07/29/2014 11:34 am ET Updated Sep 28, 2014

How I Learned It's Not Easy Being the Youngest Child

Kathy Radigan

Lately, everywhere I look I seem to come across an article on the empty nest. I always bookmark these pieces. Our oldest is entering his sophomore year in high school and won't be leaving home for a few more years. I've always assumed that I still had time before our nest started to change.

But things happen sooner than you expect. This weekend, we packed up the first family member whose time it was to leave.

Snuffy, the constant companion of our youngest, Peter, has left our house for my parents' greener pastures. Apparently, he felt it was time to spread his wings and start a new life.

Peter had been telling me that Snuffy was ready to leave all week, though I didn't really believe it until he handed the stuffed animal to my dad the other day.

"Grandpa, you are now Snuffy's dad."

My father wasn't sure whether to cry or laugh.

Being the wonderful grandfather he is, he took his role very seriously and told Peter he would make sure Snuffy was happy in his new home. My mother set up a special basket for his bed.

Snuffy's doing very well, and Peter's very happy for him.

Of course, I'm the one taking it the hardest. I keep expecting him to tell me that he is ready for Snuffy to come back home. But I think this might be it. I've had my first deserter.

Of my three kids, Peter is the only one to have such a deep attachment to a stuffed animal. In fact Snuffy isn't his main love, Fuzzy the bear is. As far as I know, Fuzzy isn't ready to leave home yet, but he has had several extended vacations at my father-in-law's assisted living community.

I've felt guilty that he's clung to his two stuffed friends for as long as he has.

Was it a sign that he needed more than I was able to give him? Was I so wrapped up in our daughter's special needs that he felt forgotten?

It's not easy being the youngest child.

This is a fact that I learned only after becoming a mom.

I'm the oldest of three girls, and I've always teased my younger sister and my husband whenever the two of them would join in and sing a chorus of the "Youngest Sibling Blues."

How hard could it be?, I would think.

As an oldest child, I've always carried the weight of the world on my shoulders. I have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and have witnessed the same trait in our oldest child.

I always figured the role of youngest child was pretty cushy. Your older siblings broke your parents in, and you reaped the wisdom of their mistakes. Sounded like the perfect family position.

Now that I'm a mother to a youngest child, I see it a little differently.

Peter has to watch his brother and sister get all the cool things first, like iPhones and Kindles. He sees his brother get to go out for a run by himself, or the movies, or lunch with friends without any parents watching from the back row.

Everyone in the family is much bigger than he is. I didn't think about this fact until a therapist friend mentioned that it can be really scary to see your brother and sister go from kids to teenagers right before your eyes.

Aside from getting older and dingier, Snuffy and Fuzzy never change. They are there for him whether he is happy or sad, and they don't get mad at him if he "accidentally" messes up his brother's iPhone, or uses his sister's dolls for a "science" experiment.

Letting Snuffy go means Peter is starting to feel as if he can navigate the world and our family on his own.

And it's one more reminder that I'm that much closer to the time my nest really does start to empty out.

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