I've got these two amazing little boys who happen to have incredibly different temperaments. The oldest, in line with the definition of first born, is more serious. He plays by the rules; we don't have to worry about him acting reckless or taking advantage of others. He’s quick to notice shifts in our voices and details others might miss. His brain is methodical. He's empathetic but less sympathetic, because he's had to grin and bear the disappointments of Lego creations being destroyed, by two different toddlers, for several years now. He's observed the inequity of everyone getting a jelly bean after dinner, even if they didn't finish their meals, because mom and dad didn't have the mental stamina to withstand screaming. He's been punished for hitting the little brother that's wanting to be hit, asking for it in every way. He's felt the rejection of a parent who can't hold him because a baby is crying. Like his Mama, an oldest child myself, we pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and just deal with it, because we’ve accepted that life is notoriously unfair and we expect those around us to do the same, thus the lack of sympathy.
Then there’s the younger boy, who manages to find the giggle in every situation. The world is a friendly place, where if one asks for help or hugs, they're likely to get it. He requires more affection, but reciprocates in kind. If I stub my toe, he's the first to put his hand on my back and ask, “Are you okay, Mama?” in a gentle voice, sweet as honey. My oldest son let me know when he was four, and I’d tripped and fallen in a tearful heap on the ground, that “children don't ever want to see grown ups cry,” and that was that. A sentiment true and profound for a child of his age; sensitivity of a different breed.
I've had to push my eldest to play soccer each year. He's not innately aggressive and struggles when he doesn't feel adept. Plus, his life experiences have taught him to fall back in the face of challenges from others, because it's unlikely things will work in his favor anyway (i.e. aforementioned chronic Lego destruction). The truth is that he's a fantastic player, but his fear of failure and unwillingness to confront hold him back during every game. He relinquishes his upper hand to other players each time the ball comes his way. He's got the skill set, but he doesn't have the confidence to back it up.
The youngest isn't the hardest worker. He's learned that love is unconditional, and knows that even if he doesn't give it his all, life is still pretty peachy. He's a less than mediocre soccer player, with little to no skill set. I'm not sure he has ever even looked for the ball on the field, but he chases the crowd around, grinning from ear to ear. In his mind, the amount of fun he's having is in direct proportion to how good of a player he is, therefore he's the best player on the team.
Jen Sincero, who has put out a couple great books (see below), says “our ‘realities’ are make believe- whatever we make ourselves believe, we experience,” a simplistic yet mind blowing concept. My eight year old does not believe he is a good soccer player, and as long as he rolls with that mindset, his fate is sealed. I won't be surprised if the youngest goes on to bend it like Beckham, because he already believes that he is.
It's worth sitting down and questioning which beliefs you hold that are limiting. If analyzing the whys is important for your personality type, then do that too, but sometimes just the realization and subsequent behavioral shift are enough to be life changing. And, know that the opposite is true as well, if you believe you are amazing at something, then that's your reality.
As the eldest sibling, I identify with my oldest son’s struggles. I see him through the eyes of my eight year old self. I remember falling back in other ways, to prevent disappointment and rejection. There were so many things I never tried, because I didn't want to lose the label of “smart” or “good.” Even still, I refrain from attempting things I'm not sure I'll succeed at. It's tough to think about how much further I may have gone and how much more joy I'd have experienced if I hadn't given such weight to how others perceived me.
Helping my son through this is imperative, so that fear doesn't dictate his future experiences. It's my duty to protect him yet push him, sporadically allowing discomfort, so that he can acclimate to it.
The whole realization and process of seeing your own personal fears surface in your children is strange yet beautiful. It carries a weight, a responsibility, but it offers the chance to be introspective and to make right our own perceived inadequacies. In sculpting my child, I heal myself, one of the many gifts of parenthood. I find self forgiveness for not becoming who I’d wanted to, and grant myself grace because I am but a product of my upbringing. It is no more my fault than it is my parents for having me before my sister. My fear of rejection has evolved from being a weakness to an obstacle that I have the choice to learn from.
I hope that my son will find the gifts in my misgivings, in the parenting I couldn't give him while I nursed his little brother and sister, when I was too tired to play. There are such strengths to be found in forced independence. My other children will have their own sets of challenges from being the middle and the youngest. My intention is to teach them that every step of the way, they have a choice about who they want to be and that mere belief can change the outcome of their futures. And, of course, that the obstacles of who they are and how they were raised, will be the gifts that pave the way.