That first kiddo gets the brunt of all our pre-parenting wisdom. And dislike it as we might, anticipate it as we all do, our firstborn child has it the hardest.
We try every parenting book we read on them. We zoom back and forth between too disciplinary to too permissive. We treat them as equals when they engage maturely, then we pull the carpet out from under them and demand submission when they don’t. Poor thing.
There’s a reason to have more than one child: so you know that you’re not a flailing, bipolar parent. And that you can also view yourself as a fairly self-assured, balanced parent. Then you can have loads of affirming moments that speak that you might not have tortured every one of your children.
Perhaps it’s just my firstborn, but my oldest daughter also happens to be the most headstrong, and also the most resilient. Chicken and egg, you ask? Am I making that kiddo stubborn by inflicting all my parental insecurities on her? Possibly. Or is personality pre-determined? Necessary resilience to withstand the onslaught of first time parenting…
My own story bears that at two days old, my eldest knew how to belt out cries for hours without satisfaction, and she did it for months. She insisted she be held continuously for a year, and she liked to sleep with me, not apart…my pre-parenting post-partum nursing training instilled a ‘don’t sleep with your baby’ approach, so I tried hard to use that cute little cradle at my bedside. She has since spent much of her young childhood perplexing me ever since.
So perhaps she came into the world headstrong on her own accord, and for the protection of her inner self, and possibly to teach me a thing or two as well.
No question though, the eldest often has the maternal, bossypants trait–but it comes in awful handy when there are other kiddos involved, sometimes. Her independent streak has always meant she likes to get stuff done too, which is also helpful with three younger siblings.
Be perplexed with my eldest as I sometimes have been, it is idyllic to have her with me day-to-day…
1. By twelve, she wants to be on-line for any reason, and will eagerly order anything with my credit card. One less task for me. She’s ordered Halloween costumes and book orders. She’s photocopied, typed, and become my go-to technology guide.
2. Babysitting…legal, homemade, often less-expensive babysitting.
3. Easier grocery shopping. Weekly grocery visits make this errand super simple with my eldest. Take the youngest kiddos to go “grocery shopping” with his cart while I have my cart. This is their adventure; this is your quiet time. Give her a list and a few books and she’s good to go. (She sees it as independence–ha!)
4. Youngers can watch olders get into trouble. And obviously know what lines not to cross. Of course, I’m not saying this is foolproof parenting, just a wee bit of natural mentoring. Monkey see, monkey don’t do, unless you want to deal with mama.
5. You don’t have to be the only one bossing the others around. The very thing that can drive me up the wall is also another built-in safety mechanism, responsibility-maker and additional interpersonal counsellor. However, I do require her to add the tagline, ‘cause mom said. Anything outside of that tagline means she’s crossed the line.
6. Engaging and occupying the littles…twelve year old to five year old pillow fights, reading stories, playing Legos, participating in a homemade play, singing Karaoke together…these are big sisterly nurture sessions.
7. Travel assistant…she keeps her eyes on siblings while we move through airport security and she helps to pack up the youngest for a two week trip twelve hour drive away. And since we give her so much practice packing, she is really good at it.
The eldest is blazing the trail for the youngers. And she’s blazing a trail for me–teaching me what I need to learn every step of this parenting journey, and she always will.
“While we try to teach our children all about life,
it’s our children that teach us what life is all about”.