Like many first-born children, I am pretty much every clichéd stereotype in the book — independent, ambitious, driven, organized, a doer and a planner, a lover of lists, and someone who thrives on making accomplishments and reaching them.
When I interviewed Dr. Kevin Leman, author of The Birth Order book, he had me pegged as a first-born within seconds of talking to him.
“How did you know?” I asked, breathless, like a wide-eyed child at the feet of a great storyteller.
“It’s pretty simple,” he quipped matter-of-factly. “You’re a writer. A lot of writers are first-borns because they crave that instant validation, those ‘gold stars’ from their editors.”
As transparent as I may be, as a first-born, I’m in pretty good company alongside fellow first-born overachievers such as Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Sheryl Sandberg, J.K. Rowling, and Beyoncé.
And joining me in the ranks of the first-born?
My oldest daughter.
After my second daughter was born, two years and days after her big sister arrived on the scene, my husband and I encountered the common scenario of suddenly feeling like our oldest had grown up overnight.
One day our baby, the next a proud big sister, I wasted no time in getting her started on potty-training, enlisting her help to fetch me diapers and wipes for blowouts, and training her to sleep through the night in her new big girl bed. In my eyes, she was a “big girl” and she acted like such a mature, thoughtful, and smart kid that I forgot one crucial piece of information —
She wasn’t nearly as old as I thought.
Looking back, I want to weep at how much expectation I heaped upon my little girl, who for all intents and purposes was still a baby. She was two, for heaven’s sake. What was I thinking?
I know that parents learn as they go and that many parents will understand what it’s like to look back and have those kind of heart-wrenching regrets that make you want to peel back time and just scoop your kid up in a big hug and say, “I’m so, so sorry,” so I’m not (completely) unafraid to confess my shortcomings to you.
But I do hope you will take it from me and not treat your oldest child so much differently.
In a strange melding of time and space, it’s like history repeats itself. I saw my parents not batting an eye when I brought home a 4.0 year after year, expecting me to always keep my younger family members in line, knowing that I would be the responsible kid always. Now I watch myself doing the same thing to my daughter.
I’m the one who had to tell her to calm the heck down when she wanted to practice her spelling words every day over Christmas break.
I’m the one who is quick to admonish her when a fight erupts amongst my brood of four. How many times have the words, “They’re just little! I expect you to know better,” left my mouth?
I’m the one who nods when she brings home yet another perfect grade, nonchalantly hanging it on the fridge while I praise the four-year-old’s scribbles because she is the middle child and we all know what issues they have.
It’s so hard, isn’t it? I know that I’m grateful to have whatever treatment or genes that shaped me into the person I am, but as a first-born, I also know how exhausting it can be to feel some kind of pressure on yourself — to always be the best, always keep excelling, always moving on to the next thing, and never truly finding that satisfaction of a job well-done within yourself, where it counts the most.
I want my daughter to be her own person, to be the kind of woman who chooses what’s important to her and if she wants to be President, she does so because she wants to, not just because she’s a first-born over-achiever. I want her to just be her, birth order aside, if such a thing is even possible.
In many ways, I know that it’s an inevitable blending of genetics, birth order, and personality that is shaping my daughter right now and obviously there is some kind of truth to how parents raise first-borns that helps them be “successful” (depending on your view of success, of course), but every day I fight a battle with myself over how I parent my fearless firstborn leader.
Because while I want her to enjoy all of the good that comes with being a first-born, I also want something very simple for the years of childhood that she has left:
I just want to let her be little.More On