A new study, unveiled this week, suggests that firstborn children, especially if they are female, will be more ambitious and more successful in life than their younger sibling(s). Can this really be true?
I often harp on about parental guilt and this study’s findings has served me up with a very generous portion. Having a second child, for me, brought with it a mixture of emotions. I was excited that my first would have a playmate, worried how I would cope with the responsibility of looking after two little people and most of all, intensely guilty that not only my firstborn would no longer have my undivided attention but also that the second would never experience the unwavering devotion that a first child gets in those early years.
How can it be that two children, with the same parents, upbringing, family home, education and even the same toys to share, end up with different levels of success, in such obvious favour of the first? While I struggle to believe that this is actually the case and not just a form of statistical manipulation- a conspiracy to make parents feel more guilty than we already do- it got me wondering about my own little pack and how their young lives thus far have differed.
So here are my reasons why firstborns *might* be prone to greater achievement than their younger siblings:
Your firstborn will never have to suffer the pitfalls of hand-me-downs. The sniggers in the playground about a once-trendy pair of orange flared jeans. The worn-out trainers which are a little bit big and make you walk funny. The hat that covers your eyes and makes you partially deaf. No, your first born has a wardrobe which is positively self-esteem building, and it’s just his.
Your firstborn won’t have to worry about whether half his crisps will get nabbed when mum isn’t looking. Or whether he can drink out of his favourite cup whenever he wants. Your firstborn will never not get the last sweet and he’ll always get the slightly bigger portion at tea-time.
Your firstborn will always ‘know more’. He will take on the role of leader among his younger siblings, they will look upto him, and it will charge him with a sense of greatness in years to come.
Your firstborn experiences you and your parenting in its most novel, intense and committed form. The first few days, weeks, months and years of being a parent for the first time can’t be replicated because you will never have the same amount of time or energy to devote what you could during that period of your lives.
Your firstborn always had your attention when he hit milestones. You didn’t miss him crawling for the first time because you were busy doing finger paints. And you heard his first word, undistracted by the need to sing the ‘wheels on the bus’ with your toddler for the nineteenth time. You noticed every little thing and were unlimited in your praise for him.
Your firstborn had the luxury of you tending to his every whimper. He learnt that this was a great way to get attention, and still thinks it is.
The big boy
Your firstborn will have strength and size on his side. He can run for the ball much quicker and elbow a younger sibling out of the way. He can climb the highest trees. He will always be able and allowed to do things that are just that little bit too grown-up for his siblings. He is the ‘big boy’.
The learning curve
Your firstborn is your learning curve. He sleeps in your bed. He has sweets before bedtime. You walk him in the pram for three hours just to make sure he naps. He is the child you learn how not to do things before the second arrives. He is on the honeymoon of parenting and then Gina Ford enters and everything changes.
The first, the only
Your firstborn gets all of the attention from family and friends. Your first child- how exciting. They all want to get to know him and be a part of the ‘newness’. To them, your first born isn’t ‘another child’ he is ‘thee child’.
A lot of these reasons come down to the link between the time and attention you give your children and how this impacts on their self-esteem. In reality parenting more than one child isn’t as simple as splitting yourself down the middle 100 per cent of the time. Instead you give your time momentarily to the child who needs it the most. At that moment in time. So this begs the question, are first children simply more demanding than their counterparts? Do they expect more from us because their start to life was more privileged in terms of the attention we could offer them? And ultimately does that mean they get more?
Having said all of this, I really believe there are many benefits to having an elder sibling. Even if they do get more than you. And turn out to be more successful than you.
First off, if this is the case, you’re guaranteed to get great presents on your birthday. But also, you have someone to play with, to learn from and to be different from. You learn how to share, and how to be patient and understanding of other people’s needs. I can’t help but wonder what a follow-up study of second children might reveal in terms of their characteristics? I’m sure that sharing and tolerance would rank highly.
Finally, having your parents all to yourself as an infant does indeed have its benefits. But on the flip-side, you are essentially their guinea pig too. So with all that lovely attention your first born receives, he also gets the fumbling parent at 3am putting the nappy on backwards. The milk which has been over-heated and nearly scolds his mouth. The weird solid food which tastes like mud. And the many more mistakes you make which you vow not to repeat when your second is born.
I’m a middle child and I can safely say-hearing some of the woes of my parents when they had my eldest sibling- that I am pretty happy with my positioning in the family.
I’m also pretty sure I’m the best child too, which helps.