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Nearly everyone reading this has a first born. For many of you, your first born will become the “oldest” of the family. For others, your first born will become an “only.” Only children will be covered in a future post. Keep in mind that there are also “functional” first borns. For example, in our family we have Brayden who is our first born. We also have Kaitlyn who is a functional first born in that she is the oldest girl, so she will display many oldest qualities, especially when the third child comes and she is no longer in that “youngest” slot.
Being a first born has a lot of impact on the personality of the child. Traits of a first born includes perfectionist, reliable, conscientious, list maker, well organized, hard driving, scholarly, natural leader, conservative, self-sacrificing, self-reliant, exacting, precise, picky, critical, serious, scholarly, logical, doesn’t like surprises, loves computers, serious, goal oriented, achieving, people pleasers, and believers in authority.
First borns often grow up to be in powerful positions, from CEO to American president. Those who don’t go for the spotlight position often go for meticulous positions such as accountants and editors. I, myself, am a first born and my degree is in English with an emphasis on Technical Writing.
This high-achieving often comes at a price. Bodies break down and/or personal relationships suffer. Sadly, “The very traits and abilities that enable you to succeed at work, at church, or in other organizations will often work against you in your close personal relationships” (The Birth Order Book, page 85).
So what makes first borns the way they are? You do. The parents. Mom and Dad have a huge affect on the traits a first born displays and just how that first born reacts to life as a first born. For one thing, with our first born, it is our first time being a parent. I read a book a few years ago (I can’t remember what book now) that pointed out a first born has been a child as long as the parent has been a parent. In many ways we are on even ground. We often have no clue what we are doing at first. We don’t realize problems we have created until they are real problems.
Another affect we as parents have on our first borns is that we put so much importance on the child. We often overdo stuff with the first one. Preparations for the baby. Waiting with anxious breath for those first steps. First birthday party. Most first borns have more video time and more photos than the later siblings. All of this attention encourages the first born to achieve.
First borns usually spend a lot of time with grown ups. This was true of me and also true of Brayden. Both of us are the oldest child and the oldest grandchild on our mother’s side. This abundant time with adults shows the first born to behave like adults.
With all of this attention comes pressure. The oldest isn’t supposed to act up and will get in trouble for doing the same thing younger children are doing because he “knows better” or “should set the example.” Oldest children watch the younger siblings get away with things the oldest couldn’t have even thought about without punishment. First borns get the most discipline and also the most work. Chores are loaded on the first born more than the younger children. What the oldest did at 5 wouldn’t even be considered for the youngest at 5 in many cases.
I will write more on parenting first borns later, but for now, I have a few thoughts. One, if you are not a first born, realize these things are very real for a first born. I remember feeling so much pressure as a child. It isn’t because my parents placed pressure on me. There was some, and I certainly heard the “you know better” talks, but not as much as I felt. The first born child places enough pressure on himself. He doesn’t need more from you. Encouraging your first born will often pay off most. The extra pressure from you is not necessary.
If you are a first born, watch yourself. As a first born, I am very aware of myself and the way I treat Brayden. I know I carry traits of being precise, demanding, and critical. I have little patience for deliberate braking of rules. I am ever-conscious of how I talk to Brayden. The opposite gender parent has the most effect on the self-esteem of the child. I must be careful to know Brayden and treat him the way he needs to be treated. I was fortunate in that my father (opposite gender) was the baby of his 7 child family. He is extremely easy going. My best was always good enough. I only remember him being mad at me two times in my life. I was hard enough on myself that if my father had been demanding and exacting, I might have gone off the deep end.
Another small note, oldest don’t like surprises. Note that. Brayden does so much better when he has warning of a change about to come up. Be sure you give your oldest 5 minute warnings when an activity is about to change.
Also, take note of the logical side of oldest children. Oldest children want to know the reason for things. If he can’t climb the tree, he wants to know why. Saying, “Because I said so” is one of the most frustrating things for an oldest to hear. We are happy to comply with rules, but we want to know the reason. Knowing the reason helps us accept the rule.
If you are not a first born, you most likely won’t understand many things about a first born. But take note of the traits listed above. It can help you to understand your oldest child better.
- Don and Denise Sullivan said…
Thanks for this post! I’ve read that book but it’s been a long time. My husband and I are both first-borns and we often find ourselves expecting way too much of our son and being too hard on him. At the same time, we try not to be too overprotective. Our parents were like that with us as well as being very critical. They expected a lot too and forget about questioning or asking “Why?” I remember constantly feeling pressure as well. We are trying to do things differently with our son but it’s easy to forget.
October 17, 2008 4:16 PM
Denise, it is very easy to forget. My husband is a functional first born, as the oldest boy, and we both struggle with expecting too much of our oldest.
October 21, 2008 11:47 AM
- Lori said…
Wow! That is so me! I’ve never read the book, but I think I might need to. I also have a first born (and only) son and he gets SO much attention…but it all makes sense now. My husband is an only child, so I’m anxious to read your future post on that type. Thanks!
October 17, 2008 6:22 PM
Lori, it is a very intersting book. Only children are pretty similar to oldest–they are kind of a “super-charged” oldest 😉
October 21, 2008 11:48 AM
- Christie said…
Great post, I am a first born and my husband is an only child, so these characteristics describe us well. I was wondering if you could possibly do a post in the future on behavior out in public, and tips you would have in places such as the grocery store and dining out…sometimes my little girl is so unpredictable in these places! thanks!
October 17, 2008 7:12 PM
Christie, I will! I will add it to my list.
October 21, 2008 11:49 AM
- Homestic Affairs said…
Funny, my husband is 2nd born of two. He has an older sister and other than not being a very strong authority figure, the rest fits him perfectly.
You never mention 1st borns being detached emotionally from the family. Both of our sisters(first borns)are very detached from family and other relationships. They tend not to maintain close friendships. I wonder why? Also, I think ALL kids hate the “because I said so”. I’m the middle of 3 girls and that answer would drive me crazy. Plus, the Ezzos stress how important it is to give every child the “moral reason” as an answer to build those morals up in their hearts to access later.
Thanks for the post. I can wait to here more about birth order. It’s fascinating.
October 18, 2008 11:34 AM
Homestic Affairs, I don’t think emotional detachment is normal for first borns. I have never read that and I am definitely not that way. In fact, most first borns settle down within a few miles of where they grew up. I would guess that your sisters are just coincidentally the same in that area. First borns aren’t as good at close relationships because they are so “in-charge” and “on-task.” Like the post says, the qualities that make them awesome in the workplace can make for difficult interpersonal relationships. Perhaps your sisters haven’t been able to figure out how to work with that. Or they haven’t found friends willing to work with that. Birth order is so interesting.
October 22, 2008 12:07 PM
- Amanda said…
Great topic for a post. I read The Birth Order Book in high school and I’ve found it to be very accurate. My husband and I are both firstborns and it helps to be reminded that our own personality as firstborns could present problems in relating to our son. I agree completely with the firstborn description, for myself and my husband. To “homestic affairs” post, I don’t think firstborns are emotionally detached but I know in many instances they are given too much responsibility for their younger siblings when growing up and so relish the freedom from that responsibility when they move away from home. Also, being driven and self-reliant can result in a very independent nature. It doesn’t mean we don’t love our families, it just means we like to live our lives without too much input from the family because it can be overwhelming since we take criticism way too seriously. Not sure if that’s true for everyone, but that’s what I’ve seen in all my friends who’re firstborns.
October 20, 2008 5:54 PM
Thanks Amanda, good points! First borns are very independent.
October 22, 2008 12:18 PM