I was reading “Birth Order and You” by Lois Richardson. I would really suggest this book; it can help you understand what and where you get some of your personality traits. Anyway I came across this saying – “Children ought to be like pancakes, you throw the first one away.” For those of you that don’t cook, when making pancakes usually the first one always burns because the pan hasn’t yet reached optimal cooking range. At first this saying didn’t really register, but wouldn’t you know that I turned on the TV later and the saying came up again. This time it stuck and I went back to the book to reread it.
To get the whole concept, let’s start with the fact that I am the oldest child – I’m also the oldest sister of sisters. Being the oldest means a lot of things. First of all, parents pay more attention to everything their first baby does – smiling, eating, walking, talking, etc. This is because this is the first time that the parents have ever experience these things. Everything is special and wonderful. But at the same time parents put a lot of pressure on their firstborn to succeed, to be great or to be just like them.
Due to this child being their first, parents make a lot of mistakes with this child as well. We are a new, great experiment. Something they have never done before so they make a lot of mistakes that they don’t make with later children. Thus the whole pancake saying. Parents tend to be overprotective, anxious, tense and over-indulgent all of which is register to the child. Parents expect brilliance or for their child to be just like them and then the parents become disappointed when that child doesn’t live up to their expectations.
Then more children are added to the mix and the firstborn suddenly loses their parent undivided attention. Things change, and the first-born is suddenly expected to behave and make do with less time from their parent. To this, the first-borns can act one of two ways, they misbehave in a hope of getting back their parents attention or they become little adults/parent helpers in a hope that by being so good their parents will continue to love them. I became the later. I was almost an adult in many ways by the time I was 5 or 6.
Added to this is what the next sibling’s sex is. In my case it was another girl. The book says that in this case – The oldest sister of sisters has feelings of being displaced by another female, so competition can become fierce between these two sisters. This is especially true when there is less than four years between the two, as is the case between Dinah and me. She is 3 ½ years my junior. This can lead to jealousy and feelings of worry that you, as the oldest sister, are being displaced by the younger one.
So what does this all mean? It all goes back to the way your personality develops. What personality traits of a Firstborn and First Sister of Sisters do I have?
I am a peacemaker – I have always ran interference between my parents and my little sister, with things like makeup, longer curfews, and her choice of boys which has made it easy for her that it ever was for me when it came to those things.
I am jealous and resentful of my sister being able to get the above mentioned this with more ease and less tension then what I had to face.
I am more aggressive and domineering. My sister was cute and thus indulged by are parents so I had to be more aggressive to get their attentions.
I am a loner and a leader. I have a hard time asking for help from others as I was always the one doing the helping. This lead to my inability to talk to others and ask for help when it came to my abuse.
I am opinionated. I always have an opinion and it is always right.
Most people would classify me as being tough. While I don’t see myself as tough, I do understand why they think this way. It is because to be vulnerable is something that I cannot allow myself to be. I must be the strong one. The one that is untouched by what is going on around me. This became even more so when my parents began fighting all the time. I had to be the one to make my sister believe that everything was going to be alright, even though I didn’t believe it to be so.
I am a perfectionist. Due to my need to always do the right thing and be the good child, it is now hard from me to step out of the rule of Superwoman who can do and be everything for everyone. It is what made me the good student, someone who was always serious and it gave me the ability to be with any age adult.
I am an achiever. I am competent and hard worker. That is what is making my recovery so hard because I always feel like I am not doing enough. That is I just try harder that I would be over this painful period of my life already.
Now that I have acknowledged my personality traits and one of the reasons that they formed the way they did, what can I do to help myself?
The book goes on with a kind of Note to Self. It suggests trying to let go of some of my responsibilities (real or imagined) and allow/trust others to do what they need for themselves. I need to learn how to recognize what I am and am not responsible for, and to resist the temptation to think that I am responsible for everything. I need to allow others to do things even if they can’t do it as well as I can. I need to make time for myself and allow myself to be less serious and to play more.
I need to accept Dinah as my equal and give up my role of mother/leader when it comes to her. She is an adult now, I need to allow her to make her own decisions and get out of her own problems instead of doing or fixing everything for her.
I need to be more spontaneous. I need to set realistic goals for myself and not allow what others say about me to matter. It is ok to stop trying to be perfect because I will never be perfect. I also need to stop trying to make everyone around me perfect – they are never going to cooperate – it is time to give up trying to fix others. I need to focus on me.