In Defense of the Firstborn

This is somebody's older brother.
This is somebody’s older brother.
Before I go on to something useful, I would like to take a little time to talk about firstborn children. I speak from personal experience and from watching The History Channel too much.

Firstborns do not have an easy time. We are a misunderstood and put-upon minority. I can just hear the hue and cry from all you middle and youngest siblings, so, to quiet everyone down, I’ll start off by listing some perks of being the oldest child in the family.

1. The firstborn son gets to be king, eventually. In the meantime, he’s the crown prince, and don’t you forget it. The other children in a royal family only get attention if they do something scandalous.

2. In medieval times, the firstborn son inherited everything. Younger sons were told their only hope was to join a religious order, because Dad couldn’t split up the castle just to give them part of it.

3. In ancient Egypt, firstborn sons got to sleep alone downstairs, while the rest of the kids hunkered together upstairs. Firstborn sons also got served first at dinnertime.

Notice that all of those refer only to firstborn sons. The only way a firstborn daughter could even hope to get any perks was if there were no boys in the family. Even then, she might have to fight a few greedy relatives and/or neighboring nobles. Nobody ever just handed anything good to her, least of all her family, who wanted to get her married off as soon as she showed signs of being interested in boys, preferably to someone wealthy, and get it over with.

Of course, it was customary to marry off older daughters first and make the younger ones wait. This wasn’t very romantic. Marriages were arranged in the old days, so sometimes this just meant that the oldest daughter was the first one in the family to get stuck for life with a jackass.

I forgot to mention that firstborns never have to wear hand-me-downs and they often have more baby pictures than the younger members of the brood. Those things are important, especially the hand-me-downs. No kid wants to wear stuff an older sibling wore four years earlier. Middle children have their pride, you know. Hopefully, by the time the clothes get down to the youngest siblings they will have come back into style.

Now that I have admitted that there are some advantages to being the oldest child in the family, let’s examine what’s hard about it.

In olden times, when people thought they should sacrifice something to the god of war, who did they think of first? FIRSTBORN SONS! Female virgins were also eligible sacrifices, and who were going to grow into sacrifice-able virgins first? FIRSTBORN DAUGHTERS! In some ancient societies, you had a better chance of living into adulthood if you were the middle child or the baby of the family.

The oldest child is expected to be a role model for the younger ones and to be the mature kid in the family. I don’t know about other firstborns, but the only kind of example I was good at setting was a bad example. As for maturity, at age 69 I still haven’t grown up. I was a dismal failure at showing my younger siblings how to act. I suspect that most firstborns are more like me than like Wally Cleaver. Closely allied to this is the way parents hold the oldest child to a higher standard of behavior. In other words, the firstborn can’t get away with anything, even if the younger children could burn the house down, murder the family pet and break Mom’s best china, then escape punishment just by acting cute.

Little sister being babysat by family firstborn.
Little sister being babysat by family firstborn.
When Mom and Dad go out for the evening, guess who is commandeered to be the babysitter – usually for free. Once the firstborn reaches babysitting age, he or she is IT. Somehow parents are naïve enough to think that the younger kids will actually obey an older sibling once the parents have cleared the driveway. This makes for some interesting sibling conflict. I will refrain from giving details. Let’s just say that there might be a little brother with a bump on his head and revenge in his heart.

A firstborn child is like a bicycle with trainer wheels. New, inexperienced mothers and fathers sometimes learn to navigate the perils of parenthood by noting all the mistakes they make with the first one. By the time the second child comes around, they are getting used to the whole thing, and by the time the third and/or fourth child arrives it’s all old stuff. It isn’t easy being the one your parents learned on. It can be confusing, to say the least. In later life, many a retirement of travel and leisure will evaporate in the reality of the therapist bills.

Well, I think you all get the idea. If any of you middle or youngest children want to add your remarks, please feel free to comment – the funnier, the better.

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6 thoughts on “In Defense of the Firstborn”

  1. I’m a first born and I was given a large canvas and told to do what I wanted with it so I made a tent. That I have not yet made my fortune from building tents is beyond me as is math, magnets and making non-tent related stuff.

    1. It’s not your fault, Bill Y. It’s in the name. Would you buy something called a Ledden tent? 😉

  2. I’m 3rd son among 4 and had to sleep in a bottom bunk. . . . Talk about berth order!

    1. I’m just glad that I was born in the 20th Century and my parents were Catholics. I didn’t have to worry about being sacrificed!

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