After years of research, authors Lisette Schuitemaker and Wies Enthoven havediscovered a few things about eldest daughters—they often turn out to be responsible, dutiful, thoughtful, expeditious, and caring mothers.
We had the chance to catch up with Lisette and Wies to find out more about The Eldest Daughter Effect and what these five qualities mean for mothers and little ones who find themselves in the role of eldest daughter.
What advice can you offer mothers with first-born daughters?
Quite a few mothers of eldest daughters told us of how they saw their lively toddler turn into a serious girl, once they had their second child.
If our research has shown us anything, it is that most eldest daughters turn into responsible, dutiful, caring, hands-on, thoughtful women who like to make themselves useful.
Theybecome women others can count on and that is a good thing—a very good thing.
So, if you see your little one pondering what she can do to make you and the new baby happy, let her. She will gain self-esteem by showing that she is more grown-up than the little wailer in its cot.
But, of course, there is another side to this.
It is important not to saddle your eldest daughter with tasks that give her a responsibility she should not have to shoulder at her age. She is not responsible for your happiness, nor is she the caretaker of the little one.
This sounds so easy in theory.
Giving her responsibility might slip in anyway because it is what we mothers do in reality. When the doorbell rings just when you put your younger child on the diaper changing table, you say to your eldest, “Will you watch her for one second?" and then run to the door.
There she is, landed with the responsibility for the baby. She may panic, but most often she will handle the situation, be happy when you're back and she can hand over the reigns, and be proud of herself that she has been entrusted with this task.
And that's how she learns, more than your younger children, to take responsibility. It is good to realize that later in life this is an asset she has developed as a result of her position in the birth order.
We all know how words we vowed never to speak as they were spoken to us escape us unexpectedly. Still, we plead, please catch yourself when you are about to say, “You have to be the oldest and the wisest."
A child simply cannot be the wisest all the time, even if they are the oldest. It is an unfair burden.
And as an eldest who wants to be as much loved as her younger sibling(s), your daughter might do everything to be the wisest anyway.
Also, watch your eldest when she starts to take care of others too much.
It's one of the pitfalls for young girls: the belief that they are responsible for the well-being of everyone else. Keeping others happy starts to be more important than finding out what makes them tick.
Make sure your eldest child learns to go her own way.
Tell her you love her as often as you can. She will always be your first and she will always be special to you. With her you have a bond no one can share, not even the baby that needs so much attention now.
As first-born daughters find themselves becoming mothers themselves, how might these women harness their strengths as parents, and not become overwhelmed by their sense of responsibility, perfectionism, and self-doubt?
Realize that, as a first-born, chances are you want to be the perfect mother, the one that takes care of it all and somehow should know how to do that. Forget it! It's not going to happen.
No matter how many books on childbirth and pregnancy you may have read, no matter how many stories experienced mothers have told you, there is no way of knowing what it's like to become a mother before it actually happens.
So, give yourself and your first-born some credit. If she's crying, it's not your fault, nor is it hers. Babies cry, and sometimes, they cry for what feels like an eternity and you may not have clue why.
But you will learn how to become a mother from your first-born. And she will learn from you.
One of the strengths you can call on now as an eldest daughter is your capacity to have the overview. Even if you are overwhelmed by the sheer number of tasks that taking care of a little one brings with it, you can keep cool.
Just remember how you used to babysit your sibling(s) when you were young, how you cajoled them into going to bed at (more or less) the usual time, how you intervened when they argued.
Think back to those times when, as the eldest, you were able to see what was going on and pacify the others with your presence.
You have developed a natural overview that you may now draw on.
You might like to have things planned, but with a young child that all goes out the window. However, since you have ample experience with stepping into the unknown, you can draw on that expertise now as a mother.
Experts agree that it is wise to pay attention to how eagerly your first-born tries to be just like you, her mommy.
When you give her an approving smile and encourage her with words of praise, her sense of safety is strengthened, which is great.
But, spurring her on too much may lead to her feeling that she is always falling short, or never quite good enough.
What's the best advice we can give? “Know yourself, mama."
Be conscious about the way you react. Maybe you worry about your daughter because you recognize so much of yourself in her.
You want her to realize that you adore her as much as you do her cute little sister or brother. You love her for who she is and not for how well she performs.
In that regard, insight into how to compliment a child comes in handy.
Stick to using authentic praise ('Your room is nice and tidy') and avoid false praise ('You are the sweetest and cleverest girl in the world because you tidied up so well').
Your eldest daughter is better off knowing that your love for her has nothing to do with how well she behaves. You will love her no matter what—and that's the most important thing for her to know.