I am an oldest child. The oldest child and a girl, to be exact. Do you know what that means?
That means that in high school, I bought my own cell phone at a garage sale. It did not have an antenna, so I fashioned one out of tinfoil (like MacGyver) that I kept in a hand-me-down purse. Each time I wanted to use the cell phone that I bought with the plan that I paid for, I had to whip out my trusty tinfoil antenna and hope for the best.
Contrast that image with that of my youngest sister, the baby of the family. She enjoys what the rest of the family fondly refers to as “Mama money.” The cell phone (that she did not buy) with a plan (that she does not pay for) takes better pictures than most professional photographers — no tinfoil required. (To my sister, if you’re reading this: I love you, but you know it’s true and thanks for taking pictures of my kids with your sweet phone.)
It seems as though oldest children get the short end of the stick in a lot of ways, and it hit me today that I have continued the vicious cycle.
As I drove my youngest child to preschool, she asked if we could get a Happy Meal for lunch after school. “Of course, sweetie!” I cooed back to her in the back seat. “I would love to buy you a Happy Meal!”
And I meant it. I really would love to buy her a Happy Meal because she’s my baby and she’s growing up so fast. I can finally see how fast this precious time with my little people goes and I would love nothing more than to cherish the moments when I can make my kid genuinely happy with a few apple slices and a cheap toy.
But as I smiled at my sweet, spoiled little girl in the back seat, I was hit with a swift kick of motherhood guilt. When my oldest daughter was her age, I didn’t buy her any Happy Meals. I was strict and stern, without a penny to spare. I had to do motherhood right with her — set the precedent, lay down the law. My mind flickered back to all the times when I turned her down for Happy Meals. Back then I thought if I let my guard down for a second, the kids would win. All control would be lost and next thing you knew, we’d be moving into McDonald’s with my kids sucking down soda straight from the machine. I’d be the worst mother in the world!
So yes, I definitely parented my first child much differently than I do my youngest … right down to Happy Meals.
Now, of course, I know that a Happy Meal is just one meal of many. It doesn’t matter as much as I thought it did back then. I relish the sweet, simple moments when I can make my daughter happy. But did I do that with my oldest? Nope. And honestly, there’s just no way around it. Life’s just not fair when you’re the oldest. After all, I would know.
So to my oldest child, a girl just like myself, I would just like to say that life really is different for you. It’s not all in your head and you’re not crazy. I totally get why you are constantly comparing how we treat you versus how we treat your siblings. There is a difference and that difference exists for a lot of reasons. Your dad and I were completely different people when we had you. Parenting is literally a “learn as you go” gig. And as parents, our views on parenting change with every kid we have.
With you, everything was new and fresh. We just had to get it “right” or we worried we’d ruin everything — including our future children. With your baby sister, we’ve realized that the little things just don’t matter as much as we once thought they did. We now try harder to enjoy the time we have with you all and relish the innocent stages of parenthood. It’s hard watching the little girl you poured so much time and attention into grow into a full-blown person with her own opinions, style, and views. It’s awesome, of course, but it’s also hard. We can now see so clearly where we could have done things different. Even though it feels like that early time with you is now over, we’re trying hard not to make the same mistakes … and buy the damn Happy Meal from time to time.
I wish I could tell you that we will treat you the same as your siblings, but truthfully, we probably won’t. For every stage of parenting, you’ll always be the first. And like me, you’re kind of the “guinea pig,” as much as it pains me to say that. Already, your status as the oldest has shaped and molded you. You’re an independent leader and love a good planner (just like me). It’s hard to distinguish between the traits you’ve been born with and those that have been instilled simply by being the oldest in line. Sometimes the ways you’re treated as the oldest may not feel fair, but I know they will make you into the strong woman you’re already becoming.
So to my oldest girl, I know life feels different for you and it probably always will. It still does for me, too, and I’ve come to realize it’s not always a bad thing. I hope you can forgive me in advance if someday I, too, make you fashion your own antenna out of tinfoil. Just please know that I am doing the best I can. There are great life lessons to be had in learning to pave your own way, like firstborns tend to do.
But for the record, I’m totally buying you that Happy Meal next time you ask.
Your flawed, firstborn mother