The Terrible Burden of Being the Youngest Child
I am the oldest child. Not the oldest child in the world, obviously—my guess is tthere’s probably a 117-year-old child in Italy or China or somewhere, incongruously attributing their longevity to red meat and cigarettes—but I’m the oldest child out of me and my brother. And I’ve spent my life convinced that I had it worst.
Because first-born kids always have it worst, don’t they? They have to fumble their way through life, feeling out every new thing by themselves. My childhood was littered with bad music and crap hobbies and terrible haircuts of my own choosing, and it was all because I didn’t have an older sibling to take me under their arm and show me the way.
My younger brother endured none of these struggles. All he had to do was skip merrily down the tramlines I’d already carved out for him. He inherited my toys, my tapes, my clothes, my paper round, my sparkling reputation at secondary school, and all with minimal effort. And just to rub my nose in it, everyone stopped paying attention to me when he came along. It was awful.
"Listen pal", I whispered in his ear early on, "Things are about to get rough"
So when my second son was born, my first instinct was to sympathize with my first-born. "Listen pal", I whispered in his ear early on, "Things are about to get rough. There’s a new boy in town, and you’re no longer the hot new thing. Two years old and you’re already on the scrapheap. Welcome to life, kid." He didn’t understand a word of it, because he was two, but you can’t deny that I’d put the effort in.
First-born kids always have it worst, don’t they? They have to fumble their way through life, feeling out every new thing by themselves. My younger brother endured none of these struggles.
That was a year and a half ago. Now, having had to look after both boys, I’d like to reassess my position a little. I still think first-born kids have got it bad, because it’s a huge thing to have everyone you know turn away and start cooing over some dumb interloper who you didn’t even invite. But – and I can’t express how reluctantly I’m admitting this—I think younger siblings might have it slightly worse.
My youngest is a toddler now, and he’s barely had the chance to make a single decision in his life. He doesn’t get to choose which toys to play with, because he invariably ends up with whatever his older brother doesn’t preemptively swipe in a dictatorial land grab. He doesn’t get to choose where we go, because we just plonk him in a buggy and shove him around. Even something as simple as getting our attention is an uphill battle, since we’re constantly battling against work and household chores and the endless demands of a four-year-old who still secretly wishes that everything was all about him.
My youngest might be flavor of the month, but it’s a flavor we’ve already tried.
True, he might be flavor of the month, but it’s a flavor we’ve already tried. When our first son crossed any sort of developmental milestone, we’d do cartwheels in the street. “Look!” we’d scream at each other like slack-jawed David Blaine victims, “He’s PICKING UP BLUEBERRIES!” and then we’d bake a fucking cake to celebrate the advancement of his fine motor skills. But whenever our second son does the same thing, he’s lucky if we even acknowledge it. It’s new for him, but it isn’t new for us. That poor kid.
I’d still argue that older siblings have it bad, purely because their parents have more time to screw them up. Older siblings are always the recipient of accidental new-parent jumpiness, of insecurities about abilities, of compensatory overparenting.Younger siblings, meanwhile, get to escape the spotlight a little. By the time they turn up, their parents already know what they need to do to raise them properly, and what they need to do is the bare minimum. Left to their own devices, a younger sibling has a better chance of growing up capable and well-rounded.
When our first son crossed any sort of developmental milestone, we’d do cartwheels in the street. Whenever our second son does the same thing, he’s lucky if we even acknowledge it. It’s new for him, but it isn’t new for us.
But for the moment, our youngest is doomed to a long stretch of hand-me-downs and tagging along, and that sucks for him. I’m slightly embarrassed that it’s taken me so long to realize this, and it's made me realize that I need to give him my undivided attention a little more. You must never ever tell my younger brother this, but younger siblings have my sympathy. A bit.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.uk.
* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.