This article is part of a series known as #30DaysOfThanks.
As Lindsey has shared before, being the oldest child comes with a myriad of responsibilities. I can’t speak from a middle or youngest child perspective, but I do know that being the oldest is a tough job. I’m not saying being a middle or the youngest sibling is easy, but I think the role the oldest sibling plays is the most cumbersome.
We have a lot of responsibilities in this life that we don’t ask for but have to deal with anyway and your placement in the sibling hierarchy is one of them.
I have three younger siblings with my youngest sister being two months shy of 18. Being the oldest child is a burden, but it is one I’m glad to carry.
I want to preface this by saying that I never felt unloved, but the oldest child tends to be neglected. New babies require more time, care, and attention than five year-olds, and so it goes. That left me with a lot of free time. I had to learn to be independent at a young age and learn how to entertain myself. I spent a lot of time with my nose in a book.
My mom recently found a “book” (about 10 pages stapled together, autographed by me of course) that I wrote about a girl named Clare who lived on a prairie. She may have been friends with Laura Ingalls had it been set in a different time period. That’s how I spent my childhood.
Being the oldest child means you always have someone to rope into your adventures. Your younger siblings listen to you because they trust you. I can probably count on one hand the times I went along with my siblings antics. Similarly, I can probably count on one hand they didn’t go along with mine.
You sometimes have to act as the third parent. Especially with a family of four kids, I often found myself with the job of making sure my siblings were ready or hadn’t forgotten anything before school. Most of the time this meant I was thinking of myself second to my siblings, and so I had to make sure my own things were ready far in advance. I think this helps me see the details within the bigger picture now that I’m older. It helps me see things other people miss.
It was also often my job to entertain my siblings, particularly after my dad’s cancer diagnosis. I spent many night keeping them at the dinner table with a well-told story while my mom cared for my dad.
I made up stories and worlds that my siblings were enthralled by. I created a fictional universe that I actually built into the woods behind our house. We never got around to having a treehouse so I instead created a place called Adelphia where I, naturally, ruled over. Paths ran all over the woods between the “houses” that we built for each other. We even painted signs on the trees and brought snacks to eat over our pretend campfires. I still consider that one of my greatest accomplishments.
As the oldest child I felt like I had a responsibility to make good choices, so I made good choices. When you think someone is looking up to you and is going to mimic your behavior, that weighs heavily into your decisions. I didn’t want to be the reason my siblings made bad choices so I made good ones.
I never once snuck out of the house (I was too terrified), I never smoked a cigarette, I didn’t get into a car with people I didn’t know, I never got drunk when I lived under my parents’ roof. I got a speeding ticket once and came home ready to hand my license over to my mom. My three biggest goals before I turned 20 were to graduate high school, get into college, and avoid teen pregnancy. Check, check, and check.
Now that I’m an adult, married, and live completely independent of family, I realize that my choices didn’t really affect their decisions. They still made the choices they wanted to make regardless of the ones I had made. I made a lot of choices based off of what kind of role model I wanted my siblings to have but they didn’t have that luxury.
You learn that life isn’t always fair. I have a favorite story to tell in regards to this lesson. When I was nine, we moved to a bigger house because our six-person family had outgrown our current three bedroom home. We found an antique mirror in the move and I desperately wanted it for my room (that would finally be all my own, mind you).
It was a small wall mirror and I honestly have no idea where it even came from. I told my dad that I would like to have it. When my sister realized what we were talking about, she decided that she also wanted the mirror, and so naturally, a verbal argument ensued over who deserved the mirror and who wanted it more. Having had enough, my dad stepped in and “solved” the problem by saying I would take that mirror and he would buy my sister a new mirror of her choice.
Despite ending up with the mirror, I was outraged. Had I given the mirror to my sister, no one would have offered to buy me a new one or praise me on my kindness. I learned I would always have to fight for what I wanted.
Family dynamics are hard explain thoroughly. Each family is different and the role each member plays can dramatically differ based on a family’s circumstances. Despite occasionally being left out, carrying more responsibility than I ever wanted, and ending up with old mirror, I’m exceptionally glad that I get to be the oldest sibling.
Are you an oldest child? Would you change your position in the sibling hierarchy given the chance?