Disclaimer: I make the following prediction based upon nearly every first child I have met, not on anyone in particular (seriously).
I’d like to diagnose a condition I’ve seen in a number of children, in varying degrees, over the last ten years. This condition is an emotional hang up that presents in eldest children. The parents of these children imparted upon them seemingly unrealistic expectations, and a tough love kind of parenting that was very absent from the parenting of later siblings. The resulting hang up is a very delicate emotional balance of resentment tinged with injustice, a stressfully overwhelming desire to succeed, and a secret deep seated want for approval. All of this is usually aimed at one parent, and that parent does not understand the situation. From their perspective, they did the best that they could with the knowledge they had to work with. Only one thing will change this.
What will this be?
As the twenty-something eldest children of the world approach being thirty-something and start having children (for those who haven’t already) I have a prediction. A great epiphany will occur in tandem for those driven, intelligent, over achievers who have been molded in the likeness of their mothers and fathers since day one. This epiphany will not occur right away, probably not for a few years, or at least until new baby #1 begins to talk back. Following a particularly harrowing temper tantrum or four-year-old’s quarter-life-crisis, said epiphany will go something like this: “I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m doing my best,” followed by the realization, “my mother and father had no idea what they were doing either.”
Best-case scenario, this realization will allow these eldest children to forgive the wrongs they feel have been done to them by their parents. It will not suddenly be OK for their parents to have bribed, punished or guilted them into doing things, but maybe they will understand that they really did those things with only the best intentions at heart.
On the flip side, I hope that these parents will understand why their children pushed them away, and if given the opportunity, they will work on forming a new relationship with that child. Hopefully these parents will be wise enough to not push their child to be the parents they weren’t, lest they restart a vicious cycle.
I’m not trying to make a broad generalization about all parents or all eldest children. I’m just trying to say that at the end of the day you should love your parents for doing their best with what was available to them.
Let us hope we will someday do the same.