DEEP THOUGHTS: Can I get a little sympathy for the oldest child?
Nothing brought out the worst in me better than a good old-fashioned spate with one of my siblings. Perhaps you can relate. They knew my buttons, those things that would send me from mild-mannered oldest brother to Incredible Hulk-style rage in a matter of seconds.
I spent many hours banished to my room because of them. I entertained brief but disturbing fantasies about how I would get even with them if the laws of our country or human decency were suspended for a few minutes. At times, I became so consumed with anger that my brain betrayed me and an intended mic-drop retort to my punishment came out all wrong — I was once sent to my room for a scuffle with my sister and I blurted out, "Whatever she gets she wants!" That was more than 20 years ago, and my family still laughs about that one —"Your sister was such a grateful child."
It ain't easy being the oldest. I was always bigger and stronger than my younger siblings, so every time the fur started to fly, guess who faced the parental wrath. "You are older, and more is expected of you," they said. "You are much bigger and can cause them more harm," I heard. Meanwhile, my younger family members seemed to get a slap on the wrist — but not too hard, ya know, because they are so young and frail. How could they be expected to show any shred of responsibility or accountability? Madness, it seemed.
But somehow, my supposedly superior sense of responsibility and older sibling wisdom didn't come into consideration when little bro or sis complained that big brother was getting too bossy. Then, mysteriously, I needed to back off — I'm not their parent, after all. How fair is that? — it is widely known that bossiness is one of the primary oldest-sibling traits. I'm just doing what is expected — that shouldn't be punished. If anything, it should be celebrated.
If it seems like I'm venting, it's because I am. And while you might say that venting never solved anything, I like to think that a few other oldest siblings out there are reading this and thinking, "Yeah, that guy's right." Maybe, my words will plant a small seed that will result in an oldest sibling uprising that will finally correct all the injustices that big brothers and sisters have endured worldwide for centuries.
But now that I'm a parent of an oldest sibling, maybe that isn't such a great idea. I have learned during the past few years that much of parenting is playing referee. Nothing will pry me out of my comfy recliner, away from the soothing enjoyment of a good book or television show, quite like a few hearty thumps and hollering kid voices coming from upstairs.
Did something get broken, is someone crying, bleeding? Is someone's shoulders pinned to the floor by the knees of their sibling? No way to know — gotta check it out. "What's going on?" — that's usually my opening line of questioning. They both tend to answer in unison, voices increasing in volume as they spout off belligerent and completely conflicting accounts of what has happened.
And in a moment of substantial oldest-sibling hypocrisy, I usually tend to levy most of the punishment during these ambiguous scuffles on the older kid who "ought to know better." If only my younger self could see me now. He would be absolutely disgusted.
But I will say that I do approach these moments with a bit of sympathy for the oldest. I will usually circle back and try to empathize with my pouting child — "I know how you feel. I went through it, too." But then I move onto the parenting lesson, and tell them they are older, and more is expected of them. I explain that they are bigger and can inflict more harm. Not surprisingly, these diplomatic efforts work about as well as making ice cubes in a furnace.
Yet none of it is in vain. I know that each little lesson that provokes an eyeroll, a heavy sigh and a "whatever, Dad" sinks in just a little bit. My siblings and I finally grew up and left behind the days of continual bickering and battling that colored our youth. I am pleased to say that my relationships with my siblings has transitioned from war to near-perfect harmony. We gather for family events, recall moments we shared, and yes, we even laugh about some of those fights that once caused such mayhem. And if we can do it, I am certain my children can do it, too.
Now, if you'll excuse me, something is happening upstairs again. Wish me luck.
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