your younger siblings came along, you got to have them at their best. Your parents were young and energetic about their new family. It was something they could manage with work, home, and other obligations. You had one schedule to work around when it came to your activities and the chances of both of your parents attending your events was pretty high. Once a younger sibling comes along, the parents have to split time and “tag Team” one another just to make sure they are where they are supposed to be. You are their life and they live theirs around you.
9. You get to be first…in EVERYTHING.
Let’s face it…this is the BEST part of being the oldest. You are the first to drive…the first to walk home from school by yourself…the first to have a date. Sometimes, you will even get to give input on important things like helping to name the new baby or the new pet. As the oldest, you are the first to move away from home, the first to graduate from high school, the first to make something of the family name. When your parents are talking about their kids, chances are you are mentioned first. You are the first to not have to hold mom’s hand in the grocery store and the first to celebrate Mother’s and Father’s Days. It is because of you that those days now have some significance.
I will never know what it is like to be the middle or the youngest in a family and although there were some moments that I really despised being the oldest. Looking back now, I can appreciate the benefits of being the oldest and why those experiences help make me the person I am today. We can all find things to nitpick about because of where we fall in the birth order in our family. But perhaps, changing our perspective a bit can make everything a blessing, even if it was in disguise most of the time.
Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com