It’s Hard As Hell Being The Oldest Sibling
They’re asked to lead, take responsibility and get less attention.
Recently, I had to sit my 9-year-old down at the kitchen counter for a little chat about attitude and respect. Apparently, 9 is more pre-teen than I expected, and the last couple months had felt increasingly difficult: I was getting eye rolls, sarcastic responses, and visible frustration with even the smallest asks and demands. So I talked to him about the importance of following family rules, setting an example, and treating people with kindness even when tired or frustrated. And at the end of my lecture, I gave him the floor. I figured it was only fair to let him vent some of his frustrations, which might be the cause of some of his attitude.
“It’s not actually easy, Mom,” he said with tears in his eyes, “being the big brother to three younger siblings. And I don’t feel like I get enough attention, and I am frustrated.”
The statement hit me like a freight train; although it didn’t excuse any poor behavior, it was right. Being one of four kids means living in a bit of chaos all the time, rarely being able to carve out your own space. And yeah, that’s probably pretty frustrating.
I guess I didn’t factor that in when deciding to have four kids. Honestly, both my husband and I are both very high-energy and involved. Between the two of us, I assumed there was more than enough to go around. And if I’m being brutally honest with myself, I think I overlooked the importance of one-on-one time and how difficult that would be to achieve with this many kids.
As the oldest, my son has always been asked to lead. Since he was two, there’s been someone on the scene who has needed me more. And so he’s often been thrust into small situations where he’s been asked to bear the burden of the little ones, with things like buckling a seat belt, holding a hand, keeping an eye out, or taking the less desired option in a scenario to avoid a meltdown by one of his siblings.
I know that he’s gaining a lot, too. Through his frustration, I believe he is learning patience, adaptability, empathy, and independence. And so much of our motivation to create this large nuclear family was to provide our kids with a network of siblings. These little people who have come after my son — who have taken attention and time away from him in the short term — will be the people he hopefully spends the rest of his life feeling incredibly connected to and supported by. I hope that he will celebrate holidays with them, grow and mold his own families with their support, and lean on them through the trials and tragedies of life. That’s a great gift that I want for him.
But in the meantime, I need to help him navigate his frustration with our current family system. His comment served as a good wake-up call that I need to do better at carving out special one-on-one moments with each of my kids. I don’t know how often we will be able to squeeze in a solo mission to the movies, but I’m confident I can create small pockets of time to connect alone with each kid throughout the week with a more conscious effort. And I will validate his feelings — explaining that I understand how frustrating it can feel to share your parents' time and attention with younger siblings — while also trying to show him the beauty, benefits, and fun of a big family unit. And I will feel proud that I am raising a young boy who has the emotional awareness to explain his feelings in such an articulate way. I think that’s a win.
Samm is an ex-lawyer and mom of four who swears a lot. Find her on Instagram @sammbdavidson.