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Hard or easy - thoughts on birth order

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Birth order intrigues me. According to the theory, certain characteristics are associated with your place within a family – whether you are the oldest, middle or youngest child. We can’t choose this particular lot in life. We are simply dealt our hand and we live it out.

There are positives and negatives to each family position. But one thing is clear. The oldest child has it the easiest.

The oldest child has a new car seat, new crib, new toys and brand new parents. These parents haven’t had the time or experience to develop bad habits like wiping the dropped pacifier on a semi clean T-shirt before returning it to baby’s mouth. New parents sanitize the pacifier every time it hits the floor.

In the best of circumstances, oldest children have the attention of two parents. Mom or dad (and sometimes both) jump up at 2 a.m. when baby produces the slightest of whimpers in their sleep. 

Baby’s hands are washed and dried before mealtimes. Bath is an everyday occurrence. Naps happen on time all the time. The best developmental toys are purchased. Parents worry and fret about anything and everything. They hover sometimes incessantly. This can cause stress – for parents and baby.

Oldest children have to pave the way for others. They must be courageous and brave. They are the first to climb the big steps of the school bus – alone. When they mess up (and all kids do) it is a first for their parents and treated like it is the end of the world – or at least the end of a good day. 

They have the responsibility of training new parents and just when things are getting comfortable, another baby comes along and divides the parental attention the first-born has finally gotten used to. 

Perhaps being the oldest child isn’t easy at all. Maybe it’s the hardest spot to own. The logic is obvious then; the middle child has it the easiest.

The middle child does not have to experience the hovering and over-attentiveness of newbie parents. No one stresses over sanitizing everything – even and especially the pacifier. Daily activities are more streamlined. Seasoned parents realize they don’t need every baby gadget and gizmo available on Amazon. This actually makes life easier for everyone.

Mom and dad understand this baby thing and have learned to trust their gut with the middle child. They have learned to work together and are more relaxed and baby picks up on this. Relaxation is a good thing – for both parents and baby.

The middle child has an older sibling to watch and learn from – physically, socially and emotionally. There are lots of interesting toys in the house because of said older sibling. 

Then again, while interesting to watch, the new baby has to share parent time with their older sibling. And older siblings might express jealously on occasion. Parents might not notice because they are in the new state of experienced and relaxed parenting. Pacifiers get misplaced and even lost. This isn’t easy for baby. 

Perhaps being the middle child isn’t the easiest at all. Perhaps it’s better described as hard. So then, we are left with the one option; the youngest child has it the easiest. Life for the youngest child is never boring. He has two or more siblings to entertain him day and night. They’ve already paved the way and he has the easy job of following in their footsteps. Parents are now outnumbered, which makes them too tired to helicopter, much less restrict. 

It’s likely there are treats in the house not available to prior children and the youngest is introduced to Twinkies and chocolate chips at a much earlier age than older siblings; however, the activities and abilities of older siblings could make a baby frustrated: “Why can’t I do those things, too?” 

Outnumbering your parents means someone has to wait for their pacifier to be cleaned. (Who cleans pacifiers anymore at this point?) Parents no longer jump out of bed because of a whimper. They have learned the importance of having babies sleep through the night. The last-born child wears hand-me-down cloths that may be well-worn and not-quite perfect anymore. Toys are far from new and sometimes broken or not in working condition. 

Older siblings pave the way; this can be good or bad. It’s hard to live up to a first-born’s stellar performance – or the opposite of that. Older siblings can serve to define the youngest child and that could feel restricting. Perhaps being the youngest child isn’t easy after all. Perhaps it is hard.

Which leaves me confused. I can see the pros and cons of each place in the birth order. Who has it best? Who has it worst? Depends on who you are and how you see it. It’s the whole glass half something dilemma – full or empty, take your pick. None of us chooses our birth order but whether first-born, middle child or youngest, we all have the power to choose how we perceive it. What color is your sky? 

Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright, author and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Don’t miss a slice; follow the Slices of Life page on Facebook.

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