I got you with that click-baity title, dear reader! We all know us firstborns are the best.
This is is an article I wrote for my local column, Mothering Honestly, that I saved to share here on the blog.
When I had only one child, I rarely questioned if I was a good parent. It’s easy to understand why: I still had so much energy to extend. I was able to do my very best nearly all of the time. I was easily able to meet my one little daughter needs. Often I was able to go above and beyond, reading countless parenting books, engaging on every struggle she experienced, always getting down on her level to say no in some gentle and creatively stupid way.
Our firstborns are typically the most dominated. And this is as it should be. Brand new parents are usually in a position to offer more of themselves, and so they do. This doesn’t mean that mothering that first child is easy. It isn’t. First time parents give all that they have to their firstborns because they can, or because they feel as though they must. They have no barometer for normal yet.
We all like to poke fun of the caricature of the rabid new parents. But however much we like to tease, I’m sure we also agree that a first time parent ought to take a healthy interest in their only child. It is far more alarming if he or she does not.
I didn’t begin to question if I was a good mother until after my third was born. Perhaps for every mother it’s different. For some, that first kid knocks the wind right out of them and leaves them feeling broken. Others don’t start to give until they’ve had their fifth kid. We all have a different threshold. I think I can say that I’ve met mine.
Again, it’s easy to understand why I would begin to question my mothering now. It’s basic math: I am one woman and I have three kids. Thus there is less of me to give to each of them, including my third baby. Over the past year, I’ve had a moment or two where I’ve felt sickly haunted by that word:
No mother wants to accept that one of her children has been given less. But apart from not really wanting to believe that, the equation didn’t really add up for me. Was it really true, or was I just being hard on myself, as mothers are wont to do? Does Baby G truly get less than Celeste or Rosa Maeve did? Did Celeste, my oldest, really get the very best of me? Was she set up for life as a result?
Ive had some time to meditate on it. I’ve discovered that the math has a little magic to it after all. In a mysterious way, all of the portions even out. Gwen may get a third of my attention, simply because she is one of three children. But she is richer for it: her slice is solid gold. My firstborn, on the other hand, had a total amateur for a mother. Let’s call this complete amateur version of me “Newb-with-a-boob.” Baby Celeste could have as much Newb-with-boob as she wanted, sure, but she got Newb-with-a-boob all the same.
Baby Gwen’s mother, on the other hand, knows some stuff. Not a ton, but enough. Baby Gwen’s mother has a little seasoning, a little salt. Baby Gwen chokes, and her mother slaps her back like she’s a sailor at a bar. Baby Gwen smiles, because her mother smiles and laughs. Baby Gwen’s mother does not hyperventilate into a paper bag like an idiot following the incident, because Baby Gwen’s mother is NOT Newb-with-a-boob.
I’m sympathetic to firstborns because I am one. Aren’t we firstborns so excellent?! Are you nodding? I’m sure you are. We firstborns really struggle to manage our expectations. My eldest is disappointed every year when I explain once again that, no, she won’t be having an actual masquerade ball for her birthday. We firstborns also assume we are interesting, even when we are not: this is probably the result of our mothers staring at us while we pooped when we were infants.
My husband is a third baby, as is one of my very best friends. It’s a happy pairing, a bossy firstborn wed to an agreeable third baby. Those third babies are famously uncomplicated, aren’t they? This is probably the result of them eating a lot of dirt or pet food when they were infants. They’re whole mindset is like: whatevs.
Middle children are among my favorites. In fact, my middle child is currently ranking as my favorite child (rankings change hourly, depending on which kid sleeps late, wipes their own ass, or leaves me in peace while I read a book or drive the car). Middle children are industrious, capable and independent. They carve their own place in the world. They like to be caretakers and cops. This is probably because they secretly wished they could incarcerate their annoying older sibling, or maybe it’s because they frequently stepped up to the plate to care for the family baby.
When you come to understand that our world truly needs this mix of personalities, you realize that it wouldn’t be in anyone’s best interest if each and every child was parented like that very first kid. Does anyone really want to live in a world of firstborns? I know I don’t.
In a healthy and loving household, no one really gets less. So if you’re worried about it, don’t be.
Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this article, which was based entirely on my unchecked opinions and not on any facts or science. I’m very important so I have to go now.