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I'm Afraid I'm Creating Another Classic Eldest Daughter, But I Don’t Think I Can Stop It

And honestly, I’m not sure I want to.

Emma Chao/Scary Mommy; Getty Images

On a recent sunny day in our city, we took some out-of-town guests sightseeing. As I bounced from interest point to interest point, my 10-year-old daughter pulled me aside to remind me that we only had an hour left on our parking meter. I smiled while assuring her we could extend the time via the parking app — but worry bubbled up, too. As an oldest daughter who has spent much of my life anxiously fretting about the wellbeing of my family of origin, I began to wonder if history was destined to repeat itself. Why was my daughter stressing about logistics, rather than enjoying showing off our city?

Oldest Daughter Syndrome is having a moment in the general culture. I myself am the oldest child in my family of origin, and a girl, and anxiety and caretaking are woven into the fabric of my being. Do my younger siblings need me worrying about them in their mid-30s? Absolutely not, but it’s pretty hard to turn it off when you’ve been doing it your whole life. In the family I’ve created with my husband, our oldest child is a boy, 12 — followed by boy/girl twins who are 10, and our youngest, a 5-year-old daughter. Despite the fact that my oldest daughter is not our oldest child, she is following exactly in my anxiety-ridden-micromanaging footsteps.

I find myself, despite my best efforts, relying on her more, too. When my hands are full in a parking lot, she automatically reaches for her baby sister’s hand. When her twin failed to bring home a paper from school three days in a row, I asked the teacher to put it in her backpack.

It made it to me safely — once she was in charge.

Some days I feel desperate and panicked about the ways I see her assuming responsibility in our family. I worry she will resent us, I worry she is missing out on the carefree years of childhood before the big wide world comes rushing in. I see how an edge of harshness or stress in my voice does not faze my other children — but can send her into an anxiety spiral. I see it, because I’ve spent my life living it, too.

Other days, I observe her caretaking and micromanaging and feel a burgeoning sense of pride. Some of the personality traits I’ve long considered my biggest flaws — the bossiness, the take-charge attitude, the keeping-of-the-traditions — are also some of the traits that have made me successful and compassionate. Do I know how to stop worrying about my loved ones? Nope. And maybe that is okay.

In an effort to sort out my mixed up feelings, I took to the internet and looked up famous oldest daughters. From Beyonce and Taylor Swift (two of my daughter’s favorites) to Angela Merkel and Oprah Winfrey, oldest daughters have applied that frenetic energy to being extremely successful. A study that came out when my daughter was just an infant found that oldest children in general are more driven, but this is particularly true of girls.

At 10, her dreams and aspirations change weekly, but as those future plans begin to solidify themselves in adolescence, I’ve noticed every single one involves the caretaking she’s already exhibiting. From art teacher to cosmetologist, my girl loves to love people. She may be honing those skills within our family, but is that a bad thing? Was it a bad thing for me?

Each and every one of us navigates the world in our own way, based on our experiences and upbringing. If I wasn’t the oldest, I would be the middle, or the youngest — and each of those roles in the family comes with its own hallmarks, too. Perhaps I should embrace my daughter’s while learning to accept my own.

I recently overheard an exchange between my daughter and her twin brother. He was looking for something in the fridge, failing, declaring it must be gone. My daughter reached past him and deftly grabbed the mayo he was searching for with a coy, “It was right in the front...” and a bit of a tween eye roll.

I found myself stifling a laugh and hiding a smile. The truth is, whether I want to “stop it” or not, I probably can’t. I am raising an Oldest Daughter — and she will be just fine.

Meg St-Esprit, M. Ed., is a journalist and essayist based in Pittsburgh, PA. She’s a mom to four kids via adoption as well as a twin mom. She loves to write about parenting, education, trends, and the general hilarity of raising little people.