I suppose the first question we have to ask is: Are you saying that because I was born first, or second, or third…before I even get up to the plate, I have a…syndrome to deal with? To cut to the chase: Yeah, pretty much.
Either Shakespeare was way ahead of his time, or these syndromes and sibling rivalries have been around, more or less, forever. And, it isn’t just with humans. In the animal kingdom, many species of bird and furry animal also fall into the category. Eggs are laid, and the first one to hatch proceeds to peck his little brothers and sisters to death. Or, because he’s a bit bigger, he nudges them aside and eats the bulk of the food and consequently gets even bigger. Not all creatures are that way, though many predatory animals are.
Born into the classic first-born, middle-child, last-child scenario, things in our family were aggravated by the fact that we were each five years apart. When I was five, and getting ready to go to kindergarten, my brother was fifteen and beginning to think about college. Think about that for a second. My sister was the classic middle-child. Most of the attention was given to the first born. What was left…she had to split with the baby, so we both missed out. But if you think this article is heading toward one big gripe session, guess again. It’s a bit more complicated than that.
Perspective: In an average family, each child spends approximately the same amount of time home. Let’s say eighteen years, and then off to college. In our scenario (adjust for your own numbers) the first born had 100% of the attention for five years, with all that that entails. Then the middle child is born and a bit of sharing (just a tiny bit) takes place. Five years after that…an intruder arrives. Another kid??? The audacity of it all !!! What were Mom and Dad thinking? It’s supposed to be about ME!
From the youngest child’s perspective, however, he has zero idea of the Freudian and Shakespearean undertones involved. He’s just trying to survive and have his own shot at those same eighteen years due him. As an only mildly humorous aside, when you’re the last-born, your eighteen years at home go completely and utterly under the radar of the other children…as if they never happened. I still have siblings informing me of such basics as my dad’s middle name and where we lived, what Mom was like… Yes, I actually was there for eighteen years, too, just not your eighteen years. It’s a difficult concept for first-borns to wrap their brains around…primarily because they don’t want to.
Self-image: For one minute, imagine that you’re five years old, and no matter how smart, athletic, or witty you are, you’re competing with a fifteen-year-old teenager. Guess who’s going to win. And so goes that scenario for years to come. Suddenly you’re twenty-two and just graduating from college. Your sibling, however, is now thirty-two and is buying his second home. Hard to compete with that…no matter who you are.
Here’s Where the Plot Gets Weird: Entitlement: Those years and years of having ALL the attention, ALL of the perks, never-ever having to share with anyone, has both good and bad long-term effects. The good effects are pretty obvious. The bad effects are less obvious. When you are raised to believe that everything is due to you and you alone, just by virtue of your existence, you don’t have to bother cultivating certain social skills.
Lord and Master: In your world, you are the Lord and Master, that was the quiet nickname in the family for my brother. Not sure, but I don’t think it was meant as a compliment. And as Lord and Master, you don’t really worry too much about endearing yourself to others, making them feel good about themselves…making them laugh or smile. It’s just…beneath you.
As a Small Sidebar, the first time I introduced my lovely bride of 45 years to my brother, it was at our wedding. And a grand affair it was. In pilot training I had almost no time. I flew up, December 25, for a December 26 wedding. In my mess-dress (that’s military for my formal military attire) Pamela’s dad pulled out the huge guns. No chicken or roast beef, it was fillet mignons, big ice sculptures, black-tie, and chandeliers the size of flying saucers. With all that, the very first thing “first-born” did upon meeting Pamela was whip-out his wallet and show her the only photo he had of me. He’d set up the shot to look like I was in a casket…dead…and with a lily in my hand… I was just ten years old. Uhmmm… no one thought it was all that humorous. Later, after the ceremony, I cracked some sort of lame joke. First-born made strange exhalations in his throat. My new bride asked, “What was that?” I answered, “That’s my brother, attempting to synthesize a laugh.” He was never, as they say, ‘into’ laughing.
Sooo…Is there any Silver Lining? Actually, there is. Let’s crawl around to the other end of the telescope and see how things appear. When you’re very little and the people around who are very big…and don’t care too much for you, you begin to develop survival skills. Truth is, and I didn’t really learn this until recently, I was utterly unaware of any of the dark Shakespearean overtones. It just never ever occurred to me that anyone would bear me ill-will just by virtue of my existence. As such, I grew up naive and with remarkably few scars. BUT…my instincts for survival forced me to learn to placate pretty early, to get along, nurture close friendships, be able to read people, and most important, learn to trust.
I learned I could make people laugh and that is addictive. There’s nothing more fun than making someone happy or making them laugh. It also makes for really, really good marriages, particularly when both parties were raised trying to get along, and entertain. It may be Freudian or Shakespearean…but it works.
I have heard, and have it on good authority, that one first-born of marrying age was approached by a gal who had filled out a computer questionnaire which showed conclusively…on paper…that the two of them were ideally suited for each other. Bowing to the logic of it all, soon after there were wedding bells. Unfortunately, in the long run, this did not prove to be a viable approach to a long-term merger. The second attempt by this particular first-born, was done in a somewhat similar fashion. Calculations were made, viability examined, plus interviews… There’s a better way.
Life is Fair? It depends: So… Does the first-born always have the upper-hand, all through life? Metaphorically, picture two rockets blasting off. Rocket A takes off…gazes down at the launch pad and thinks, “hah hah hah…” Rocket B takes off ten minutes later…waaay behind Rocket A, though in reality, both rockets get the same one-hour flight. For half the flight, Rocket A is in the lead…no competition at all. But as with everything, there is an apogee as well as a perigee to the orbit for all rockets…all lives. What goes up…must come down. When Rocket A begins to descend, it looks back and sees that Rocket B is still climbing, and is now…higher, and that’s just totally unfair! No, not really. Both rockets will climb, top-out, fall, and eventually hit the ground. It’s just a matter of time. We all have our arcs, our high points and our low points, just at different times.
Middle Child Syndrome: Though I didn’t design it this way, even this article is a classic example of middle-child syndrome. Fortunately, or unfortunately, this syndrome is less clear-cut. For one reason, there can be a whole slew of middle-children so the definitions become watered-down. The First Born (same thing applies to only-child syndrome only more so) gets an inordinately large slice of the pie. Everyone else…not so much. The advantage to middle children, is without the spotlight on them, they can move about and do more of what they want to do. Like everything else, this has its pluses and its minuses. The truly unfair aspect of all this is, sandwiched in right next to the child who has had all the advantages, prep schools, extra attention, extra consideration, extra everything, the middle child suffers by virtue of his or her close proximity as well as the age disadvantage. The conclusion is: Life isn’t fair. It never was and never will be. But inspite of all that, middle and last born kids often have a whole lot more fun and enjoyment in their lives…so……maybe it isn’t so terribly unfair after all.
And to the large, happy well-adjusted families out there who throw up their arms, raise their eyebrows and say, “Oh my! We don’t understand at all! We’re just one big happy family!” I reply in true southern tradition, “Why bless your soul!”