I never thought much about the effects of a child’s birth date on their life until my firstborn was in his final year of preschool. When it was time to register for kindergarten, suddenly there was a lot of talk about "how young he was" as a June-born boy.
Friends, family, and parents of classmates began asking if I was going to “hold him back,” in order to ensure that he wasn’t one of the youngest in his grade, a strategy coined academic “redshirting.” But because he was hitting all of the appropriate milestones and we weren’t gunning for a college athletic scholarship right out of the gate, we just didn’t feel like it was a big deal. So we sent him (and my second son, who was born in May) without worry, to be one of the youngest in their grade.
It wasn’t until recently, when I signed my September-born daughter up for kindergarten, that I started to have some really passionate feelings about where my child falls on the age continuum of her class. And while a lot of people feel good about having their child be old for their grade, I don’t. Despite the statistics that show that she could be at an advantage, after two “young” boys, I am now raising an “older” girl, and I am terrified.
My worries run contrary to conventional wisdom, but they’re real for me. First I worry about the increased expectations that I feel are placed on older kids in each grade. People have made comments about my sons’ performance in both academics and athletics, basically calling it mediocre but adding that it makes sense “since he is really young.” So I can only assume that expectation standards are higher for the older kids. And as someone who likes to live by the motto “underpromise, overdeliver,” I just think high expectations out the gate is typically a set-up for failure. I don’t want my kid feeling extra pressure, or the loss of confidence that sometimes comes from not living up to unfair expectations.
But that’s small compared to the the milestones she might hit earlier than most of her peers. Will she be one of the first of her friends to hit puberty or get her period? Sure, puberty varies wildly and covers a huge age range, but it's more likely. It could leave her feeling a little lonely and confused if she is the pioneer in her friend group. And God, it would be nice to have a whole bunch of her friend’s mothers paving the way through this phase of motherhood. It all gets more complicated if she’s one of the first to navigate all the changes that will come to her body.
Then there’s the drivers license milestone. I’m not especially worried about my cautious firstborn child getting behind the wheel, but whew — the combo of birth order and age relative to the rest of her class feels really unfortunate here. It’s all-too-easy to picture my fiercely independent, brave, sassy, keep-up-with-the-big-kids kind of third born daughter taking her permit-carrying friends for speed-limit-testing joyrides past curfew.
Oh, and when she is one of the first to turn 21 — that will be super fun! She’ll be the one forced to hit the bars with older kids until her friends score a fake ID or have a birthday. And during that time she can be the one who buys the booze for all of her underage friends — something every mom dreams of.
And before you lecture me about the absurdity of these worries at this stage of her life, I know. I know! Future-tripping about the impact that age will have on my five-year-old daughter in over a decade seems like a crazy waste of mental energy.
But unfortunately I’m a firstborn girl myself, and so I am a planner and a worrier by nature. And sometimes my own life experience gets totally tangled up with my expectations and worries with my own kids. I was a June baby, one of the youngest in my grade, and riddled with nervousness and caution. I took things slow and didn’t pave the way for much. And then there was my baby brother, born in November and old for his grade, being the family wild card: testing limits, pushing boundaries, and purchasing large Chinese throwing stars (something illegal to purchase before adulthood at the time) for all of his friends on his eighteenth birthday. And maybe it’s not fair, rational, or warranted to transfer my personal life truths to my kids — but here we are. And who doesn’t do that, to some extent? Our personal experiences are one of the biggest things we have to go on as parents.
So here’s to all of us raising old-for-their-grade daughters. Hopefully they surprise us with a bit of responsibility and caution as they grow. Or at least a really strong ability to tell their not-quite-21 friends “no.”
Samm is an ex-lawyer and mom of four who swears a lot. Find her on Instagram @sammbdavidson.