Kids and pancakes
It might have been columnist Peg Bracken, or perhaps Erma Bombeck, who wrote that kids should be like pancakes; that we should be allowed to throw away the first one after we’d messed up and ended up with a burned flapjack (i.e. spoiled brat).
I recently heard about a new study that concluded that the oldest child in a family gets the best parenting, and becomes the best student, highest achiever, and supposedly the happiest adult in any family of multiple siblings. I seem to recall a similar study was made 50 or 60 years ago and I don’t think the conclusions agreed with those resulting from this latest study. Perhaps the changes in families and lifestyles are responsible for the discrepancy, or my memory is a little fuzzy, or perhaps I’m just influenced by the experiences I’ve had and things I’ve observed. Maybe my standards for judging children, their achievements, and happiness are different from most other people’s, but the results of such a study should be looked at from several points of view, and any conclusions subject to differences in circumstances.
For instance; is the first-born child a boy or a girl? And what sex are subsequent siblings? That does make a difference. I’ve noticed that first-born girls with little brothers are generally bossier while those with little sisters are more motherly. First-born boys tend to instruct younger brothers, and are more protective toward little sisters. And, the age difference has a lot to do with those sibling relationships. For instance, I’ve noticed that children born within two years of each other are better friends as young children than they are once they become adults. Almost any child, boy or girl, at age 8 seems to be enchanted by babies and will become very attached to that child who is so much younger– protecting, teaching, entertaining the youngster voluntarily and for long periods of time.
Oldest children tend to be resentful of younger brothers or sisters who were born at the time the older one started school at age 5. This age difference seems to vary in recent times, possibly because of the increase in working mothers and the age when children are sent off to daycare and preschool. Whatever it is, the older child seems to sense that he has been sent away to make room for this new child. He resents being replaced so abruptly and thoughtlessly.
A family changes with the birth of each child. A first child is raised by two adults. A second child is raised by two adults and a toddler. It’s bound to have a different effect on the newest member of the family as the ratio of adults to children changes.
I never agreed with what that columnist observed– that our first child was just a learning experience, a practice piece, and bound to be a disaster. And, I don’t agree with this most recent study– that parents do best with the first child, because they are more conscientious, have more time, or are better prepared than previous generations of parents. A lot of good parenting depends on the parent’s own childhood. If growing up was a happy, secure, interesting part of the adult’s life, then he or she will tend to provide that same sort of childhood for his or her own children.
In days gone past, families often included 10 or more children, and one’s place in the order of birth probably made a greater difference than it does today. I remember one of my grandmothers showing me a family photo that included her 10 siblings and their parents. Grandma couldn’t even remember the names of all her brothers and sisters, though to be fair, she was the second oldest, was married quite young, and hadn’t been around when the youngest ones were growing up.
Being from a family of four sisters myself, I am well acquainted with the fact that personalities, among other factors, dictate which child gets the most attention. Some children are more content just skittering around among the crowd, sort of raising themselves. And some, the ones who shout the loudest, get into the most trouble, command the most attention, require the greatest effort from the parents, seem to dominate. The quiet ones, the ones who watch and listen, learn by example, trial and error, avoid attracting attention, stay out of trouble, quietly achieve their own goals, and seldom inconvenience their parents, appear to be the happiest.
One last observation about that recent study; after all the claims concerning the superior parenting those oldest children get, they did concede that the younger siblings are more resilient. Gee. You don’t suppose it’s because they didn’t have to put up with all that smothering, overly-conscientious parenting their older brothers and sisters got, do you?