Eldest Child Syndrome – Are You What Your Parents Have Made You?
Do you have a people pleaser personality? Have you ever been in a situation where you begin to wonder whether other people’s expectations of you exceed your ability or willingness to deliver? Of course you have! Silly question – unless you’re one of those super-humans who know how to say no without saying no.
BIRTH ORDER AND SELF
Thing is, there’s a limit to what you can do, isn’t there? I’m one of the sandwich generation so I have both young grandchildren for whom I care twice a week whilst my daughter teaches, and parents, with various health issues, who also require a degree of support. In addition, I job-share with my husband – that’s how we make our living – and I write.
When I went down with ‘Female Flu’ a couple of weeks ago (so much worse than the Man Flu variety, because you have to keep going) I managed to keep most of the balls in the air, but some simply had to be dropped. So when I found myself expected to take on a family commitment at the weekend when I might, otherwise, have given myself some me-time to recharge my batteries, I wasn’t exactly delighted. I know some people know how to say no without saying no. I’m simply not one of them. Besides, I’m in that unenviable position of being a firstborn child.
According to the Wikipedia website, one of the first people to suggest that birth order has an effect on personality was an Austrian psychiatrist, Alfred Adler. A contemporary of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, he argued that the way in which each of us tackles the major aspects of life – friendship, love and work – is greatly influenced by our birth order in the family.
Now I know there are those who passionately believe in first child syndrome and others who feel there’s nothing in it. Advocates identify the following traits in the eldest child in a family, by saying they are:
- High achievers
- Good leaders
- Eager to please
- Have high expectations of themselves
- Feel responsible for the welfare and harmony of the family
- Low self-esteem (because they can’t live up to expectations)
- Sensitive and in need of constant assurance
Do you – if you are a firstborn child – adhere to those characteristics? Do you, for instance, have a people pleaser personality? Have you high expectations of yourself? Are you in constant need of assurance that you’re fulfilling what’s expected of you?
To my mind, there are arguments for and against. The gap between sibs must play a part, surely? If the eldest is at school, or has left home before the next one arrives, what then? The eldest would have been an only child prior to reaching school age and would, in effect, continue in that vein. And what if there’s a different combination of genders? Say a girl followed by several boys. Or vice versa: a couple of girls followed by a single boy? I can’t believe that the same principles hold for all scenarios.
ARE ALL ELDEST CHILDREN HIGH ACHIEVERS?
It seems to be widely accepted that the first baby to be born into a family will grow up with a tendency to be analytical, methodical and high achieving. Whether every firstborn adheres to these attributes is debatable, not least because as a firstborn, myself, I show none of these traits. Creative, naturally flexible and spontaneous (though I’ve disciplined myself to be orderly where to be otherwise causes me grief) my only achievement was a No. 4 bestseller – and that crept up on me unawares! The familyrappwebsite continues, with the following statement this child values control and once again this is the very opposite of my personality. Perhaps there’s something my parents aren’t telling me, and I’m not actually the eldest child in our family?
RESPONSIBLE I have certainly never had any desire to be a leader of anything whatever! As an author my interests and pursuits are those of an introvert. I could, however, be described as self-sufficient, am conscientious, a perfectionist and have high expectations of myself – especially when it comes to feeling responsible for the welfare and harmony of my family. The sticking plaster mentality is probably true of many women. For me it’s – well – sort of stuck into my personality. If someone’s hurt or in need, I suppose I see myself as the one who has to tend and cover the wound!
Which is why I find it so difficult to say no and mean no. It doesn’t live up to people’s expectations of me, you see. Nor, of course, my own.
UNDERSTANDING SIBLING RIVALRY
I suspect that the whole eldest child syndrome is, actually, the result of how firstborns in the family are treated, and what expectations are made of them. ‘Now you be a good boy/girl, and look after your little brother/sister’ is the usual mantra. My parents told me – on the one occasion I tried to stick out for something I believed in that went right against what they were asking of me – that my acquiescence had been taken as read. They simply never expected me to oppose them and were shocked and hurt that I should do so.
All of which leads me to believe that eldest child syndrome is less to do with the innate personality of a first born child, and more to do with conditioning by parents and other adults. Perhaps if we take a look at middle child syndrome next week that will reveal more?