Oldest Adult Child Syndrome

Updated on September 08, 2010
P.O. asks from Antioch, TN
17 answers

How many of you moms being the oldest child in your family feel targeted at times for being independent, standing up for what you believe and always being misunderstood for your good intentions. Not trying to paint a perfect picture, but I feel older adult children are usually used most of the time because they are expected to do everything while the younger ones kind of get away with stuff. Is this the case with you?

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answers from Philadelphia on

I am the oldest of five. (one passed) You hit the nail on the head :) A lot is expected of the oldest. When it gets to be too much, i let my sisters/parents know.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

My sister and I are 16 months apart and were raised as twins, even potty trained, I late, she very early.
That was only unitl we started getting into trouble and things we did I should have known better so I got in more trouble. She was younger, you see.
With my kids I do give the older ones a little bit more freedom, later bedtimes, more tv, etc. But I have also given the younger ones responsibilites earlier as I saw that children can accomplish things at a much earlier age than I first realized as a young M..

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answers from San Francisco on

I'm the eldest of 4 and didn't feel like that.
We are all different and, each in our own ways, independent and standing up for what we believe.
As a kid, my second older sister and I often were scolded for something the 4 of us did or even for things only the youngest did just because "we were supposed to know better".

I would say, in our family, the most pressure is on our youngest sister. She wanted to follow the same career path as I did and always got comments such as "oh, but your sister did better at this, your sister did her internship in that place, chose this foreign language...". Whether she did the same or different, she always had comments that she was copying me or doing it wrong! Now, she's got a better career that i do and at the end, her academics records were much better than mine. Anyways, for my M. and grandma, I'm still the one who did it first (understand "best") and they always advise her to ask me for anything (while in fact, I'm often the one asking her for tips!)

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answers from Portland on

I don't know if I'd go so far as to call it a syndrome, because trying to contain human problems in a category with a neat label would tend to include oldest children who would not suffer from these complaints, and leave out younger children who probably would. But there is a possibility of this family dynamics, and a big potential for misunderstanding.

By the time I was 8 or so, I was regularly put in charge of my younger sisters, and even though I was really uncomfortable having to "boss" them to keep them (and the house) safe. Now I'm 63 and I still hear how demanding and bossy I am – old resentments die hard. And I still feel tremendous pressure from my M. and 3 younger sisters to take care of them emotionally and financially, even though most of them have sometimes made much larger salaries than I do. Old expectations die hard.

I've made a priority of learning to be less enabling with my siblings, and my mother as well, and it's challenging, having been trained in it for most of my life. But it seems to me to be the sane thing to do. I have deferred my needs and personal welfare again and again over decades. As I age and develop increasingly severe medical problems, it's my turn to take care of my own needs.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

well for me, both my kids are highly independent and quite verbal and really stand up for themselves.

But, for the tendency for older kids to be 'used' as an example for the younger kids, is true. BUT this is because of Parental "expectations" ... which are NOT age-appropriate... older kids are usually always expected to be 'perfect' and behaved and get a lot more pressure... to act older than they are. But again, this is a parental... issue... because, 'expectations' of a child... does not mean it is congruent with a child's age development or cognition or maturity. It is the 'stigma' of being an Eldest child. But not that it is fair. It is parenting.
Eldest kids, by default... get tons more expectations upon them.

all the best,

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

Nope. The schema in my family is that I'm the black sheep.

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answers from Norfolk on

If you were to ask my brother, it can also work the other way around. He is 12 years younger than me and while he and I have a great relationship, he's spent a lot of time hearing about how good I am at things. Thankfully, he also appreciates the qualities about me that my family dotes on, but it has created tension for him at times (especially with our grandmother.) So, it all depends on the individuals involved.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Allentown on

Hi, A:
Check out the support group of Co-Dependents Anonymous.
at: www.coda.org

You will learn some skills in dealing with the Oldest Adult Child
Syndrome. It is also good for Middle Adult Child Syndrome and
Youngest Adult Child Syndrome.

Good luck. D.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Houston on

Not in my experience. My husband is number 3 of 3 and he is the dependable one. His two older siblings are screwups.

I'm number 3 of 4 and my younger brother and I are the two that help out our M. when she needs it and are the executors of the will, etc. Our older siblings aren't problems at all they just live further away from our M. and she just preferred to ask us for help.

I think every family is different.


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answers from Pittsburgh on

I agree with your second sentence-I am the oldest of 4 and definitely expected to do much more than the rest. And when I am not "expected" I do it anyway b/c the rest of the group won't. And the thing is I do SO much but still I am not the favorite. My parents dote on my younger sister who was always such a "joy" to raise. My mother loves to say how difficult I was growing up and how easy my sister was. Well, yah-it is easy to be "easy" when you are the only one left in a large house with your own sportscar(I drove the family wagon!) and 100% of your parent's attention. I was practically on my own from an early age while my parents concentrated on raising the younger kids and I was the main source of babysitting, picking up, etc. Looking back I can see all of the crazy things that I did (smoking, drinking, boys at ridiculously early ages) as ways to seek attention and boundries that never materialized.
I have 2 brothers in between and they basically do nothing. They use my parents as much as they can for babysitting and whatever else but really give nothing back. What scares me the most is what will happen at the point where my parents are no longer able to care for themselves. I just know that it will work out that they move in with me b/c nobody else will be willing to take it on. So again the oldest will bear the brunt of responsibility.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

Yep, my M. says she does not worry about me cause I always seem so independent.. She does ask us to please ask for any help, so I do try to ask.
When she offers, I try to accept. It is hard. We are just so used to doing all of it on our own and not depending on others..

My dad and his wife always call on me to help them.. I love doing it.. They offer more than anyone else to help us, so we try to accept their help..

My husbands family totally gives the most help to his younger sister. She has more money than you can imagine, but his M. says she has just always needed more help than us..?? Fine with us I guess.. But it would at least be nice to be asked..

When SIL got married her husband told her that MIL would NEVER be allowed to live with them.. That my husband and I could take care of her.. We used to joke about it, but now that I no longer speak with MIL, since she also does not help our daughter (oldest grandchild) like she does the grandsons.. . She is SOOL..

It took me years to accept help. we were married young and inlaws told us that if we married they would never help us. So we took it they meant it.. Now they complain we should ask for help.. Too many strings attached. They grumble if we do ask.. It is complicated..

Now that health issues are coming up, I am giving my husband a heads up to be ready to have to step in, cause out younger sisters are not used to taking care of anyone but themselves and their own families.. It will be an interesting phase in our marriage and lives..

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

In our family my brother was the oldest and he was able to do whatever he wanted because the was "a boy". I am the middle child. My 4 year younger sister and I did everything together but had different curfews at the same age because we were "girls". Understandable, but not fun at the time. So I do not think the oldest male child in our family is the one who did much for our parents or had good intentions beside having fun for himself, but he did have lots of freedom early on.

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answers from Milwaukee on

i'm a middle child and i am very indendent, standing up for what i believe!! and i am very strong willed. not all children are raised to be the "older" syndrome!!!

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answers from Erie on

Just to offer a counter-view... I was in complete agreement about your statements when I lived at home. Now that I live 2 1/2 hrs from my parents, I recognize that my brother picks up the lion's share of the day to day responsibility, criticisms, guilt trips, etc. Similarly, my husband (the youngest of three) took on almost all of the responsibility for his parents as they aged and died, presumably because he still lived in the area while his brothers had moved away from town. I now believe that each situation is different - the oldest child often takes on more because (s)he allows it, but that doesn't have to be the case. Hope this helps...

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

Its been my experience and observation that the middle children are always the independent and strong ones, while the oldest and youngest get away with everything. I remember reading somewhere that parents (especially mothers) will always favor/enable the weakest child(ren), whether they're first/middle/last. This is true for my M. and from what I've seen in life, in general. Its very frustrating for my (#4 and one of my older sisters #2) in our family, because we're always doing things without family help, taking the high road, doing what's right, etc. So, we just lean on each other and know that the others won't change.

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answers from Philadelphia on

There is a good deal of research that clearly explains how birth order impacts the child and as a result produces what type of adult. First borns are usually the most independent, perfectionist types. Only children have all the characterists of first borns, but in greater amounts. I have found the research right on in describing me - an only child, as well, as describing my peers.

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answers from Harrisburg on

Not sure if you have read it already, but you must read, "The Birth Order Book". This book is really good and gives you insight into birth order and how it affects a ones personality. This is must read!

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