The Youngest Child Effect
Updated: Jul 29, 2021
Growing up I can remember several times when my oldest sister complained to my parents that they were less strict with me than they had been with her. Whether it was my relaxed curfew, my mild tendency to swear, or the fact that I didn't make my bed between the time I turned twelve and got married, she was always claiming she would have "been in soo much trouble for doing that." I never thought much of it at the time though. After going to college and hearing many similar complains from people that were the oldest child in their families, I started considering why this might be. All I could come up with at the time is that my parents had just relaxed some as they got older. The thought faded from my mind and I didn't think about it again.
That is, until the other day. Gabriella was jumping off the couch arm onto a pile of pillows. After the second or third time she came careening down only to land safely on a pile of fluff, Sebastian quickly followed her over the edge. Unfortunately, his aim was a little less true and he barely caught the edge of the pillow pile resulting in a much harder landing. After that, I had to put a stop to the game not because I thought Gabriella shouldn't be jumping off the couch but because of the influence her doing so was causing.
When she asked me why I tried to explain that her brothers didn't understand that she was bigger and could handle the jump while they couldn't. My explanation however was lost on my three-year-old daughter who could only respond with " Well that's not fair." At that moment I suddenly understood a little of what every parent that imposed harsher restrictions on their firstborn children than the ones born later might have been thinking. It is all about setting an example.
My oldest sister was born three and a half years before me. There are several mannerisms that I could tolerate in a 16-year-old that I would not want my 12-year-old picking up. However the influence doesn't swing both ways, anything that would annoy me if my 16-year-old did, would also annoy me if they were 20. Now I know none of my kids are that old yet so my opinions have time to change as my experience grows.
This is the best explanation for what I would call the youngest child effect of parenting that I can come up with. Is it fair? Absolutely not, but not much in life is you are probably gonna want to get used to that. That being said though the other night after the boys when to bed and it was just Gabs and I wake in the house, I helped her make an even bigger pillow pile to jump into while no little eyes were around to watch.
I hope that this post has found you in good health and of a sound mind. I will my best try to make another post next week but life is crazy right now so we will see. Until I find time though I am just another confused father wondering...
Who came up with the concept of fair?