The best of friends. Frenemies at best. Our relationships with siblings are some of the most complicated we’ll ever have. Stuck With You is a HuffPost series that explores the nuances of sibling relationships.
Your birth order can shape your childhood in ways that follow you into adulthood. While not every oldest child grows up the same way, there are certain similarities in terms of personality and life experience that you tend to see among firstborns.
A large 2015 study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that “the importance that is generally attached to sibling position in shaping one’s character is exaggerated,” according to Scientific American. However, anecdotally speaking, firstborns are thought to be independent individuals, perfectionists and high-achievers who sometimes struggle with parentification and may have trouble asking for help when they need it.
We asked HuffPost readers to share some of the truths of being the oldest sibling that stand out in their minds. Read on to see what they had to say.
Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Your parents relied on you — sometimes too much — to help take care of younger siblings and other household duties.
“The oldest is held to a higher standard. Parents just want you to ‘grow up,’ so your childhood is shorter. I was expected to be the best all the time, so there was a lot of criticism. I was also given more chores and responsibilities at an earlier age than my sibs, even as they got older. As the unpaid babysitter for my two younger brothers, I missed out on opportunities to socialize with my peers.” — Becky
As an adult, you are often in charge of caring for your aging parents.
“I am more responsible for parental caregiving than my three siblings.” — Melissa K.
You’re responsible and independent as a result of your upbringing.
“Having everything thrust upon me as the oldest child made me fierce. Most people compliment me and say they have never met anyone like me. I laugh it off and say it’s firstborn syndrome. Our parents expected the most from us and it forced us to be reliable, responsible and independent. A lot of firstborns I know are go-getters, as am I. I am supportive of my siblings like a parent and a sister. I will get on them where my mother won’t, yet I am their biggest cheerleader. The dynamics of the firstborn are amazing and if the firstborn is a girl, sky’s the limit!” — Samaya B.
Your parents were a lot harder on you.
“I’m the oldest of three. Parents were much stricter with me. My youngest sibling could’ve set the house on fire some days and my parents wouldn’t have blinked. But I was terrified to bring home a C [grade].” — Olivia H.
“I had chores and curfews and expectations, and my younger two siblings had a free-for-all. My parents were better off financially when they were raising the younger two and I think that somehow relaxed them? They had more time, more money — and that lessened their anxiety maybe?
No curfews or ‘groundings’ for the younger siblings because they had access financially to do things that us older sisters did not. Maybe it was easier to say that I couldn’t go because I didn’t get my chores done in time than it was for my mother to say that we couldn’t afford for me to go bowling or to the movies that weekend. Or maybe the younger siblings had more freedom because my mom was tired. I don’t know. These are the things I tell myself though.” — Jessica S.
Sometimes it feels like you had a completely different upbringing than your siblings.
“It was like I had different parents than my brother and sister did. My parents were much freer and happier around them, and complete anxiety and rigidity with me. In fairness, we grew up in a trauma household because our father is a Vietnam vet with PTSD so it was tough on me because I spoke up for myself. The other two just kept their mouths shut to keep the peace. That said, the resilience and independence I have are huge assets to me as an adult so I’m grateful now.” — Christine D.
You got a lot of attention from your parents and relatives, at least early on.
“You were the most doted on by the whole family until the next child or grandchild came along.” — Ash L.
“I am sure I received more one-on-one attention up until the age of three than my brother did when he came along. There’s nobody to blame of course, but when you have two children, you obviously have to split your time. Attention was also a con as I grew up because there are standards I was held to that my younger brother was not.” — Gini H.
You were the ‘first-draft’ kid.
“You are basically the experiment, so you get all the big reactions and punishments, then watch them handle things differently with your siblings.” — Melanie H.
“Oldest of four. All of the younger sibs are overachievers. I was the wonky pancake. You know when you make pancakes, and you’re trying to get the heat and the pour right and the first one is always…wonky. Not bad, just not right. The one for all the mistakes and test runs and the learning curve for the parents. Add in being a completely undiagnosed neurodivergent girl in the late 70s and 80s — forget it. Still the wonky pancake, just on my own terms at 51.” — Tara W.
As a kid, you were told you were wise beyond your years.
“I’m the oldest of three girls to a single mum. I can take on too much, feel guilt if I don’t step up enough and am super responsible and reliable. My mum always said I was an old soul.” — Deb F.
“Being the oldest meant maturing earlier than you think you should be, learning things that most people learn later on in life and feeling the need to be rational and wise beyond your age. Always feeling the need to fit in with the older crowd.” — Chloe L.
You got to witness your younger siblings grow up.
“A pro is getting to watch your siblings grow up and vividly remembering all those special moments. Also learning responsibility, empathy and creativity while helping watch and raise the younger kids. A con: Feeling responsible for much more than a kid should be. Feeling responsible for younger children’s mistakes (because I didn’t teach them, watch them, correct them well enough). This carries into adulthood as well.” — Lindsey T.
Or, if there was a large age gap, you may feel like you missed out on their childhood.
“There is a 9-year age gap between my younger sister and me. We get along great, but we definitely both see the world differently from one another. I definitely feel like I missed out on my younger two siblings growing up. I was a young adult establishing myself in the workforce while also trying to attend college. Sometimes, visiting around the holidays felt awkward because I didn’t seem to know my little brother and little sister completely.” — Elizabeth S.
You pine for an older brother or sister yourself.
You’re a people pleaser.
“As the oldest child, my parents’ grip was tightest on me. There was no space to become my own person when everything I did was to earn their approval. My siblings had more freedom to rebel and make mistakes and grow from them. They’re better for it, and I’m still an anxious people-pleaser. I know my parents did their best with what they knew at the time, but sometimes it’s hard to be the first-draft kid.” — Lizz A.
You felt a lot of pressure to impress your parents and set a good example for your siblings.
“I’m the oldest of four and the only girl. I took to the pressure well — at least, I can say that now — but my siblings struggled living up to my parents’ expectations based on me as the example. According to my brothers, my parents put me on a pedestal. I could do no wrong. They suffered as a result.” — Sindie K.
“Being the oldest child, I always felt pressure — mostly internalized — to set a good example for my siblings.” — Jessica I.