Eldest Son Syndrome: Are You What Your Parents Made You?

Do you have a people-pleasing personality? Have you ever been in a situation where you begin to wonder if other people’s expectations of you exceed your ability or willingness to deliver? Of course you have! Silly question, unless you’re one of those superhumans who knows how to say no without saying no.


The thing is, there’s a limit to what you can do, right? I am of the sandwich generation, so I have young grandchildren who I babysit twice a week while my daughter teaches, and parents with various health issues who also require some degree of support. In addition, I share work with my husband -that’s how we earn a living- and I write.

When I went down with ‘Female Flu’ a couple of weeks ago (much worse than the Man Flu variety, because you have to keep going) I managed to keep most of the balls in the air, but some just had to be dropped. . So when I found myself waiting for him to take on a family engagement over the weekend when it might have otherwise given me some time to recharge my batteries, I wasn’t exactly thrilled. I know some people know how to say no without saying no. I’m just not one of them. Plus, I’m in that unenviable position of being the firstborn.


According to the Wikipedia website, one of the first people to suggest that birth order has an effect on personality was an Austrian psychiatrist, Alfred Adler. A contemporary of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, he argued that the way each of us approaches the main aspects of life (friendship, love and work) is greatly influenced by our birth order in the family.

I now know that there are those who passionately believe in first child syndrome and others who feel there is nothing to it. Proponents identify the following traits in the eldest child in a family, saying they are:

  1. high-achieving students
  2. good leaders
  3. conscientious
  4. self-sufficient
  5. perfectionists
  6. eager to please
  7. They have high expectations of themselves
  8. Feeling responsible for the well-being and harmony of the family.
  9. Low self-esteem (because they cannot meet expectations)
  10. Sensitive and in need of constant security


Do you, if you are a firstborn son, adhere to those characteristics? Do you, for example, have a people-pleasing personality? Do you have high expectations of yourself? Do you constantly need reassurance that you are doing what is expected of you?

In my opinion, there are arguments for and against. The gap between the brothers must play apart, right? If the eldest is at school, or he has left home before the next one arrives, what then? The eldest would have been an only child before reaching school age and, indeed, he would continue in that vein. What if there is a different combination of genres? Let’s say a girl followed by several guys. Or vice versa: a couple of girls followed by a single guy? I can’t believe the same principles apply to all scenarios.


It seems to be widely accepted that the first baby born into a family will grow up with a tendency to be analytical, methodical, and high-achieving. Whether all firstborn adhere to these attributes is debatable, especially since as a firstborn, myself, I display none of these traits. Creative, naturally flexible and spontaneous (although I have disciplined myself to be tidy where it would otherwise cause me complaints) my only achievement was a No. 4 bestseller, and that came as a surprise to me! The familyrapp website continues, with the following statement this kid values ​​control and once again this is the complete opposite of my personality. Maybe there’s something my parents aren’t telling me, and I’m actually not the eldest child in our family?

RESPONSIBLE I certainly have never had the desire to be a leader of anything! As an author, my interests and activities are those of an introvert. However, I could be described as self-sufficient, conscientious, perfectionist, and with high expectations of myself, especially when it comes to feeling responsible for the well-being and harmony of my family. The tape mentality is probably true of many women. For me it’s, well, kind of attached to my personality. If someone is hurt or in need, I guess I see myself as the one to tend and cover the hurt!

That’s why it’s so hard for me to say no and mean no. It doesn’t live up to the expectations people have of me, you see. Neither, of course, mine.


I suspect that the whole eldest son syndrome is actually a result of how the firstborn are treated in the family and what is expected of them. ‘Now be a good boy/girl and take care of your little brother/sister’ is the usual mantra. My parents told me (on the only occasion when I tried to defend something that I thought went against what they were asking me to do) that my acquiescence had been taken for granted. They just never expected me to stand up to them and were shocked and hurt that I did.

All of which leads me to believe that the eldest son syndrome has less to do with the innate personality of the firstborn and more to do with conditioning from parents and other adults. Maybe if we take a look at middle child syndrome next week, that will reveal more?