The Oldest Child in the Family, Part 1/2

MICHAEL KEATON, the QUINTESSENTIAL oldest child-mature, overachiever, conscientious, and responsible.
MICHAEL KEATON, the QUINTESSENTIAL oldest child-mature, overachiever, conscientious, and responsible.

The Mature One, Being Adultlike

By virtue of their birth order, oldest children have to be the adult one in the family.He/she is the least childlike of all birth orders.He/she has to grow up quickly.
By virtue of their birth order, oldest children have to be the adult one in the family.He/she is the least childlike of all birth orders.He/she has to grow up quickly.

The Overachiever

As a result of being held to higher expectations and expected to be always perfect, oldest children tend to be overachievers.  They have to PRESENT and BE their BEST selves.
As a result of being held to higher expectations and expected to be always perfect, oldest children tend to be overachievers. They have to PRESENT and BE their BEST selves.

Good at Being in Authoritative Roles in the Work Place

Oldest children are placed in positions of authority from childhood. Because of their authorititative family roles,they are comfortable in authoritative roles in the work place whether it is supervisory, managing, and/or in executive roles.
Oldest children are placed in positions of authority from childhood. Because of their authorititative family roles,they are comfortable in authoritative roles in the work place whether it is supervisory, managing, and/or in executive roles.

Famous Oldest Children

Famous oldest children include Joan Collins
Famous oldest children include Joan Collins
James Baldwin
James Baldwin
Susan Sarandon
Susan Sarandon
James Franco
James Franco
Vanessa L. Williams
Vanessa L. Williams

Why Being the Oldest Child is Either the Most Glorious, Majestic, or the Most Put Upon, and Underappreciated of All Birth Orders

This hub is Part One in my analysis and commentary on the oldest child in the family. Psychologists, social scientists, and sociologists assert that being the oldest child in a family can either be the most majestic or the most put upon of all birth orders. The oldest child in a family is looked upon by parents and younger siblings to be the leader, surrogate parent, and an example setter. The oldest child is the only child for a while before the onset of another arrival in the family. Then the oldest child goes from being the center of the universe to being dethroned because there is a new baby in the family.

The oldest child reacts to being dethroned upon the arrival of a new sibling in many ways. Many oldest children become jealous of their newly arrived siblings because they are taking their parents' attention away from them. Some oldest children, upon the arrival of a new sibling in the family, revert to earlier childhood behaviors such as infantile talk and soiling themselves in an attempt to obtain attention from their parents. Still other oldest children sublimate their dethronement upon the arrival of the new sibling and vow to be "the best child" in order to gain their parents' admiration, respect, and love as well as the new sibling.

Because of the oldest child's ordinal birth order position within the family constellation, he/she is often designated as the responsible one. Teri Joseph, a character in SOUL FOOD, had a daily mantra asserting that she is the responsible one in the family and that her younger siblings do not have a clue.. Parents often have higher expectations of their oldest children than they do their younger children. Oldest children in families are on the average, disciplined more harshly and held to higher standards than their younger siblings. Parents are more exacting with their oldest children because they are new parents who are still experimenting and trying out new parenting methodologies. So the oldest child is the one to be experimented on; however, as younger siblings are born, parents learn to relax.

Oldest children in families are given responsibilities much earlier than their younger siblings. Because parents are stricter and more exacting with their oldest children, oldest children are usually more conservative, traditional, stalwart, and authoritative than their younger sibling or siblings. Oldest children are also less democratic and authoritarian in their attitudes than their younger sibling or siblings. Many oldest children develop into control freaks with the motto my way or the highway because they usually bossed their younger sibling or siblings around.

The status of the oldest child in the family constellation is dependent upon family size. In small (1-2 children per household)and medium sized families(3-4 children per household), the oldest child usually has a more glamorous status within the family. He/she has the positives of being the oldest child without the drudgery. Oldest children, especially girls, in small and medium sized families are often treated as the princess and/or little empresses in the family. They are like supervisors, advisers, and confidantes to their younger sibling or siblings.

However, in medium larg(5 children per household), large and very large families(6 or more children per household), the oldest child is often in loco parentis, raising his/her youngest siblings. The oldest child in large families have all the negative aspect of being the oldest without any of its privileges. Many oldest children in large families hate being the oldest because they are compelled to assume parental duties thus having no carefree childhood and adolescence. The average oldest child in large families are not allowed to have normal childhoods and adolescence as they are saddled down raising their younger siblings.

Many oldest children in large families start assuming adult responsibilities in early childhood. Oldest children in large families led very hard and stressful lives. Because of onerous familial responsibilities that they are assigned and compelled to perform, many oldest children in large families age beyond their years. These children do not know how to be children. In contrast, oldest children in small and medium sized families have normal and carefree childhoods in addition to individualized attention and affection from their parents.

Oldest children in large families often do not have contact with their parents but primarily with their younger siblings. Parents who have large families are usually not involved in raising their children, they delegate that responsibility to their oldest children. If parents in large families do spend time with their children, it is usually their youngest children. Parents in large families have a nonchalant and lackadaisical attitude towards their oldest children. It is called benign neglect.

Many oldest children, especially girls, in large families usually feel used and put upon by their parents. In large families, many parents view their oldest children as free help and a beast of burden, not as an individual with his/her separate identity. Oldest children in large families often develop an intense rivalry and jealousy of their younger, more indulged siblings which often last into adulthood.

Many oldest daughters in large families had so many responsibilities growing up that they wish to lead more carefree lives as adults. For example, I knew someone who was the oldest of ten children. She was married but seldom stayed at home. She constantly going to one place or another. She never performed any household or cooking chores but left that to her husband, who is an only child. He loved staying at home and wonders why she is always going out. Another woman, who is the oldest of thirteen children, does not want to get married and have children. She maintained that she has raised enough children to last two lifetimes. She added that she does not like children.

Many oldest children in small and medium sized families actually enjoy and relish being the oldest in their families. Although they hold responsible positions within their families, their parents do not inundate them with too much responsibilities thus allowing them to be children to enjoy their childhood and adolescence. Oldest children in small and medium sized families often receive love and affection from their parents. They are not left out by their parents in terms of love, affection, and attention.

In small to medium sized families, the oldest child is often on an equal paring with his/her younger sibling or siblings. In such families, parental affection is equally distributed among the siblings in terms of emotional, economical, and psychological resources. Because of the equal parental treatment of siblings in the small and medium sized family, the oldest sibling does not feel envy or rivalry towards his/her younger sibling or siblings. Familial responsibilities are equally divided by the parents among the siblings. I remember a mother of two children who severely admonished her youngest child when the child whined about doing a particular chore, telling her that she is too part of the family and was expected to do her fair share.

However, this is not the case in medium large to very large families . In medium large and especially in very large families, siblings are treated hierarchically. There is no equal paring of the oldest child with his/her siblings in such families. To reiterate, the oldest child in large families is seen as and treated as the family mascot while the youngest siblings are mollycoddled and not given any responsibilities even as they get older.

The majority of younger siblings in large to very large families have and live the life of Riley. I know of a person who was the youngest of ten who at twenty-one did not know how to cook and/or take care of herself because everything was done for her. Because of the parental treatment regarding siblings in the large family constellation, there is often intense rivalry and jealousy among the oldest, middle, and youngest siblings in the family. Many oldest children in large families express resentment and hatred of their younger siblings.

In school, the oldest child often becomes the overachiever because of high parental expectations. Oldest children, especially from small to medium sized families, often gravitate towards positions of authority and responsibility such as school monitor, class monitor, and student council president and leadership positions in extracurricular activities. Oldest children often are bossy and become the leaders of their peer group.

Sometimes oldest children because of their ordinal position in the family, cannot interface well with their peers because they refuse to learn the fine art of compromise. Conversely, many oldest children become bullies because they were used to being the boss among their siblings. Many oldest children continue to overachieve and excel throughout their academic careers which is later transferred to their actual professional careers.

Most executives and corporate leaders are the oldest children in their families. Furthermore, over 50% of our United States presidents have been oldest children. Statistics show that over 90% of our first astronauts were oldest children.

Oldest children do not often work well in subordinate positions as they dislike being told what to do. At work, many oldest children have contentious relationships with their superiors as they believe that they know more than their superiors do because of. their leadership roles in their families from a very young age. For example, my mother, who is the oldest of ten children, often had contentious relationships with her superiors at work because she believed that she knew more than they did and she demonstrated this at work, often getting in trouble with her superiors.

In summation, being the oldest child in the family constellation is a complex position for a person to have. Parents are still experimenting with the child because they are new parents. The oldest child is held to higher expectations and standards by parents than their younger siblings. He/she is usually given more responsibilities at an earlier than his/her younger siblings. Also the oldest child is punished more harshly for offenses that his/her younger sibling or siblings can get away with.

Because of the high parental expectations placed upon the oldest child, he/she is often the overachiever and gravitate towards authoritative and responsible positions within the academic arena and beyond. Parental expectations and the familial environment also influences the oldest child to be more authoritarian and less democratic than his/her younger sibling or siblings. Studies show that the majority of our American presidents and astronauts have been the oldest children in their families.

Oldest children are more likely to be in executive and/or leadership positions at work. They thrive on responsibility and love to tell others what to do,. Oldest children are extremely uncomfortable in subordinate positions as they do not take kindly to being told what to do. In the workplace, many oldest children feel that they know than their boss and/or supervisor and this makes for a very contentious relationship at work.

In small and medium sized families, being the oldest child is a very glamorous position. However, this is not so in large to very large families when being the oldest child is more of an onus and taxing responsibility. The oldest child in small and medium sized families although they assume advisory and authoritative roles with their younger siblings they, still retain semblance of their childhood roles.

Oldest children in large to very large families often have burdensome and taxing responsibilities which include being assigned by their parents to be caretakers and caregivers to their younger siblings. Parents in large families are usually uninvolved and/or unavailable and have little or no part in raising their children.

Oldest children are the leaders among their siblings which often translates into authoritative and executive acumen within the intellectual, social, academic, and professional arenas. Famous and celebrated oldest children include Susan Sarandon, George W. Bush, James Baldwin, Jane Fonda, Penelope Cruz, James Franco, John Stamos, Vanessa L. Williams, William Jefferson and Hillary Clinton, Mira Sorvino, Sylvester Stallone, Joan Collins, Clint Eastwood, and Bruce Willis.

Some Excellent Books on the Subject

The Oldest Child in the Family, Part I

How was your experience being the oldest child in your family

See results without voting

Describe your family size and siblingship

See results without voting

© 2011 Grace Marguerite Williams

More by this Author


Comments 14 comments

MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 5 years ago from South Africa

This is an excellent profile of an oldest child in a medium to large family. I am the eldest of five and confirm every word you’ve written. My own oldest child, however, will not at all relate to this. She and her brother, who is two and a half years younger, were treated exactly the same. (They each had their own responsibility as oldest daughter and oldest son, though they were the only in the family.) She was protected by her younger brother since the beginning, so she feels more like the youngest child and her brother like the oldest. Great article about first born children!


Cappy0001 5 years ago

Interesting article. As I see it, my childhood was stolen from me. I'm the eldest child of eleven and yes, I had to grow up fast and take on responsibilites far above and beyond what a young child should be exposed to. Additionally, my parents were both physically and emotionally abusive. I plotted out my escape as a sophmore in high school and executed it a few years afterwards by joining the military (btw, I am female). It was the best decision I ever made. I have only been back home to visit a handful of times in the past 35 years, which is perfectly fine with me. My family doesn't truly know me, nor I them...and I believe that's how it was all meant to be.


mariya 4 years ago

amazing article. Could i just ask were you got the information from? article? book?


gmwilliams profile image

gmwilliams 4 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York Author

To mariya: This article is based on the myriad books I have read regarding birth order and associations with oldest children, both relatives and friends. Also my mother was the oldest child in her family.


Elaine 4 years ago

What you have to say about eldest siblings is very interesting. I am currently studying Postgraduate Psychology, so have an acute interest in the effects of birth order upon the development of personality and behavioural traits.

I am also an eldest child (with one younger brother - 5 1/2 years younger than me).

My parents' own borth positions are of huge fascination to me - you could write a book on them alone! Mother is the eldest girl from a huge Catholic family. She has 2 older brothers, and then one younger brother and 3 younger sisters. Mum, just as your article suggests, truly HATED being the eldest girl in a bog family. Her parents abused her, making her leave school early to look after the younger siblings. Mum spent her life feeling like an unpaid nanny! She got married to my dad as quick as she could to leave home!

My dad is an interesting case, too. He is also from a MASSIVE family - Irish Traveller stock. Dad has 3 elder brothers, being the youngest boy in the family. He then has 3 elder sisters, too, and one younger sister. Sadly, for my father, he lost several of his siblings quite young. 2 aunts died prematurely, as did one uncle. Worse still, my grandmother was widowed very early in life (dad was only 15 when this happened) so the whole family really struggled to make ends meet. Dad, again, had to leave school prematurely to get work, just to help bring in money for the family. I understand that dad was quite an aggressive, badly-behaved child as a result. It seems when his father died, he really "went off the rails".

My own experiences might interest you, too. I am the product of a marriage of 2 very unhappy people. For a start, Irish Travellers are REALLY looked down on, so my whole family have spent a lifetime subject to taunts, and I got bullied at school. My mother's parents did NOT want her to marry my father - but they married anyhow!

Mum was VERY ill after having me, with postnatal depression (the pregnancy and birth were not easy for her - I was induced due to complications). She remained ill, on and off, for much of my childhood. She now has been diagnosed with Bi-Polar Disorder. Dad struggled to cope.

As the eldest child in such a family, I bore the brunt of my parents' problems. Responsibility and pressure came VERY early on. When mum was ill, I had to fend for myself - especially if dad was at work. When my little brother came along, I took on board his care, if mum did not feel up to it. I also took on increasing amounts of housework - ironing, dusting and hoovering.

My stressed parents were emotionally very remote, and this became more so after my dad set up his own business. Dad worked longer and longer hours, so time with him was limited. He also favoured my brother. My hobbies all stopped, in order to free up funds to pay for my brother's upbringing. No more dance lessons, or pony trekking for me. Instead, the money went on new toys for my brother - a brand new racing bike - and endless hours of cricket practice, to which my father took him every weekend. I spent hardly any time with dad at all - we barely spoke, as my brother got older he took up ALL my father's free time. I got left to look after mum, who spent most of her time confiding in me about her illness.

Things remain the same to this day. My brother has little involvement if mum is ill. Dad and I sort it out. I have severed contact with my brother, who I view as spoiled, indulged and selfish. He got the best of my parents' (and my) care. I got to fend for myself.

So much of what you say hits the mark. Pity it has to be this way!


gmwilliams profile image

gmwilliams 4 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York Author

To Elaine, Oldest children have Great Expectations upon them. They are expected to set the example for younger siblings, to be as adultlike as soon as possible, and to be the stoic of the family. Many oldest children are not viewed as children with their lives. They are expected to be surrogate parents 24/7/365. Oldest children often have childhoods as short as the winter solstice has daylight. I truly pity the oldest child in the family. I feel that the oldest child in a family, especially medium large to very large families, is the worst birth order imaginable! Oldest children live a life of utter hell!


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South

As second mother to four younger brothers I always planned on four kids myself but by the time I got married I changed my mind to I had enough but I did end up with two! lol


the essayer 4 years ago

this was very helpful in an cause and effect essay so i just want to say thx and i did not plagiarize.


Jen 3 years ago

When was this article published?


gmwilliams profile image

gmwilliams 3 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York Author

Quite recently, I wanted to use the picture as an illustrative example.


Dan Ferguson 2 years ago

I found this page because I am astonished at the complete absence of respect younger siblings have towards my wife whom is the eldest. I was the eldest of three boys, and as such, was raised to respect my elders. As the eldest, I was called upon to be grow up rather quickly and care for my younger brothers Kind of funny how I have carried this mission through my life as one who has been given a "quest" by the "Queen". Yes, single mom and blah blah blah. Momma's boy, blah blah blah. My point is this. I have respect. More often than not, it is worthwhile and I love how it elevates/ uplifts myself and others. Sometimes, its a complete waste of time. Still, I would rather default to respect, even if it is completely misplaced and / or never recognized as a result of ignorance or the complete opposite. A complete lack of respect for others. So anyways, I found myself on this hub as I research to find any basis for the respect my younger brothers have for me, for the respect I have for my uncles and aunts and of course, the respect I have for the elders. Maybe I am just fortunate to have been gifted these insights into the hierarchy of respect. Still, it burns me to see how completely vacant of respect my wife's younger sibling and two half siblings have towards her.


gmwilliams profile image

gmwilliams 2 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York Author

In many multichild families, younger children are the takers and receivers, NEVER the givers. Multichild families are pressures on oldest children. Oldest children MUST be there 24/7/365 with NO QUESTIONS asked. They're the ones who are discarded and/or pressed into service by their parents. Life for oldest children is HARD at best.


gmwilliams profile image

gmwilliams 2 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York Author

I would like to add that expectations do fall upon the oldest child. He/she is the example setter and standard bearer for the family. He/she is also punished for things that YOUNGER siblings do because it is assumed that the oldest should know better. Yes, life for oldest children can be.....HELL!


JamespRichmond profile image

JamespRichmond 19 months ago from Kent, Washington

I really like your post, however might I suggest revising it and splitting up your paragraphs into separate sections. For example "Small households", "Medium sized households" and "Large households". Your information is very informative, but it makes the reader have the ahhhh my brain!!! Moment due to text overload. Separating it into individual sections based upon content will do wonders.

- James

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working