I Secretly Felt I Was “Failing” My Firstborn — Until Another Mom Set Me Straight

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I am a firstborn daughter parenting a firstborn daughter and can I just say?

This ish is hard.

I know from experience that being the “guinea pig” of sorts in the family is frustrating for both the parents and the firstborn. So when I became the mother of a daughter, I vowed that I would work extra hard to make sure we skipped over any of the hiccups that can come with parenting the first time around. I would not be so strict with her, I vowed, nor would I ease up my parenting with any other kids that came after her. No sir, I would make sure it was all smooth sailing because I had walked in her shoes before and I knew how difficult it can be.

I’ll give you two guesses as to how all that is going.

Needless to say, parenting a firstborn, especially a daughter, is never going to be smooth sailing and I am making it up as I go, just as my parents did for me, and my mom’s parents did for her. But there is one piece of advice I heard this week that has completely changed my perspective on how I parent my first child: Stop taking everything that goes wrong with your firstborn so personally.

As a wise mother who has been there and done that explained to me, the problem that so many first-time parents have with parenting their firstborns is that they tend to take everything their firstborns do personally. As we are learning to parent them, we are also learning what kind of a parent we are — so their actions, behaviors, and misbehaviors all become a direct reflection on ourselves as parents.

That sassy comment my daughter dropped as she walked out of the room? Yup, I failed her.

That ungrateful attitude emitting from every pore? I may as well give up now.

The overnight teen attitude from a kid that hasn’t even hit double digits? #wheredidigowrong

The truth is, we judge ourselves through our firstborns, whether we realize it or not. And that’s a recipe for disaster. Because when we see ourselves through our firstborn, we may not be getting the most accurate of pictures. We see all of our shortcomings, our flaws, our insecurities, and our fears reflected back to us, without the reassurance of experience that we’re not really ruining everything. I mean, think about it: By the time you get to the next kid (or three or four), you have living, breathing proof that you’ve done something right, thanks to kid #1 whom you poured so much energy into.

Should we learn as we go? Of course … But take every last darn thing with our firstborns personally as proof that we are royally screwing up? Um, no.
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Sure, there were some definite mistakes along the way and sure, your kid stumbled and fell more than a few times, but overall, by the time you get to the second and third kids, you have the first kid behind you and you’ve realized that you know what? That kid is pretty cool. That kid didn’t turn out so badly after all. And if that kid turned out OK, well then, maybe, just maybe, a little bit of that was thanks to you? Maybe, just maybe, you aren’t the terrible parent you feared all along and maybe, just maybe, you’re doing just fine, even if you don’t have all the answers?

[Insert sigh of relief here.]

Unfortunately, however, that sigh of relief doesn’t come until after parenting our firstborns. So, until we get there, maybe we give ourselves the gift of long-term perspective and realize that parenting is hard when every single thing we encounter is brand-new.

Now, I’m not saying it’s true for every parent and I’m not saying you have to have more than one child to be a good parent; I’m just saying that if you’re struggling with your firstborn at all, in any small way, maybe it would help to take a step back and consider that we don’t have to take everything our firstborn does personally.

Should we learn as we go? Of course. Realize our mistakes when we make them? Absolutely. Try to do better as parents? I would certainly hope so.

But take every last darn thing with our firstborns personally as proof that we are royally screwing up?

Um, no.

I can already see how much easier it will be as a parent to believe you’re doing a good job once you have proof that you’ve already done a good job. But for our firstborn’s sake and for our own, we have to stop looking for the proof of our own parenting through them.

We have to stop taking any struggles with firstborns as our own personal failings. Because just like us, they are learning as they go too. And maybe if we accept that we will both figure it out together, without taking it personally when we struggle, we’ll turn out just fine after all.

Although, let’s be clear: When my firstborn turns out to be a freaking awesome person, I’ll definitely be taking that personally.

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