The Birth Order Effect
As the oldest sibling, I have learned numerous values and responsibilities of holding this position in the family. From a young age, I had to quickly adjust myself to the tasks coming my direction. I started changing diapers as a toddler but as I got older the responsibilities got bigger. I am my sister’s role model, my brother’s mentor and my parent’s helping hand. Through this life journey, I have become literate in my ability to be an understanding, responsible and patient big sister.
Discovering that I would become an older sister was quite a confusing concept for me to understand because it had only been me and my parents for a while. I was told that when I was a little girl, I was curious as to why my mom’s tummy looked the way it did, big and round. My mom explained to me that there was a baby growing in her tummy and that I would soon be a big sister. When I was two, my little brother was born. Since I was a toddler, there wasn’t much responsibility my parents could expect of me but right away, I offered my help as much as I could. I remember running down the hall and into the restroom when they would bath him because I wanted to be the one to wash his hair. I would also beg my mom to let me change his diapers and some days if I were lucky, she would let me help while she guided me through it. There was no greater feeling than having someone to play with every day and share experiences with.
Since I am the oldest, my parents became knowledgeable of how to parent through their experience with me. They knew what to expect the second and third time around. Like, if I were to eat dirt as a kid, my parents would have called the doctor. If my brother were to eat dirt, they’d simply clean it off his mouth. My baby sister would eat dog food and it was amusing to my parents. My parents like to tease me and call me the guinea pig. They became better parents because they went through trial and error with me. They learned what works best and what was less effective. Because I was the first born, I felt like I struggled the most from my siblings.
When I began kindergarten, I started off knowing little to no English. I wrestled my way to complete homework assignments. As I got older, schoolwork became more difficult. I eventually reached a year when my parents could no longer help me with homework because they didn’t continue to further their education. My mom didn’t know more than basic math and my dad couldn’t read well enough to understand what was written. Since I didn’t have an older sibling to help me with schoolwork, I had to find other resources for assistance. In fourth grade, a teacher would take me out of class and have short reading lessons with me because I was just a tad bit behind in my reading level than the rest of the kids in my class. In middle school, instead of having an elective, I had to take extra math classes because my performances on test were not meeting my grade level requirements. My brother and sister grew up having me to help them with school because I had already reviewed subjects they were having trouble with. Outside academics, when my mom leaves to Mexico to visit family, I’m home cooking, cleaning and doing laundry for my dad and siblings because I’m oldest and must be the responsible one.
It always felt like a competition with my brother. Some days, it feels like he has succeeded more than I did because he could achieve things I had a difficult time to accomplish. For example, in high school, I had the opportunity to be enrolled in the National Honors Society program. It was a challenge to keep up with the pace of class and I was drowning in assignments. I was overwhelmed, exhausted and failed almost all classes that eventually I dropped out of the program. Because I had failed so many of my classes, my GPA had dropped. Two years later, when my brother became a freshman, he was fortunate enough that I had kept almost all my notes and helped him out with what I could recall from some subjects. In the end, when it came time for graduation, he was ranked higher than I was. I was proud of what he had accomplished in school, but at the same time, I was envious that he did better than me. Most of the time it felt like my parents praised him for his achievements and didn’t acknowledge the fact that I tried so hard to do good as well. On top of academics, he performed better at other things like driving. Although I got my license before he did, it took many nights of studying to pass my written test which I was thrilled to have passed the first time. The behind-the-wheel test was a different story though. It took me three tries to finally pass my test. My brother passed both test the first try since he had been allowed to drive before I was. I was constantly fighting with my parents, “you never let me do that at his age.” He got to learn things at an age that I had wait for. I rarely purposely teach him anything because I’m so competitive with my brother but, despite the endless amount of fights we had gotten into, I realized that my brother doesn’t achieve these things to get on my nerves, on the contrary, he simply takes advantage of observing what I do for him to have a better experience.
My younger sister and I are nine years apart. We have a different relationship considering the large age gap. We don’t fight as much as I did with my brother because she seeks other things from me. When she was born, I could take on more responsibility with her than I did with my brother. I was old enough to carry her on my own and watch over her. Most of her homework assignments are far more easy for me to help her with. I can style her hair, get her dressed, cook for her, drive her to school and pick her up. I had slowly adapted to be her surrogate parent. When she began going through puberty, I helped by guiding her through it and she was comfortable enough to talk to me about her feelings and concerns. It was something I wished I had when I was growing up. Granted, I had my mom, but she is discrete about certain subjects and I believe it’s different asking for advice from your parents because you’re scared of what they’d think or fear you did something wrong. My sister is confident enough to talk to me about anything and it was encouraging to know she could trust me. I have noticed that she looks up to me. I can see how she tries to imitate the way I dress, or style my hair. She repeats my jokes or sometimes sneaks into my closet to grab my shoes.
As the oldest, my parents have expectations of me. They expect me to set the best example for my siblings and when I fail, advise them to not repeat my mistakes. Growing up, I felt like I had failed the most out of my siblings. My role affected me to be competitive, sharing, understanding and the responsible one. Even though some days I admit to have resented my role as “big sister,” and occasionally got the, “your older, you should know better” speech, I now have learned that even though I had to go through rough patches, my brother and sister don’t have to. I’m now capable of taking care of someone other than myself. It is rewarding to help them and I’m proud of what I can do. I also recognized that I could learn from them too. We are all different and have diverse personalities and interests. Not only can I teach them what I know, they can also teach me what I don’t know and we are blessed to have a relationship where we can talk to each other and help improve ourselves. I learned how to be understanding and immensely patience with my brother, my sister taught me how to be responsible and nurturing. They are a source of motivation for me to do better. Not only am I their leader, teacher, and friend, I have become literate in my ability to be their Big Sister.