The Firstborn Ultimatum

By Lisa Earle McLeod

Why is the eldest offspring always so darn bossy?

You know, always assuming that Thanksgiving dinner should be held at their house. Declaring that they alone are entitled to inherit Grandma’s good china. And that it’s their God-given right,  in fact it’s their job,  to choose the decorations, cake color, guest list and swizzle stick design for Mom and Dads’ golden anniversary.

Well, I’ll tell you why we’re so doggone bossy. Because ever since you younger siblings showed up and shoved us out of the playpen, Mom and Dad have held us oldest children responsible for absolutely everything.

Countless studies have revealed that firstborns like, ahem, yours truly,  are more likely to become U.S. presidents, CEOs, surgeons and MBAs than later-born siblings. A recent study, reported in Time magazine, found a statistically significant overload of firstborns in the U.S. Congress.

I don’t know if that means we firstborns are smarter, but we sure think we have the right to tell other people what to do. The Time cover story on birth order suggested, “There are few extended clans that can’t point to the firstborn, with the heir-apparent bearing, who makes the best grades, keeps the other kids in line and, when mom and dad grow old, wind up as caretaker and executor too.”

The Time article cites research revealing that younger children are less likely to be fully vaccinated than firstborns. It also noted the firstborn photo phenomenon, observing, “It’s not for nothing that family scrapbooks are usually stuffed with pictures and reports cards of the firstborn and successively fewer of the later-borns.”

Well, duh, of course there are more photos of the oldest kid. I mean, good grief, when I was a baby I was fabulous dresser. My hair was always curled into little pigtails and I wore cute little smocked dresses every day, whereas my younger sister waddled around in a diaper and a grungy hand-me-down onesie for the first two years of her life.

The social science theory on over-achieving eldests is that the firstborn is the apple of the parents’ eye and thereby receives more attention and resources than younger sibs. My personal belief is that we bossy firstborns aren’t overbearing because we were doted on, but because we had no choice.

A recent experience with my own children, henceforth known as the “magic marker incident,” convinced me that it’s not just possessing the prettiest pinafores that makes the eldest so bossy. One evening, a few years back, I straggled in the door from work to find my oldest daughter, then age 9, sitting at the table quietly doing her homework while her younger sister, age 4, had covered herself, the carpet and an entire sofa in purple marker. As the youngest stood there proudly exhibiting her handiwork, I turned to my oldest in a fury, saying, “Why were you sitting there studying while your sister is getting into trouble?”

It was at that screeching moment that I finally had the epiphany. No wonder I feel compelled to instruct my grown siblings on how to run their lives, marriages, businesses and homes. I’ve been programmed to believe that their mistakes are my responsibility.

It’s not my fault; it’s my parents’ fault for having me first. I immediately called my brother with my revelation and he quickly responded, with the tact for which younger brothers are known, “Lisa, Dad is 66, Mom is dead and I’m 35 years old. Your reign as chief babysitter ended when I joined the Army.”

Little snot, how dare he speak to his big sister like that? Easy for him to say, he always did get away with murder.

Unless you’ve walked a mile in the responsibility-laden loafers of an over-exhausted eldest, you’ll never understand the burden of our birth order.

So, on behalf of beleaguered, bossy oldest siblings everywhere, let me close by saying, “You youngsters don’t appreciate how good you have it.”

Lisa Earle McLeod is a nationally recognized speaker and the author of “Forget Perfect” and “Finding Grace When You Can’t Even Find Clean Underwear.” Contact her or join her interactive blog at .

EDITORS:You have permission to reprint this edition of Lisa Earle McLeod’s syndicated newspaper column Forget Perfect by Lisa Earle McLeod electronically or in print, free of charge, without further reprint permission as long as the bylines are included.

© Copyright 2007, by Lisa Earle McLeod. All rights reserved.

If you’re interested in running Lisa’s syndicated column on a regular basis contact Lisa Earle McLeod at 770-985-0760 or