We’ve all heard the rumor that first children are more successful. Well, it’s not a rumor. More recently, I heard it supported by scientific evidence. First-borns get more alone time with their parents, an uninterrupted infancy, mom’s more likely to breastfeed before there are multiple kids to juggle, dad’s got more time to listen to Focus on the Family (ok, i made that one up because i always get lots of hits when i tag j.d…)
In any case, you’ve probably heard all this. It’s not a new idea that older sibs sometimes out-perform kids from further down in the ranks. This, of course, coming from me–whose baby brother is, as we speak, in South Africa being a global rockstar. So there’s that…
As a mother of two myself now, I have my own theories about why a first-born child MIGHT tend to function at higher levels of achievement later in life. I say MIGHT, because i know many talented and acclaimed second, third, and seventh-born children, so while i’m not a scientist, i account for countless variables here. But IF first-borns out-perform, it comes down to the simple truth of toys.
Toys for babies and small children are designed to stimulate and intrigue. They are designed to draw the eye and engage multiple senses. But above all, they are designed (if they are good toys) to be figured out. And if you’ve got a big sister sitting right there who has already figured it out for you, then you can be lazy at play.
If your sister already knows how to take all the animals in and out of the Fisher Price Little People Barn, how to make it play music and navigate all the different animal sounds, then what fun is that? (OK, it’s still super fun. i like playing with it more than they do). But still, the need for innovation is gone. The sharp edge of curiosity becomes dulled by those who have gone before. If your big sister already knows how to climb out the dog door, you don’t have to figure that out either. If she can climb the shelves in the pantry and get the cookies down, then you get cookies AND she is still the one getting in trouble. Do the math. The little ones have it made. Why try?
I’m sure this truth bleeds on into other stages of development. If your older brother can show you how to sneak out at night without tripping the alarm or the motion lights, then you can get to all the forbidden places that will stop your mother’s heart, without ever having to PLAN anything. You benefit from those who’ve gone before, even though it might hurt you in the long run. (the sneaking out, or the not knowing how to climb back into the dog door if you wind up someplace you don’t want to be…)Already I’ve witnessed my ten-month-old deciding it’s not worth it. When his sister takes a toy away from him, he looks at her for just a moment…It’s not a hurt or angry look. He’s just deeply impressed. As if to say, wow… i hope i can be so strong, so powerful, so in-charge someday…. It has not yet occured to him that “someday,” for him, will always include her.
For now, I just watch. I make sure he gets time to figure stuff out for himself when she’s napping or otherwise engaged. I’m trying to breastfeed him as long as i did her. I try to listen to just as much James Dobson as i ever did (which, if you know me, is exactly NONE).
Don’t get me wrong.. the ‘roll with it’ attitude has it’s own blessings (ask my spouse, who is a second born…of 7!) and will get you far in many, many situations. The boy will be popular. He will have friends. He might be a great politician [mom shudder]. But I’m learning alot about myself, and the world, watching this whole dynamic unfold between the two of them. There’s love there. Camaraderie. A sense of responsibility and leadership emanating from my not-quite-3-year-old in ways that make me tear up sometimes.
There’s also a clear message behind it all; “I’m the boss of you, baby brother, and it shall always be so.”
Meanwhile, I’m taking this lesson to other areas of my life. The ease of following those who have gone before; the simple comfort of going the road more travelled and nicely paved; the need for innovation that sometimes escapes us;. the sharp edge of curiousity, dulled by someone else’s experience…sound like anybody we know, Church?
For those of us committed to transforming the ways that we worship, serve and share with our neighbors, it might be time to take a lesson from our rock star little brothers and carve out another path for ourselves. With all the big sister bossiness we can muster, of course, but with some second-sib wandering thrown in for good measure. We are all children of God, and we are neither the first nor the last… the life of faith is ours to claim, for our own time and for those to come.