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Why You Should Focus on Your Oldest Child, Too

The most valuable kiss in the world. Mother and son on playground. Close up.

by Quinn Kelly

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

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It’s 8 pm, and you have a newborn crying in your arms. They haven’t stopped since dinner, and you’re feeling desperate and tense. So you do what any mother of multiple children does, and you cry out to your oldest (four-year-old) for help: “Hey, love. Can you grab me a diaper for your sister, and also can you turn the sound machine on? Oh yeah, and while you’re at it, can you bring mommy a water?” They sweetly oblige, and you thank them for being your biggest helper. Finally, after the baby falls asleep, you go and tuck them in. They don’t complain but tell you they are glad the little one finally fell… Read More

It’s 8 pm, and you have a newborn crying in your arms. They haven’t stopped since dinner, and you’re feeling desperate and tense. So you do what any mother of multiple children does, and you cry out to your oldest (four-year-old) for help:

“Hey, love. Can you grab me a diaper for your sister, and also can you turn the sound machine on? Oh yeah, and while you’re at it, can you bring mommy a water?”

They sweetly oblige, and you thank them for being your biggest helper. Finally, after the baby falls asleep, you go and tuck them in. They don’t complain but tell you they are glad the little one finally fell asleep because “the crying was getting old.”

You both laugh together because you feel the same way as your preschooler. It’s like you’ve just debriefed with a fellow comrade whose gone through an epic battle with you. One that still wears a pull up at night mind you.

But you feel better knowing you’re not alone, and within a few minutes, your laugher turns to snores as you fall into a sleep-deprived mother coma next to your first child that inducted you into the club years before.

Advantages of being the oldest child:

Awww. There’s nothing quite like being the oldest child in the family. And it’s relatively easy to make an argument why it might be the best birth order spot. And here’s why:

  • You get to be the first one to have all the attention focused just on you.
  • You get to have your parents when they have the most energy. (Any older parents saying Amen to that?!)
  • You get to be the first to do everything.
  • And you get to have a special relationship with your parents that is different than the relationship they have with the younger children.

Disadvantages of being the oldest child:

All of these realities make being the oldest seem pretty appealing. But along with these advantages, I think it’s important for parents to remember that it can be hard to be the oldest, too. And here’s why:

  • You have higher expectations placed on you. 
  • Oftentimes you are expected to be a helper to your parents more than your younger siblings are.
  • You are expected to be an example for your younger siblings.
  • You often get less attention than littler siblings because you are already doing the right thing and behaving.

So what’s my point?

Why you should take the time to focus on your oldest child:

Well, all of these reasons are good reminders to me why I want to make sure I take time out to focus on my oldest child (or older sons, in my case). Because it’s easy to forget how much our children need us when we have a new baby in our arms.

Or a toddler. Preschooler. Or anyone younger than them. (Do you feel me?)

I cannot tell you how many times I have cringed looking back at the expectations I had on my first son when he was JUST 2 and 3 once his little brother came along. And then again after his two other siblings came along after that. I’ll just say it like this: I thought meltdowns should be over by four.

When he was five, I looked at that age as SO old. But now that my third son is six, I feel like five is still a BABY! And I treat my now 3-year-old as if he’s an infant at times because now I see how little 3 is compared to age 11. It’s all truly just perspective.

But here’s the kicker.

When my youngest is 11, I will have an 18-year-old and think 11 isn’t so old after all, which is why I want to encourage each and every one of us to take time to thank our oldest children for all they do. And to take time out to focus on them in the age they still are.

They still aren’t grown and still need you just as much.

We often forget that we expect them to do a lot for our families, but we also expect them to submit to our authority and listen to us too. And that can be hard and tricky if one moment we are treating them like an adult and the next moment we are treating them like a child. All in all, it’s just a unique role. So they deserve some TLC from us when we get the chance.

And here are three simple ideas for you to make that happen.

Three ways to focus on your oldest child:

1. Take them out for ice cream every month on the day of their birthday.

So if their birthday is July 16, then you take them out for ice cream on the 16th of each month. You use this as a quality time date where you chat with them and catch up on life with them. (This is also just a great idea in general as a way to have quality time with each child every month.)

2. Go on a trip just with your oldest child.

Let this be a memorable trip that involves things that you would not want to do with your littler kids. This can be a one-night staycation in your hometown where your hubby stays home with the baby and other children, and you take your oldest somewhere. Whatever it is, the point is to build them up for being the mature one. 

3. Keep a journal out for your oldest child to write messages to you.

Here’s a creative way to focus on your oldest child! Let this journal be a place where they can connect with you and where you can connect with them. Write affirmations to them. Draw them pictures. Write them poems. Let it be a fun place of interaction. You can do one for each school year or just have one that you write in periodically. No matter what way you do it, just affirm them for being them. If their younger siblings can’t write yet, this will surely make them feel BIG. And because you love them BIG, it’s a great way to show it.

Cheers to loving on our oldest kids.