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May 15, 2008

Battling the Birth Order Blues

Jen_lee Recently, msnbc.com reported on a recent study in the Economic Journal that confirms what many a first-born child has long suspected:  parents really are harder on oldest children.  The study documents that parents provide more financial aid for grown younger siblings than their first-born counterparts, also showing that the discrepancy in parenting continues on after children become adults.

Most oldest children would attest that being first isn't all it's cracked up to be.  Sure, our clothes weren't faded the first time around and our playthings were more likely to sport that new-toy shine, but other firsts aren't always pleasant, like being the first to negotiate curfews, the first to not make it home for the holidays, the first to disappoint parents with our choice in careers.  As a first-born adult, I'm still pioneering new ground with my parents for my sisters to glide through behind me. 

I'm familiar with Birth Order Theory, and now, even armed with new research validating my suspicions, do you think I can overcome this disparity in myself--in my own parenting?

Not a chance.  Please pass the guilt.

It's on my radar all the time, but I'm still easier on my youngest daughter and I carry greater fear about my oldest daughter turning out Okay.  The vicious cycle works like this:  I worry about doing a good job parenting my oldest daughter, then I parent a little intensely.  She does well--so well that I wonder why I was so worried in the first place.  I look at my youngest daughter, less worried now, and I lighten up.

Add to this cycle the hit my vision takes when there are two people to keep an eye on instead of one, and the energy drain of rearing multiple children and I have a perfect recipe for unfairness.

I try to compensate as much as I can, easing up on my oldest and being more consistent with my youngest, but I know it won't be enough to erase the discrepancies my daughters will see between the ways they are parented. 

My only other strategy is to affirm the difficulties of being oldest and being youngest while reminding my children of the unique benefits their order of birth brings, as well.  For instance, a heightened sense of responsibility and the ability to accomplish serves me more often than it gets in my way.  My youngest sister's penchant for creativity and social connection give her some good moves in life, and our middle sister's abilities to work alongside people and see various perspectives have been valuable traits.

Perhaps if we can frame birth order as a challenge and a gift, we can find a little more peace--for our children and for ourselves.

This is an original NYC Moms Blog post.  Jen Lee is a first-born writer who lives in Brooklyn's Park Slope and blogs at jenlee.net.

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