I’m a stereotypical oldest child–rigid, obedient, perfectionistic, controlling, bossy. I’m also responsible, nurturing, organized, resourceful, and studious. I have high expectations of others and even higher expectations of myself.
Nowadays, I’m grateful for the ways being a firstborn shaped me into who I am today, but if I’m being honest, I spent many years resenting being held to a higher standard than my younger siblings.
I envied them and the way they moved through the world with less weight on their shoulders than I carried.
I couldn’t understand why this was. Then God blessed me with my first baby, a sweet girl.
I loved my baby girl so deeply from the moment they laid her on my chest at the hospital. I sang her songs every night and read her books about confidence and courage and being perfect just the way she is. I taught her letters and numbers and colors. She was the smartest little girl, and I just knew one day she’d move mountains. I dedicated myself to helping her bloom.
Fast forward a handful of years, and now I’m a mom of three.
As my girls grow, I’m becoming increasingly aware of how differently I parent each child, and how much I expect from my oldest.
I catch myself saying things to my oldest daughter, like . . .
You’re older than them!
You know better!
Your sisters are learning by watching you!
Can you be a helper and get that for mom?
Can you be a big girl and do it yourself?
I also notice my oldest . . .
Apologizes for the tiniest mistakes or things that aren’t even her fault.
Gets angry with herself when she colors outside the lines.
Breaks down in tears if we try to correct a behavior.
Puts herself down if she isn’t doing as well as she thinks she should.
Refuses to try something new unless she knows she can excel at it right away.
She’s a younger version of me. And I’ve inadvertently put a lot of pressure on this little girl of mine.
It isn’t because I love her less or want her to lighten my load. It’s because I know what she is capable of and I trust her. She also seems to love being a helper, and I love the help she gives.
But I want her to be a kid, not a tiny adult. I want her to give herself permission to be wild and silly and funny and sassy and imperfect. I want her to make messes and break rules and test limits. I want her to know it’s OK to say no and have boundaries. I want her to crawl on my lap and ask for my help. I want her to be OK with the not knowing and the good enough.
Yes, she is wise beyond her years, but she is also just a child.
While I know she CAN do it all, I don’t want her to expect that of her young self. She only gets one childhood, and I want it to be magical and carefree. So I’m intentionally reminding us both that she gets to be the kid, I get to be the mom, and we get to continue to learn from and grow with each other along the way.