In Praise of Older Siblings
Through sheer dumb luck, you might enjoy the benefits of going last.
I have an older brother and an older sister, by 6 and 8 years respectively. It’s common wisdom to recognize that the baby of the household is spoiled, the center of attention... but one of the less widely discussed benefits is that having older siblings lets you see into the future. The phenomenon is real.
It takes a few forms.
First, most obviously, in your younger years they’ve just completed all the grades of school you’re entering. You have the benefit of their textbooks and notes, and sometimes even them, for homework help. If you go to the same school as they did, whatever impression they left on their teachers will be unearned by you. If they were trouble, you’re going to have a tough road. But if they were impressive, as mine seem to have been, you are a fond reminder and can bask in that glow. An unbelievable benefit over even your more academic peers.
When my brother was studying for the SAT, I would help come up with silly mnemonics, flip index cards, and quiz him. How could I help but learn ridiculous vocabulary like “laconic.” That’s an unintended consequence.
Siblings also introduce you to things, giving you a leg up — their interests may or may not become yours, but at least you got to find out: playing piano? musical theater? photography? weed? Whatever they’re doing, you’re trying.
For social things, older siblings provide material and insight. Once I could fit into their teenaged clothes, there were team jerseys, uniforms and funny t-shirts that I could appropriate with no particular effort and give the appearance of a hipness that was undeserved.
Where the natural tendency of a little kid is to listen to little kid music, you get to be exposed to their music and their culture. I sat on the floor of my sister’s room and played her Sgt. Pepper’s Beatles album repeatedly and I listened to my brother play Classical Gas on the guitar. The point being that an oldest kid has to figure this stuff out on their own, but the youngest is handed a record collection.
My brother came home for Christmas and tried to get my parents to watch the brand new Saturday Night Live; they didn’t, but I did. He dragged us to a midnight showing of the insane The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s an absolute cultural advantage having someone just a few years older than you, bird-dogging these things. My first-born friends, exactly the same age, have none of this. It’s a playing field that cannot be leveled.
When you get older, they go through everything first: getting mortgages, having kids, raising kids… whatever stage of life you’re entering, they’ve just done it. It’s like a Cliffs Notes for life, just helpful little tips on what’s on the docket, what’s coming up, what you need to know for the test.
In most ways, age differences of a few years vaporize as you get older, but not medical things, those are on a timer. Medically speaking, older sibs are an early warning system, a NORAD for life’s entropy. From losing hair and getting glasses to colonoscopies and periodontal disease, your siblings will tend to deal with it all first. And it’s a real asset. Being the center of attention is just the tip of the iceberg.
Sure they pick on you, tease you, stay out late and get to do things you’re not allowed to — but those are minor and temporary. If you’re the youngest in your family, appreciate the road being set down before you, the trail being plowed. It may not be for your benefit, but it’s definitely to your advantage.