Too Bad, So Sad: First-Born Problems

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I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “first-world problems” -- as in when a privileged person complains about his or her tough life when less fortunate people would do anything to have that “problem.” For example, me complaining about cleaning up for the cleaning ladies is a classic first-world problem -- yet I still do it every other Thursday. Well, this is sort of like that, except I’m talking about first-born problems.

You see, oldest siblings feel like they always get a raw deal, when really, they don’t know how good they have it. (Disclaimer: I’m the second of three children, so I don’t have a whole lot of sympathy for first-born problems). I understand -- for a year or two, maybe even three, four or more years, they had their parents all to themselves and were the center of their parents’ universe -- until one fateful day when another child came along and started competing for their parents’ attention. But that younger child was lucky to have one parent all to him/herself for maybe a whole hour at a time, whereas the oldest enjoyed both parents’ undivided attention for hours upon hours for one or more years. And let’s not try to deny the fact that a first child’s “firsts” (first steps, first word, first day of kindergarten etc.) are always a bigger deal than subsequent children’s “firsts." It’s just a fact of life that I, as a second child, have come to accept.

Too Bad, So Sad: First-Born Problems
Credit: lupinoduck.

So you want to complain that your younger sibling gets more attention than you? I’m sorry, that’s what I call a first-born problem.

Here are a few other first-born problems I frequently encounter in my house:

But Mom! When I was her age, I wasn’t allowed to watch as much TV as she does. It’s not fair!” Do you realize your youngest sister has never watched age-appropriate television because she has to watch what YOU want to watch? When you were her age, you watched Dora the Explorer. She is two and watching Top Chef. She will never experience the wonder of answering a cartoon character on a television screen who asks you a question and then after an awkwardly long silence somehow magically hears what you’ve said and affirms your answer. Nor will she ever enjoy the exhilarating rush that accompanies performing the “Hot Dog” dance at the end of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. She thinks Curious George is just a book, for crying out loud. Sorry honey, you’ve got yourself a first-born problem.

Mom! She’s wearing my sweater!” You mean the new sweater I bought you when I bought you an entire wardrobe of brand-new clothes? You do understand that as the oldest child, you will never have to wear a hand-me-down piece of clothing, and that the only way your sister can wear a new sweater (not a “new to you” sweater) is if she wears your new sweater, right? ALL your clothes are new. Your younger sisters are lucky if I buy them new underpants. Yup, first-born problem.

MOM! She keeps waking me up, I can’t sleep!” Oh sweet child, do you realize that nobody’s sleep was better protected than your own? I even made a sleep chart (thank you, Dr. Weissbluth) to monitor your sleep patterns, for Christ’s sake. Can you believe that? Somewhere on my computer is an Excel spreadsheet mapping out months’ worth of your sleep behavior. Your naptime was a sacred time that I guarded like Fort Knox. Meanwhile, your younger sister was lucky to get any naps in with you constantly sabotaging the process. (Incidentally, you can thank her for your ever being allowed to watch TV in the first place. We initiated screen time so that I could have ten minutes of quiet to put her down.) Your youngest sister spent her first year napping in the car seat, five minutes here, ten minutes there, as I chauffeured you all around town. Her next two years she was woken up prematurely from every nap so we could pick you up from school on time. Please don’t complain that they are interrupting your sleep, the irony is killing me. Three words: first-born problem.

I could go on an on -- “Do I really have to go to their gymnastics class?” “She’s messing up my toys!” “When can I have my own room?” -- but my husband says I need to keep these more brief and I’m not doing a very good job of that. So I’ll conclude by saying that I do understand that life does not seem fair when you are the older sibling. Parents become more lenient as they grow increasingly fatigued, allowing their younger children to get away with a lot more than they did their older counterparts. And older siblings are expected to live up to a higher standard than their younger siblings, to be role models, and to “know better” than this or that. I get it, it’s not fair, it’s frustrating, and it’s lame. But at the end of the day, what it all really boils down to is this: First-born problems.

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