Being the Eldest is a Hindrance to Growth
Recently, there were a few discussions that blew up between my siblings and I. One conversation lasted almost two and a half hours. Though the conversations were necessary and things have improved, I did feel crucified by my younger siblings. I feel that being the eldest is a hindrance to growth. Google search suggests ‘why is being the eldest sibling so hard’ and ‘how to be the eldest sibling’ are top searches. For this weeks’ Eternally & Optimistically Coping post I’m going to explore it.
I want to preface this with my siblings and I had a hard time in childhood. Half of my heritage is Arab, and the Lebanese culture is engrained in me. The combination of both saw me step into a mother role at a very young age.
Why is being the eldest so hard? The most obvious answer is that the eldest is often a practice run. There was a TikTok trend about identifying which was the eldest, middle and youngest child. I feel that some things are very obvious. The eldest is astute, the youngest is carefree, and the middle is the mix. What the other children got permission for, the eldest often didn’t. Parent’s test their parenting style with the eldest, leaving resentment to brew if not addressed.
The age gap plays a big role. There are 4 years between myself and my first brother, 6 years between my sister and I, and 8 years for my youngest sibling. My first brother was sick as a child, which understandably meant he got the most attention apart from my dad. My sister was kind of left to flounder, and the youngest was always spoiled rotten.
Ironically, the eldest child always comes last. I think a lot of parents feel their eldest child can handle more because they are older. That simply isn’t true. Where my siblings had their emotional and mental needs met, I did not. It was a complete nightmare to try and explain my declining mental health and get support for it. That’s not to say my parents didn’t try. It just wasn’t the attentive and caution that I needed. On the other hand, my siblings got much more help a lot faster because I had been the guinea pig. Perhaps in a way, it was good because my parenting style will be preventative action.
Traditional or Old School gender roles played a role too. I am the eldest daughter, and in the Arab culture, it is my role to be the second mother. The amount of times I’ve had to explain this to people who don’t have this blows my mind. I find myself stuck between judging them and judging my culture. That discussion will find its way into a book.
How does the effect my growth? If I am the one helping them grow, how is my growth hindered? Well, the answer is that in being a ‘mother’ too soon, I made mistakes. I needed support, and it manifested into abandonment issues, neglect, and a poor inability to handle myself. I had an adult mentality, in a youth body with a youth’s emotions.
Being angry, lashing out, being domineering was the bad, tether end of too much on my shoulders. Certainly, they didn’t see me as a mother, but they also came to me for food, to wash their clothes, to help with school, to help them grow. In our adult years where I have stepped back, they cannot separate me from sister and mother. I am stuck between both worlds in limbo unable to move forward.
The reason this came up was that we argued about new boundaries. My siblings kept referring to the past, in the old days, I remember when. It became evident to me that they have not moved forward from our childhood. Where I have made leaps and bounds in healing that childhood trauma, they have not.
So, I let them say what they wanted and when it was finished I went to my room and cried. How was I supposed to tell them they were killing me when it was my actions they were stuck on from childhood? Did I put myself first and refute their claims? I have already apologised and work to prove myself. But, still, I am only responsible for my actions.
Being the eldest is a hindrance to growth because you can never put yourself first. Even without the cultural and gender roles, there is a hierarchy. Until the day I die, they will always look to me for guidance. But also, for the eldest of families who suffered trauma, I think it is difficult to put your needs first.
If I had done what I needed to and walked away, they wouldn’t have been able to express themselves. Even though I don’t feel its fair that they see me as I used to be, I also don’t have the right to take their feelings away. Where I know I can help solve the problem, I can’t intervene.
So I am stuck.
But only if I let myself be.
Yes, I cried for hours after that conversation. But I didn’t react in rage. I also got up the next day and didn’t let it shroud the rest of it. I tried, I committed to the agreements in the conversation. However, I hold this to the fact that I have been working on myself for a very long time. I, myself, have taken control of my mental health and wellbeing to be able to bounce back. Without all my prior work, that conversation would have been a huge blow.
Certainly, I wouldn’t be me, but I would be an older old version of me.
So, how do you be the eldest sibling?
You break the generational trauma.
That’s what I’m doing, at least. I think that parents don’t mean to be inherently awful to their eldest child. But I also think they parent the way they do because of their own issues. I don’t believe there is anyone free from trauma in their families. Especially since my story is not unique. I can’t imagine being a mother to my own children and passing down my issues. If I were to, I would hate myself more than my children would hate me.
You have to take reign of your mental health and wellbeing. By doing that, you can heal, grow, and strengthen. Being the eldest is a hindrance to growth, but the flip side is you can take control of your growth.
And, you keep trying. That’s what I’m doing too.
Tea of the day – Twinings, Earl Grey (currently obsessed)
Stay safe, be kind, and feel free to reach out below!
With love and eternal optimism,