I think about how you said sorry so quickly when you knocked over the cereal box this morning, and my insides constrict. I told you it was fine, it was an accident – I brushed it away. But that doesn’t change the fact that you rushed to say sorry – have I made you that way? Have I heaped these expectations on you, as the firstborn child?
I sit here thinking about giving you a big hug tomorrow morning when you wake up – I resolve to be better. To stop expecting so much, to remember that you’re only seven. But I already know that the first time something comes up to distract me, I’ll forget again. If you’re slow to get ready for school in the morning, I know I’ll rush you. If the end of your hair trails into your breakfast, I’ll sigh and remind you to tie it up. If you disappear half way through breakfast to read your book, I’ll probably snap at you. If your little brother does the same? There will be no snapping. Maybe exasperation, but he’s only three. And that’s not fair – in the bigger scheme of things, seven isn’t so different to three. But you’re the oldest, and more is expected. It’s not fair. I mean to change, and I’ll try to change, but I already know this is a life-long, or childhood-long road.
When you were three, as your brother is now, I expected too much. You were the big sister, no longer a baby. In hindsight, it was ridiculous, but I expected so much. He wanders off during mealtimes, helps himself to bread from the press, insists on putting on his own clothes no matter how long it takes, and always gets the toy – ” Ah girls, he’s only small, let him have it”. You had no such allowances at three. I expected you to be grown-up, to do as you were told, to follow the rules. I expected too much.
When you were six, as your sister is now, you were the big girl. In school, articulate, capable of understanding every instruction. When you didn’t, I grew frustrated. When you were cross – when you found it hard to adapt to change – I didn’t understand. With your sister, I tiptoe. I anticipate change, I prepare her, and I praise her when she has a smooth transition. Why didn’t I know to do that with you? I expected far too much.
And I already know, when your sister is seven, when your brother is seven, I’ll have lowered my expectations. I won’t see them as grown-up – I’ll see them as they are now – children, still learning, little people for whom I need to make allowances.
And I need to realise that now – not in two or five years. That you’re seven. And being the oldest doesn’t make you older than your years. You can be grown-up – looking after your siblings, helping me with dishes, choosing your own clothes. And you can be little – chasing your brother around the table at breakfast time, not having a sense of urgency about the morning rush, letting your hair trail in your food. Of course you can. You’re a little girl. And I need to remember that. I don’t need to lower my expectations – you’re perfect, just perfect as you are. I need to raise my expectations – of myself. And remember in the morning to hug you twice, and to tie your hair back for you.
34 thoughts on “First Child”
This has me in tears Andrea. I have been thinking the same about my seven year old boy today. No matter how much I remind myself that he is still a small boy I can’t seem to help myself giving out, telling him to do stuff properly, concentrate on his homework, etc.
Let’s be better, deal?
Fionnuala recently posted…Avoiding Obesity In Your Family
This is so true. My eldest is 7 and just this morning we parted on bad terms because I was expecting to much of him.
It happens – I feel terrible when it does, but it’s normal. They’re so little at 7 but when they’re the oldest, they seem so big! Hope you feel better now and have given all the extra hugs 🙂
We will all do better Fionnuala – deal 🙂
As a firstborn I thank you for this. It’s true, my middle fella is given so much more slack than my eldest, we really do expect more of him. And your girl is getting so grown up!
Sinead @bumbles of rice recently posted…A Spiderman Party for a Five Year Old Superhero
I am a firstborn too and while I think my parents were great about not putting pressure on me, I felt it in other ways – not being allowed to do things that my younger siblings were allowed to do at waaaay younger ages!
I think my parents were a lot more patient with me than I am with my eldest, so I’m trying to keep that in mind and emulate them!
I recognised the same traits I know to be eldest daughter traits in my own little girl last week. Once again you have put into words what was going on in my world Xxx
So many of us are the same Anna it seems!
Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww. This made me teary. How gorgeous and honest and vulnerable and totally beautiful. Thanks for sharing x
Ahh Andrea , I’m in tears reading this. Partly because I was that 7 year old once with a younger sister & baby brother … And partly as I do the same or expect more of my merely 4.5 year old son now that we have a newborn in the house .. We expect more of him than we should & often I’m mindful of it but not often enough and find myself using the your a big brother now line far too often to coerce him into doing something or to be generally somewhat quieter . I feel terribly guilty once again & promise like you to be Better. P.s as that once 7 year old I didn’t know it was happening or don’t reflect on my extra responsibility with heavy heart- I justvturned out to be a very responsible teenager & didn’t give my mum any major worries.
That’s reassuring to know that you don’t look back on it in any bad way. And I think (hope!) that’s probably universal. I’m sure our little people will be fine too, but I find the whole house is a nicer place when I remember to be more patient and stop treating my eldest like she’s a decade or two older than she is!
You made me cry. This constant shifting of the goalposts in relation to my firstborn and secondborn’s ages and expectations – it never stops, and I never seem to be able to be fair about it. Right now my eldest is pushing all the buttons and testing all the limits, and it’s good to read this.
Christine recently posted…Lawnmower parenting – a new label to help you feel guilty
It’s hard, isn’t it! And I find if someone is going through a stage of being the tricky one, the other is being the good kid – like rising to the opportunity to be the good kid, if you know what I mean. Which just makes the tricky one look extra bad. Poor kids. But at least we’re spending a decent amount of time worrying about it 🙂
It is the way of the world. We do our best but often as mothers we could do things better. I don’t think there is a parent anywhere who hasn’t done all the above, but there is probably some who never realised it and very few who ever said sorry as eloquently as you have.
tric kearney recently posted…Real men play sport in Ireland
thanks Tric, that’s reassuring, and yes hopefully by being conscious of it, I can do better – at least some of the time!
So well put an I’m so,so guilty of this, have a very clear memory of telling my then two year old that she needed to ‘grow up’ and not hurt the baby, completely ignoring that she was still a baby.
How lovely of you to realise this, how nice of you to want to do more, that is half the battle. Xx
Life on Hushabye Farm recently posted…Things I Say to the Boy
I know – I was the same – expecting so much from my tiny toddler, who had no idea why there was a baby in the houses… hindsight!
Lovely post 🙂
Louise (@TattooedMumsy) recently posted…Local Surroundings
thanks Louise 🙂
This tugged at the heart strings for me this morning. Over the last few weeks I have been particularly guilty of this with my son, especially with trying to do the school drop offs and trying to get to work on time. I put a lot of expectations and responsibilities on his young shoulders over the past few weeks, which was unfair of me. It stops from today.
Thank you for this post Andrea
Thanks for the comment Lorraine and glad the post helped!
Tears ~ guilty of this with my little man -also 7 & cut the others so much slack because they younger.. I’m the eldest in my family so you’d think id know better. Another great article Andrea
Aw thanks Andrea – it seems so common, all we can do is try. And then forget, and try again!
thanks so much 🙂
Gorgeous words for a gorgeous little girl x
thank you 🙂
Oh, please stop writing things that bring on the tears! This is gorgeous!!! And, I’m glad you feel like this because I’m an eldest child!
I am an eldest child too! i didn’t really get this kind of impatience from my parents (not that I remember!) so I need to be more like they were…
This was a great, heartfelt piece and I enjoyed reading every word of it. It really grabs the difficulties of balancing a family with more than one children. Very touching, moving and well written. Thanks for writing this wonderful piece.
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