Written by Zahara Almira Ramadhan, Content Writer Intern at Project Child Indonesia
We’ve all heard about birth order stereotypes, right? The oldest one is known to bear the biggest responsibility, such as watching the younger siblings 24/7 and taking care of the entire house when their parents are gone somewhere. On the other hand, the second or middle siblings are kind of invisible. They had all the love and attention before the youngest one was born, but who knows where it went after the youngest arrived. Finally, the youngest one is, you know, the rebel and most spoiled.
I’m not going to tell you whether those assumptions are right or wrong. Instead, I’d like to talk more about the known “responsibility” that oldest children seem to bear. I myself am actually the second and also youngest child in my family, and I had never known that my older sister has been carrying a certain amount of weight all her life. It was not until I talked to my friends, who happen to be first-born children. It turned out that they all share the same struggles; one of them even says that the burden of being a female first-born is bigger than the males. Is it true?
The struggles of the eldest daughter
Society certainly does expect so much from women in terms of household responsibilities, but would you expect that children should bear it too? A psychotherapist explained that eldest daughters carry so much burden because it is a behavior learnt at a very young age (Morris, 2022). They spent such a little time being children, but they soon had to adapt into an older figure by the time they have younger siblings. Since women are commonly seen as caregivers, mothers usually expect the eldest daughter to take the mother role whenever they are unable to keep an eye on the children. This can lead to pressures and anxieties that preserves until they grow up to be adults. It also leads to a tendency of people-pleasing behaviors because they are so used to being responsible for everybody’s well-being.
Another pressure that eldest daughters seem to encounter is that they have to be “perfect”, as if there is any human being who’s perfect at all. The article by Morris also collected some experiences that eldest daughters faced; one said that she was always pushed to be the best in school and in her personal life. This sadly relates to my friends’ experiences on a spiritual level. They all experienced the pressure of having to thrive academically and get into a hardcore major in college, such as medical or law. Whereas, their younger siblings are free to choose whichever major they want. I think it’s quite unfair how eldest daughters are controlled so that they can be an “example” of a perfect child. What’s the point of shaping a perfect child if the younger ones are free to do whatever they want instead of following their sister’s steps?
You may ask, how are the struggles different from first-born sons? As you may know, our world is pretty much still tied to a patriarchal system. Men are valued ever since the day they were born, they don’t even have to try. The biggest difference falls into the household responsibilities. Eldest daughters tend to be burdened by house chores and caregiving responsibilities, as women are expected to fulfill those roles at any time point in their lives. On the other hand, boys tend to be free from those responsibilities just because of their gender. They are not expected to be good at cleaning, cooking, doing the laundry, or any other house chores that you can name. Caregiving is also not an expected skill from men, which is quite flawed considering it’s both parents’ job, mother and father, to take care of their children.
Let’s overcome your struggles, ladies
If it’s not already late for you, try to set boundaries for your parents and siblings. Everybody likes to say, “Communication is key,” and I think that’s right. If you’ve never told your parents that they are asking too much of you at such a young age, things won’t likely ever change. They will continue asking you to be the best and the most responsible. So, you’ll have to try negotiating with them for certain things that you think are too much. For example, if you are demanded to get a 100% score test when you already get a 97%, explain that this is already your best. This is the result of you staying up all night studying while still maintaining your sanity.
If that phase had passed already, now it’s time for you to be kind to yourself. A psychology coach and teacher says, “It’s not your responsibility to make sure everyone is okay,” and that you don’t have to fix everyone. You have sacrificed a big part of your childhood making sure that your siblings are okay, and now that you’re all adults, you can let them go. They are now responsible for their own well-being, and so are you. You can stop sacrificing your time and energy to help others when you actually need to help yourself too. Let’s stop putting pressure on yourself, and think about what you really want to do with your life now that your siblings are not your children anymore.
Are you taking deep breaths now? Thinking about a spa or a self-care night at home? Good, keep going! Take your time to relax and focus on yourself, whatever that means for you. Having experienced the weight of being the eldest daughter, I hope you wouldn’t pass it to your future daughter if you expect to have children. I believe you already know that having a perfect daughter isn’t realistic and making them take a mother role isn’t ideal at all. Let’s end these struggles, not only for you, but for all the first-born daughters in the next generations.
Morris, N. (2022, January 11). Surface Pressure: The psychology of ‘eldest daughter anxiety’. Metro.co.uk. Retrieved from: https://metro.co.uk/2022/01/11/surface-pressure-the-psychology-of-eldest-daughter-anxiety-15898221/