I am not a first born and boy, am I glad!
The demand, I have observed from parents on the first born child, is hard. I have an older sister, who’s my parent’s first born. She has got a tougher deal in the family dynamics than the rest of us, her siblings.
I have friends, family friends, colleagues, who are their parents’ first born and it’s about the same thing; tougher upbringing, compared to their younger sibs.
It seems African parents expect their first born, either male or female; to be some unique individual without flaws. They would harass, threaten, intimidate and if need be; flog their first born children harder than the rest of their other children and where the cane fails; their tongues are used as whips. Indeed, they know the right choice of words that can bring their children to tears.
After church the other day, I met my friends tongue lashing their first born; a 19-year-old boy for not being vigilant over his nine-year-old younger brother. The older son’s protests fell on deaf ears; as the two parents chewed him to bits over what they termed negligence on his part.
The thoroughly chastised young man slunk into a corner and lamented to my son. “In my time o, nobody came to pick me up o. Now, this one cannot come out of ordinary junior church by himself.”
He said referring to his younger brother. ‘…everything they demanded from me; they don’t even ask of him,’ he continued.
My son, who happened to be his close friend sympathized with him. “Parents are hard on us, my younger sister would be right beside my mum. But mum would call me from afar to come and give her the remote or phone or something close by; something my sister could easily have picked for her. I don’t get these people.”
I acted like I didn’t hear them.
My own sister, for instance was expected by the parents to keep the house clean regardless of the fact that we; her younger siblings would “scatter” it as soon as she was done. She had been warned not to lift a finger against us and so despite her threats; we would simply ignore her and “scatter” the sitting room and many times; when my parents came back, she got the blame.
Sister: I didn’t mess up the sitting room, it was Peju and Ladi who did.
Mum: So what were you doing when they were scattering the whole house?
Sfx: Twack, (that’s a quick slap on my sister’s face)
Mum: You’re the eldest. You should have tidied up before I came then report them to me. I would have dealt with them myself. So what if I was coming in with a visitor, they would have met my house this dirty?
What of we the culprits?
We were let off on a reprimand…Thereafter, we would repeat the same offence with little consequences in a few days’ time.
And my sister wasn’t alone in this no- matter- what- you- do- you- get- the- blame-because –you –are- the- first; my friend too, who inherited his firstborn-ship after his brother passed; discovered the pressure of being the eldest child when his parents began to hound him over his younger siblings’ shortcomings. He would get frustrated with his aging parents who expect so much from him and too little from his siblings.
He would often lament on the phone. “I pay their rent. I send money home every month. Yet when they ask for something I don’t have the power to give; they go gangster on me. Meanwhile, my two younger sibs give them nothing! Nothing!”
Another friend, who had taken in her mum to live with her for several years; needed her younger sister to help care for their mum for a few weeks while she took a break. But the younger sister came up with an excuse and instead of mum to sympathise with my friend; she bore down on her, reporting her to the family. Further, she insisted that she was being ejected out of my friend’s house!
I know I have taken advantage of not being a first born and done things that my elder sister got the flak for. Growing up, she took several beatings in my stead, has been punished in my stead; reprimanded for my irresponsibility. I used to hear the oft-repeated refrain- “…where were you when your sister did this?” like she was my keeper.
So why do first born kids always get the flak?
Maybe because they are the products of their parent’s love. Being the first fruit of the relationship, their arrival is usually heralded as a big event. Mothers took extra care while pregnant; fathers felt validated as men; for being responsible for bringing a life into being. This gives them a sense of accomplishment as people contributing positively to their communities and their families in particular.
The grandparents are assured of the continuity of their lineage when the first grandchild arrives. Hence, there usually is a lot of very high expectations around the first born child, whether male or female.
Have you also observed that first born kids are the ones who have the most baby photos; the most clothes, the most attention? Usually, the novelty of having babies wears off on the parents by the time the second and third kids tumble in.
So, the first born child is expected to attain heights the parents did not achieve. Therefore, the race for ‘excellence’ begins once they are born. With the benefit of hindsight, being an African parent myself; today, I know how scared parents are of getting it wrong with their first born… This child is the test of their ability to reproduce something greater than themselves, hence the hard-edged treatment.
First born children are expected to be the role models. They are expected to observe the family traditions and not bring ‘shame’ to the family. While the rest of the siblings get away with several atrocities; it is not allowed for the first born. In fact, they are often the ones their parents sacrifice for the benefit of the rest of the family.
Like when the father dies, often; it is the first born child who drops out of school to work and ensure the family feeds; while his/her younger sibling can go to school.
If a first born fails an exam for instance, he/she is seen as setting the wrong precedence for the rest of his/her younger siblings and so the parents become critical to the point of being harsh and unfeeling.
It is common to hear, ‘You are the oldest…Your younger ones are looking up to you to be the good example…Everything rests on your shoulders…,” they might as well add, including your siblings’ misbehaviour.
Being the first born child is tough. The individual grows up faster than his/her age and parents’ expectations are often way too high. In many cases too, the first born children become resentful; seeing that their younger siblings enjoy waivers over issues they were held to account for. This resentment becomes the underbelly causing many to drift away from their families or at best; has created voids among family members.
Now does this necessarily apply to all? Maybe not. This hopefully will enable younger parents pull the brakes and treat their first-born children with a little more understanding.