Study Shows Parents Favor Firstborns, but This Mom of 3 Knows Better

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If you have more than one child, you're most likely more than used to being accused of loving one child more than the other(s). And according to a recent study, there might be some truth to those complaints: A poll conducted by the American Psychological Association showed that parents tend to favor their firstborn, believing that older siblings perform better in school than younger siblings (even when they actually don't). But is that actually true? As a mother of three, I'm skeptical.


First of all, the findings only seem to apply to families with older daughters and younger sons (parents with older boys and younger girls tend to say their daughters are better students). So isn't this really a gender issue? Plus, older kids generally have a lot more on their plate, academically, than younger kids, which makes them seem like more engaged students. It's the difference between watching a kid navigate fractions versus watching a kid learn the alphabet -- obviously the one doing fractions is going to seem more advanced (because they are, at least for the moment!). 

But what I really take issue with here is the idea that because some parents tend to think their older kids are better students, that means they actually prefer their firstborn. Personally, I can honestly say that I love all my children equally, and the vast majority of parents I know feel the same way about their kids. I can, however, see how it can seem to outsiders (or even insiders) like the eldest child is the favorite.

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In my opinion, this has to do with the dynamic that's created between firstborn children and their parents before any siblings arrive. Because for a while (sometimes years), firstborns are technically only children, and usually receive the corresponding amount of attention (meaning, a lot). For however brief the amount of time, firstborn kids are the main focus of their parents' efforts, and, depending on how long they're the only child, may expect that level of attention to continue for the rest of their lives. (Aaaannnnd that would be the genesis for pretty much all sibling rivalry right there.) 

Then there's the learning curve associated with parenting your eldest child. Every milestone, every challenge is being experienced for the first time by both parent AND child, which means more anxiety and doubt, so it seems like parents are forever in a state of freaking out about what's going on with their firstborn (which is kind of true). I know that's the case in my family, at least. My 14-year-old daughter is the oldest by sort of a big span of years (my sons are 9 years and 7.5 months old), so her needs always seem more high-stakes. Like, this past spring, did I worry more about my 9-year-old going on a 45-minute bus trip to the Museum of Modern Art on a field trip or my 14-year-old going on a 5-hour bus trip to Washington, D.C., for 5 days on a field trip? (If you guessed Washington, D.C., you're correct!) It's not because I prefer my daughter, it's because I never sent a kid off for that long to that faraway a place before, so it freaked me out. (Starting the baby on solids around the same time, by comparison, was completely angst-free -- a transition I agonized over with my first.)

So I truly believe that the findings of this study are skewed. Sure, certain parents are going to get along better with certain kids -- some personalities simply mesh better with others -- but I really don't think most parents prefer particular kids, regardless of birth order. (Think about it: That's what made Sophie's Choice so hard!)

What do you think? Do parents prefer their firstborn children?


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