Tuesday, November 25, 2014
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Tell Me About It: Eldest resenting attention to younger sib

Parents often talk about how each of their kids has different needs. What you don´t hear as much is that each child often gets different parents.(iStock image)
Parents often talk about how each of their kids has different needs. What you don't hear as much is that each child often gets different parents.(iStock image)

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Question: I'm the eldest of four children, my family's "guinea pig." Despite that, I did very well, my parents were very supportive, and I have generally loved being an eldest sister.

However, Brother is now 13 and applying to high schools. He and my parents feel an all-boys school is better than my high school, and although they say they are proud of me, I can't help but feel slighted.

It also seems like my parents are putting more time into my brother than they did into me. They keep track of his homework, help him study for the standardized test coming up, and so on. Dad also decided to teach Brother coding and robotics. I missed out on this, though he intends to teach me over break.

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  • Part of me is really proud to see Brother being so successful, and part of me is jealous that I didn't get this kind of attention. How do I get over these feelings so I don't end up resentful?

    Answer: Parents often talk about how each of their kids has different needs. What you don't hear as much is that each child often gets different parents. People change through experience and happenstance and just general erosion. You can't get mad at your parents for learning to be better parents - well, you can, but it seems to be about as productive as getting mad at dogs for being hairy.

    Consider this, too: You, as the oldest, got your novice parents' full attention as a baby while the youngest probably did some hard playpen time. That's just how big families make it all work. Then, as the older children are successively catapulted out of the house, the youngest remains to soak up the full attention of now-veteran parents.

    I can't tell you how to feel, but I can speak for myself: I try to save my jealousy and resentment for responses to the deliberate behavior of others, instead of wasting it on accidents of fate or timing.

    (Then, of course, I try not to feel jealous or resentful at all, because that just takes crappy circumstances and adds crappy feelings to them - because even if you kid yourself that you're just seeking fairness or justice or whatever else, you're still gaining mostly angst.)

    So, take advantage of the coding and robotics lessons you're about to get, instead of cursing the fact that you're getting them late. In general, too, keep in mind the advice I've taken to heart from a reader-advice column (bit.ly/RunYOrace): Run your own race.

    Question: I was going to copy-and-paste this for my daughter, but as the middle child, she never got the advantage of being the initial sole focus, either. Did she get the best of both worlds, or the worst? Probably somewhere in between (as usual).

    Answer: Right. Middles often enjoy an opportunity to be out of the glare of their parents' attention, allowing more room to try different things. They get parents that aren't as green as the ones the olders had, but not as burned out as the youngers.

    This is generalizing, but in service of an even-more-useful generalization: It's not what you get, it's how you use it that counts.

     


    tellme@washpost.com.

    Chat with Carolyn Hax online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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