The First Kid Syndrome


Thesis statement: Being the firstborn child is hard, but parents can make it easier.

  1. It's hard being the oldest.

    1. The oldest child has a special significance in the family.
    2. The oldest child has the hardest job in the family.

  2. Why is it hard being the oldest?

    1. Birth order must be understood.

      1. Parenting styles for each child differ.
      2. Relationships within the family help determine personality.

    2. The firstborn child is an experiment.

      1. Parents have no experience.
      2. Parents can push their child too hard.

    3. The firstborn child has only adult role models.

      1. Firstborns want to be just like their parents.
      2. Firstborns want to do things the "right" way.
      3. Firstborns struggle with perfectionism.

    4. The firstborn child is either assertive or compliant.

      1. Assertive firstborns want to be the leader.
      2. Compliant firstborns want to be the follower.

    5. The firstborn child is dethroned by the second.

      1. The child has to share the spotlight.
      2. The child fears he wasn't good enough.
      3. The child becomes angry and jealous.

    6. The firstborn child has to meet high expectations.

      1. Parents expect too much of the firstborn.
      2. Parents over-discipline the firstborn.

  3. How can parents make it easier?

    1. Firstborns need to be assured of the parents' love.
    2. Firstborns need to be allowed to say what they're feeling.
    3. Firstborns need more lenience.

It's not easy being the oldest kid in the family. As Ronald W. Richardson and Lois A. Richardson put it, "From ancient times, the oldest child has had a special significance in the family - and in the world. This special significance has meant everything from inheriting the kingdom to being offered as a sacrifice in religious rites, which is a good metaphor for the mixed blessings of the oldest" (44). Kevin Leman writes, "The toughest job in the family goes, hands down, to the firstborn" (Growing up, 4).

What is it that causes the firstborn child in the family to have such a hard time? A basic understanding of birth order psychology is necessary to answer this question. Richardson and Richardson say, "A child who is born into a household with only two adults in it has a different experience of early childhood than the child born into a household of two adults and three children" (4). They go on to explain that parenting styles are different for each child in the family. Parents are inexperienced with the first child and grow more relaxed with each child who follows. They often pay more attention to the first child than younger ones (5).

The firstborn child starts as the only child and stays in that position for several months or years. Since the parents have no experience in being parents, they pay extra attention to every new thing the child does. Robert Needlman writes, "First-time parents sweat the details. They document every milestone" (3). First children are worried over and showered with attention. Every first is praised. This can last throughout the child's life (Richardson and Richardson, 45). However, there is a downside to all this attention. Since the parents have no experience, they often push their child too hard. Leman says, "Oldest children serve as 'guinea pigs' for parents who have never done this kind of thing before. Brand new parents are typically a bundle of ambivalence, one side overprotective, anxious, tentative, and inconsistent; the other side strict, disciplined, demanding, always pushing, and encouraging better performance" (Birth Order, 87). Richardson and Richardson elaborate, "The parents . . . have high expectations and often punish the child for not living up to their demands" (46).

The first child is unique in that he has mostly adult role models. He wants to be just like his parents. This desire is enhanced because of the extra attention he receives. Parents tend to push too hard, so most firstborns walk, talk, and do everything else sooner than their younger siblings. Firstborns are very obedient to any authority, because they want to please their parents (Leman, Birth Order, 272-273). Firstborns have a reputation for being punctual, correct, and hardworking. In Growing Up Firstborn, Leman says, "If you want something done properly, get a firstborn to do it" (9). Because they learned mainly from adults, they have an unquenchable desire to do everything the "right" way, and perfectly.

All of these traits are positive unless taken too far. Firstborn children fear making mistakes, which they believe will disappoint those in authority. They have high, sometimes unrealistic, expectations of themselves and others. Oldest children don't accept criticism well. They have trouble saying "no" and often take on more than they can handle because they don't want to disappoint anyone. They don't ask for help easily because they don't believe anyone else is as capable as they are (Richardson and Richardson, 52-54). Leman writes, "Perfectionism is the major problem for almost all first borns . . . . At worst, it can be a curse and, at best, a heavy burden" (Birth Order, 94).

Leman writes that most firstborns fit into one of two categories: assertive or compliant. "Assertive first borns set high goals and have a strong need to be 'king or queen pin.' And along the way, they often develop badgerlike [sic] qualities - in other words, they can scratch, claw, and bite" (Birth Order, 82). Assertive firstborns often want to be the boss in every situation. The other side of the coin is the compliant firstborn, "model children who grew up to be pleasers of others" (Birth Order, 80). "Compliant first borns are well known for taking it and being walked on by a world that loves to take advantage of them. They are also known for nursing their resentments quietly, and then venting with one grand explosion" (Birth Order, 82).

The role of the firstborn takes on a new direction after the arrival of the second child. Leman writes, "One of the most challenging tasks of parenting is preparing the first born child for the intrusion of the second" (Birth Order, 273). The use of the word "intrusion" here is no exaggeration. Firstborns are usually surprised when the second child comes along. They feel jealousy, guilt, and anger (Needlman, 6). Meri Wallace explains that the firstborn child is no longer the center of attention when the new baby arrives. He may become rebellious to get attention. The child fears that he wasn't good enough, so his parents had the new baby as a replacement. Even though the child feels left out, his changes in behavior cause the parents to feel they spend more time with him than with the baby (21-23). If the parents don't make an effort to let the oldest know he's still loved and important, he can develop serious self-esteem problems. Edith Neisser explains, "To a small child, affection is like a cake. Every time someone else gets a piece, he imagines that much less remains for him" (45).

Added to this is the fact that once the new baby is born, the parents expect the firstborn to "set a good example for younger siblings" (Richardson and Richardson, 49). Parents often expect more of their firstborn and forget that he is still a child. He feels wronged when the younger sibling gets away with things he wouldn't dare try himself. Parents usually take the side of the younger child in any squabble, since they feel it's an unfair fight, even if the younger child started it. Because of this, the firstborn becomes very angry and resentful of both sibling and parents (Wallace, 36-37). Leman writes, "The bottom line is that parents expect too much of first borns" (Birth Order, 91).

Firstborn children are often disciplined more than their siblings. It's not uncommon for children to be playing rowdily when one of the parents notices the commotion and reprimands the oldest for encouraging his younger siblings to be wild. "One thing many firstborns can tell you is that, while they had to toe the mark, their younger brothers and sisters got off easy" (Leman, Birth Order, 90).

But raising the firstborn doesn't have to be this way. Most of the characteristics of the oldest child can be assets if the parents lay the groundwork early. Leman writes that the parents should assure the oldest that there will be enough love to go around after the new baby is born. The firstborn will soon realize that the new baby is going to stay, and that's the time when he should be allowed to help, if he's old enough. Another important factor is reminding the child of all the things he can do that the baby can't do yet (Birth Order, 273-274). Wallace also believes that parents need to tell the firstborn that he is loved no matter what (136). She also says that parents should encourage their firstborn to say what he's feeling, and then listen when he does (24-26). Richardson and Richardson say much the same thing. The oldest needs to know he is loved apart from his accomplishments (59).

It's all too common for parents to be stricter with their firstborn children than with the rest. Leman says parents need to be "loving and fair but also consistent and firm" (Birth Order, 276-277). They shouldn't insist the child help out excessively around the house or with younger siblings (Wallace, 136).

If parents relax a bit with the first child and take Leman's advice to "Flaunt your imperfections" (Birth Order, 285), the firstborn child can grow up to be a well-adjusted, responsible adult. No child will ever be perfect, and no child should ever be expected to be.

Works Cited

Leman, Kevin. Growing Up Firstborn: The Pressure and Privilege of Being Number One. New York: Dell, 1989.

Leman, Kevin. The New Birth Order Book. Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell, 1998.

Needlman, Robert. "Firstborns: The Family Pioneers." April 18, 2001. .

Neisser, Edith G. The Eldest Child. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1957.

Richardson, Ronald W. & Lois A. Richardson. Birth Order and You. North Vancouver: Self-Counsel Press, 1990.

Wallace, Meri. Birth Order Blues. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1999.

Categories: Writings
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Advantages of Winter

Despite popular ideas to the contrary, winter is the best season of the year. Being a native cheese head, I have not always believed this, but in the last few years, I've come to appreciate the cold months.

The most obvious reason is the white blanket of snow that covers everything. It's pretty. It covers up all the dead grass and branches, making everything except the side of the road look clean and fresh.

Winter is cold. Sometimes it's so cold that your water pipes freeze, and you have to climb down into the well pit with a space heater or two. The human body doesn't handle these temperatures too well, either. It's comforting to know, however, that if you're cold, you can always put on another layer of clothing. Sure, you won't be able to move, but you're warm enough, right?

Another aspect of winter life is the way it affects your vehicle. As you're driving down the road, the tires kick snow and dirt onto the bottom of your car. Eventually, a big clod of ice forms just behind each tire. At first glance, you may see this as an annoyance, but those of us who have grown up in cold, snowy climates have come to see this as an opportunity for fun. Many of us take great pleasure in kicking these ice clods off - as long as it's not done in our own driveways. In what other season can you do this?

If you're into watching professional sports, you've got plenty to pick from during the winter: hockey, football, basketball, figure skating, skiing, and the list goes on. More ambitious people, who like to participate in sports, can add ice fishing, deer hunting, snowmobiling, snowboarding, and tobogganing to the list, not to mention gathering a bunch of your friends to throw snowballs at each other. Winter is the only season in which you can trick a friend or younger sibling into putting their tongue on a frozen metal pole.

My favorite part of winter is the weather phenomenon known as the blizzard. The temperature may or may not drop, but the wind picks up and the snow falls in large quantities, making it difficult to see where you're driving. "And this is a good thing?" you may ask. Yes, it is. This means you don't have to go to work or school. You can sit around all day in front of the TV, the computer, or on the couchvwith a good book. You can go outside after the wind dies down and wade through the new four-foot-high snowdrifts. You can sit by your front window and anxiously await the snowplow, then yell at it when it hits your mailbox for the third time this month. Blizzards, especially severe blizzards, give you something to talk about for years. Twenty years from now, I'll be telling my kids, "You think this one's bad? You should've seen the Halloween blizzard of '91. Now that was a blizzard."

Winter causes us to slow down and pay attention to things around us, not only when we're driving on icy roads, but in other things as well. With so many people these days running like mad, winter can be a reminder that not everything has to be at a fast pace.

These are just a few of the reasons I believe winter is the best season. And after just suffering through a week of temperatures in the nineties with high humidity, my opinion is even stronger. I'll always prefer winter.

Categories: Writings
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How to Cook a Pizza

Chances are you're one of the millions who love pizza. And who can blame you? Mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce, and pepperoni seem to go together naturally. What happens if you wake up in the middle of the night, say 3 a.m., and you're hungry for pizza? You can't call Domino's because they're closed, and that frozen pizza you buy at IGA just isn't the same. What do you do? Simple. You make it yourself. You may argue, "But I've never made a pizza before!" Relax. After working at a major pizza chain for five years, I can assure you it does not take a rocket scientist to make a pizza. Sadly, it doesn't even require an IQ.

The first thing you need, obviously, is the dough. In your major pizza chains, the dough is made one of two ways: it comes from a box in the freezer, or from a bag of flour mixed with a pitcher of water. The ingredients are poured into a mixing bowl roughly the size of a Golden Retriever and mixed with a hook big enough to pull in a shark. After that, it's cut into pieces of equal weight, fed through a dough roller, placed in a greased pizza pan, and stored in the cooler.

Now that you have the dough ready, you need sauce. Pizza sauce is made with a bag of tomato paste and a pitcher of water. It is mixed in a five-gallon bucket using an electric drill with a mixer attachment. (Yes, a real drill.) The buckets are heavy, so be careful lifting. Take the lid off of the bucket and pour the sauce into the large pan. If you spill some, grab a spatula, scrape the sauce up, and deposit it in the pan. Find the sauce scoop for the size pizza you're making, fill it level with sauce, and pour it onto the pizza dough. Spread it around evenly, leaving enough open crust around the edge to your liking.

There are several schools of thought about what the next step should be. Some people think a pizza is better if you put all the cheese on after your other toppings. Some like the pepperoni on top of everything else. Some say you should have the toppings between two layers of cheese. Still others like no cheese at all. For this example, we'll start with a layer of bottom cheese. Pick up the cheese cup and fill it with cheese. Sprinkle it evenly all over the sauce. Don't be afraid to get your hands messy. You can always wash them later or wipe them on your apron.

Next we'll put the toppings on. I like meat on my pizza, so we'll start with some pepperoni. It'll probably be a little greasy, so you may have to pull the pieces apart from each other. Place them evenly over the cheese. It's recommended to have the pieces just touching each other.

Let's move on. Grab a handful of sausage and spread it evenly over the pepperoni. (Yes, you will get some of it under your fingernails.) Don't put too much on, or the pizza won't cook all the way through. Next, we want another layer of cheese over everything else. Do exactly as you did with the bottom cheese.

Now that everything is on the pizza, inspect it. Did you spread all the toppings evenly? If not, spread it out a little more, using your hand. Is there cheese or sauce along the edge of the pan? Wipe it off with your finger. The last test is this: would you pay ten dollars or more for this pizza? If the answer is yes, go ahead and put it in the oven. If not, fix what you did wrong before you proceed.

I'll sum up the next step with a quote from Tom Petty: "The waiting is the hardest part." It will take about ten minutes for this pizza to bake. You might want to grab a book and read for a while.

The pizza is done. It has come through the conveyor oven and is sitting at the end, waiting to be cut. Using a pair of pliers, grasp the edge of the pan and carefully move it to the cut table. Pick up the roller cutter and slide it between the crust and the edge of the pan, still holding the pan with the pliers. If the pizza sticks to the pan, very carefully scrape the crust away from the pan. Lift one edge of the pizza with the roller cutter and gently slide it out of the pan and onto the cutting board. Set the pan off to the side.

You'll see a stainless steel pizza cutter with a long blade. It looks much like a rocker of a rocking chair, hence the name "rocker". It's handy for cutting large pizzas evenly. Determine where the center of the pizza is. Use the rocker to cut through the center. Cut the pizza into eight or twelve equal pieces. (Frustrated students, take note: even if you work at Pizza Hut for the rest of your life, you'll be using geometry every day.)

Finally, it's time to eat your creation. Does it taste as good as you imagined it would? If not, determine what you did wrong and remember it for next time.

"That's great," you may say, "but how do I make a pizza at home?" Sorry. I can't help you with that.

Categories: Writings
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