10/22/2012 06:34 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

It's Hard Being the Youngest

As a wannabe psychologist and sociologist, I am fascinated by the impact of birth order on systems familial and organizational. As I cooly and objectively step back and observe the myriad of sibling "laboratories" in my own life, none is more important and meaningful than that of my own brood of three daughters.

As the oldest of four siblings, complete with sub-birth orders, I know that the eldest child might get some special treatment solely because she happened to be birthed first. Honestly though, I suspect that there are pluses and minuses to being born at any stage or order: first, middle, youngest, only, etc. Each "has it the hardest" or "has it the easiest" depending on the day of the week and we parents are constantly caught in the middle, never getting it exactly right.


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But... while there are always exceptions based on circumstance, personality, etc., I do think that, in many ways, the youngest has a particular challenge when following siblings through the early stages of life. Older siblings can suck all of the energy and air from a room, school or activity, leaving youngests to search for slivers of unoccupied space from where they can claim their individuality and express their personhood.

With two very different, but very strong older sisters, our youngest is no different.

Today is one of those important sibling days, as our youngest (pictured during a recent school run-athon) will find out if she was elected to the student council. We have noticed that there are times when she will do things precisely because her older sisters have or have not done them in the past, so the very fact that she decided to run for office is pretty amazing. In fact, both of her older siblings were elected to office, prompting a playful and affectionate comparison to "The Kennedy's" by a friend.

No pressure ;-)

As I dropped her off today, we talked through what she may want to do if she does not get elected, "Be sure to offer congratulations to the winner," or, if she is elected, "Be sure to say thank you to the other candidates." I let her know that it was going to be harder for some kids than others if they are not elected, but that no matter what happens, mom and dad think she did a great job.

I admit, some of my counsel was precisely to help her navigate these kinds of social experiences
with grace and gratitude, but it was also to preemptively remove expectations that are based at all on the actions of her older sisters. Comparisons between siblings happen easily enough on their own, so there is no need to reinforce one identity based on the identity of another.

As parents, we must always be aware that we are raising three wonderfully unique human beings, each formed by many factors, one of which is birth order. And as we tell them all the time, we love them each differently and we strive to parent each one according to their particular needs, struggles, joys and passions.

So win or lose, regardless of what her older sisters have done in the past, today is Youngest's day... hers, all hers.

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