What It's Really Like to Be Firstborn
My mom and I are both firstborns, or as she likes to call us, members of The Firstborn Club. Other notable club members include Beyoncé, Hillary Clinton, and Sheryl Sandberg. (Unfortunately, we haven’t met.) My mom and I share little moments that go unnoticed by my dad, brother, and sister, and we definitely have similar outlooks on life that have undoubtedly been influenced by our birth order. I’ve found that all of my firstborn friends and I share similar traits. We have strong maternal instincts, we’re not afraid to take risks but we respect authority, and we’re definitely used to being the tester child (i.e., having the earliest curfew, being the last person to get a cell phone, and not being able to watch certain shows or movies that our younger siblings can watch anytime).
It appears that I’m not the only one who’s noticed personality similarities among firstborns. Hundreds of scientific studies would agree that birth order has a noticeable impact on personality. Dr. Kevin Leman, a psychologist, studies the effect of birth order and explains his research in two books: The Birth Order Book and The First-Born Advantage. According to Dr. Leman, “Firstborns are held to a higher standard. As kids come into the birth order, parents loosen up.” Another study published in the Journal of Research and Personality claims that birth order affects a child’s lifelong goals. It found that the eldest child wants to “master” or “learn” while second children want to “win.” Scroll down for a few things firstborns know all about.
After five years of my boyfriend and I being in a relationship, three of which were spent living together, my parents finally allowed him to leave his post in the guesthouse and join me in my room. Shortly after, my sister brought home her new (and wonderful) boyfriend of six months. They were given the guesthouse to share. When I inquired about the discrepancy, my dad just laughed and said, “You’re the first batch of pancakes; what can I say?” I think all firstborns can understand the meaning of that sentence.
When it comes to protecting your siblings, you’re as strong as a mama bear. Whenever my brother or sister tells me about an upset involving school, work, or friendships, I get deeply, emotionally entangled in the problem. I brainstorm solutions with them over Skype, and I am just as eager to hear how a talk with a professor or friend went as if it were my own life. Perhaps most intensely, I feel protective of my younger siblings. If someone has wronged them in any way, I hold a sincere and quite often permanent grudge against the offending party.
Firstborn children definitely have bragging rights when it comes to the little ones. Whenever my sister wins an academic award or my brother nails his lacrosse fitness tests, I beam with pride and usually gush about their achievements to whoever is sitting by me. I realize that friends, and sometimes strangers, don’t need to hear about my sister’s thesis award, but I just can’t help it.
Some traditions never change. Growing up, I was always given (or took) control of the front seat, the remote control, and the first pick of beds when we were on a family vacation. Despite the fact that all three of us are grown-up and my brother is significantly larger than me, he still respects these traditions (most of the time). It’s the sweetest thing.
According to a study published by the American Psychological Association, “The eldest children identify with parents and authority, and support the status quo.” While I think it’s safe to say firstborns may respect authority, I think oftentimes firstborns are the ones to push the status quo and try to redefine it; I’ll have to disagree with you there, Dr. Frank Sulloway. Just look at Hillary Clinton and Sheryl Sandberg: Neither of these women supports the status quo.
You’ve found joy in giving your parents and younger siblings little gifts since you were old enough to draw. Some of my very first works of art are Christmas ornaments that my mom still puts up front and center every year. I think it comes from a spirit of generosity that I see in most firstborns. We’re used to sharing with the younger ones and also looking out for our parents.
Talking to my mom and dad on the regular is not an obligation; it’s a privilege. We talk about life, share our perspectives, and help each other work through what life throws at us. And we can always have a good laugh. I think being this tied to your parents harks back to the years when it was just the three of you.
According to Business Wire, more CEOs are firstborns than any other place in the birth order. Clearly, we like to be in control. And to be honest, why wouldn’t we? We were on the planet first.
As soon as there is someone younger than you in the family, you take your title of big sister or brother seriously. This means you help parent, nurture, and love your younger siblings and feel like you can talk to your parents about issues that they wouldn’t be able to discuss with the younger ones. I’ve definitely been called “mature” since the age of 6, when my little brother came into the world.
My first PG-13 movie was Never Been Kissed, starring Drew Barrymore, another firstborn. I remember the excitement I felt when buying my first PG-13 movie ticket. I was 13 and happy to tell anyone who asked. My brother and sister didn’t get to have this experience, as they were able to watch PG-13 films by the age of 10. I’m sure all firstborns can relate to this in some way or another.
I don’t know if it’s the chaos, the sharing, or the comfort you have growing up with your contemporaries, but there are some telltale signs that only-children exhibit that only firstborns can detect. Getting a little too upset when people are being loud in the library is one example.
Shop our favorite firstborn picks below.
Why First Borns Rule the World and Last Borns Want to Change It by Michael Grose ($15)