You may have seen them, those prayers and declarations on WhatsApp for the firstborn child in the bid to ensure that they excel and are not relegated by the achievements of their siblings. I got a lot of them at a time and my immediate reaction to them was anger and irritation because I know they are fear based and not necessarily true. As far as I am concerned, the prayers are based on the fact that Rueben, Jacob’s (Israel) first born who slept with his father’s mistress and was cursed by his father. Also giving credence to the necessity of the prayers is the rivalry between Cain and Abel, Esau and Jacob and the fact that the younger of a set of twins is seen often to be more successful than the elder.
I am a first born and for years I desperately wished I wasn’t. I wanted older siblings for many reasons, the main reason being that I didn’t think I could navigate my way in the world by myself and I felt I needed someone who wasn’t a parent, peer or friend to show me the way. My parents were not qualified because I felt they didn’t understand my world and how it worked. Peers were not better than me except for those who had older siblings; more so, a friend might not have my back quite like an elder sibling would.
The demands and responsibilities of being a first born was huge, I was the 3rd parent in the home, responsible for the behavior of my siblings both at home and outside the home; took discipline meant for them because the parents would ask where I was when they were misbehaving or spoilt things and was generally the unwilling model on which the parents practiced all their parenting techniques.
So what’s the curse of the first born?
The first is the fact that attention shifts from us once the siblings start coming and sometimes, if care is not taken, we are relegated to the end of the list as everyone tends to coo over and give attention to the new baby or babies.
The second is the fact that suddenly we are expected to grow up and behave like the adult that we are not as everyone calls us big sister/ brother when we still need some babying ourselves. Situations that would have caused some sympathy to come our way now become occasions where we are told to toughen up and show a good example of strength and courage to our younger siblings.
The third is that we suddenly find ourselves being compared unfavorably with our younger siblings as the parents tend to forget that all children are unique and different. This is always a sore point with most firstborns especially if our siblings are doing much better than us academically and socially.
The fourth is that we are given much more responsibility than our young shoulders can bear just because we are a bit older than our siblings. I have friends who dropped out of school to work so their siblings could finish school. Some eventually went back to school while some never could. I also know of situations where because there is a huge gap between the first born and the last born, the parents turn over every aspect of caring for the last born to the first even though the first born has his or her own family to take care of.
The fifth is that we are the ones who bear the brunt of the parents discipline and training and it’s a fact that most parents tend to bring up the first born with such firmness and strictness and then to the shock and utter surprise and sometimes resentment of the first child, relax their discipline with the other children.
The Sixth is the loss of one’s uniqueness and the fact that we are often expected to tow the line of the parents who already have our future cut out for us. For some it’s the fact that we can’t marry from outside our tribes/ race, for others it’s the fact that we must carry on the family business or profession notwithstanding our preference, passions and skills.
Like I said earlier, I am of the firm belief that the curse of the firstborn is a myth propounded by fear and ignorance. The first born child is not automatically destined to win or succeed by reason of their birth order but the birth order does seem to affect our personalities as many studies have shown.
Common traits of firstborn children.
Generally, firstborns are very reliable and accommodating. For a lot of us because we have been made to shoulder responsibilities from an early age we have a high sense of responsibility and do not like to let people down. We find it difficult to say NO especially to family members because it has been drummed into our heads that we are the anchor that holds the family secure. This is particularly true of the first female child. This trait is both a blessing and a curse because it makes people take undue advantage of us and makes us have a savior mentality many times to the detriment of our own personal wellbeing.
We are generally law abiding. Because our parents put a lot of effort in training us, we tend to keep to the rules and are generally compliant. We know the rules and enforce them strictly to the chagrin of other siblings. This trait may make us tend to be bossy and create resentment in the hearts of our siblings towards us.
We are people pleasers. Because we fear a displacement of our parents’ affections we tend to always want to please them or others in authority. We rarely rock the boat or question our customs and traditions because we are expected to uphold them.
We are natural leaders and achievers.Several studies have shown that the first born child is generally an overachiever. It is a fact that more than half of the Nobel Prize winners and the US presidents are first borns. Also a lot of women achievers eg Angela Merkel, Hilary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, JK Rowling and Beyonce are first borns.
There are perks to being a first born and some are the fact that we are always left in charge when the parents are not around, we enjoy special privileges- get to choose first and a bigger share when things are being shared; are accustomed to setting down the law and being obeyed by our siblings but it’s not all rosy because many a time, we feel very burdened by the unreasonable standards of maturity and responsibility expected from us and some of us tend to rebel against the status quo just to be able to be our own person.
A lot of times we are resentful of the fact that everyone depends on us, that we always end up holding the short end of the stick when it comes to responsibilities and duties towards the home and our parents, especially when they are older. We have control issues either in that we tend to control others or we do not submit to others easily especially in marriage because we are used to always having our own way.
In a society such as ours that places a strong emphasis of the family structure, the firstborn syndrome has damaged a lot of people’s lives either because of the pressures it places on first borns or the privileges it’s gives them in the family structure that makes their word law. Whichever way it has affected us, it behoves us to ensure that we are conscious of the strengths and weaknesses of the firstborn child and that we train our children with them in mind.