You’re at a party and the conversation is dragging. If you really want to kick start a good discussion, simply toss out this guaranteed ice-breaker: “Who had a better childhood — the oldest child in your family or the youngest?”
This great debate has gone on for years. In fact, the subject was the focus of a book published a couple of decades ago. “The Birth Order Book” by Dr. Kevin Leman addressed the issue from a psychological viewpoint and provided some great insights (Dr. Leman updated the book in 2009).
Back at your party, chances are psychology will not be the basis for any discussion on the subject. Folks who were the eldest sibling will heatedly point out that the baby of the family “had it made.” Those who were the “baby of the family” will counter that the oldest was better off.
The most interesting aspect of the debate will be the views of the middle children — those who were neither the oldest nor the youngest. They generally have some real war stories to share.
And those who were “only children” will assuredly provide balance to the discussion.
I am the oldest of six children and have long maintained that the first-born has the toughest job — breaking ground for the rest of the kids. One of my brothers even thanked me for doing that.
Case in point: at the age of 18, while still a senior in high school, I had to drive to St. Paul, Minn., to take a Federal Communications Commission exam (so I could accept a job in radio). St. Paul was less than four hours away from our home, a simple drive up U.S. Highways 69 and 65.
My mother insisted that I not go alone and since my high school buddies couldn’t get excused from classes during our senior finals I ended up taking my 14-year-old brother along. Mother’s orders.
To be honest, I’ve never regretted the opportunity to spend this time with my brother. It was a fun experience and we had a real adventure including engine problems and a state trooper. At first blush, though, it didn’t seem to be the cool thing to do.
Thirteen years and one month later my teenage baby sister boarded an airliner in Des Moines to fly to Paris, France (all by herself) to spend a month with a friend she had met a year earlier as part of an exchange program. Now why didn’t she have to take her oldest brother along? Hmmmm?
Baby sister has been back to Paris on several occasions and on one of those trips took my college-age daughter along to introduce her to “la Ville Lumière.” That’s the fancy nickname for Paris, the City of Lights. My daughter has been back several times as well.
Please don’t misunderstand; I harbor no envy. First of all, I don’t speak French; secondly, I’d rather go to the Netherlands and Germany; and thirdly, I don’t fit in those tiny airplane seats.
I use this example only to validate my claim that the oldest siblings are, shall we say, more sheltered.
You may hear the younger siblings counter with the argument that the oldest has some advantages. Generally, if you flip through a family album you’ll find more photographs of the oldest child than the rest. Mothers normally keep more meticulous records of the first baby’s first tooth, first step, first haircut, etc. The simple fact that there’s no competition lets parents focus all of their attention on the oldest those first few years.
Enter now the (usually valid) arguments of the middle kids who claim a life of less attention, fewer photographs and lots of hand-me-downs.
See what I mean? This controversy can spark more debate than religion or politics.
One last thought: don’t debate this issue with your siblings in the presence of your parents. They did the best they could with what they had to work with and they’ve heard enough of your stupid bickering. And if you don’t stop whining right now you will all get your butts spanked and get sent to bed early.
Except the oldest; he can stay up another hour.