The firstborn's fuss

Friday April 16 2021
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By Nation. Africa

As various countries marked National Siblings Day last weekend, many went online to tweet or talk about their brothers and sisters. Skimming through the comments, one thing that was evidently common was the praise accorded to firstlings, and the collective admission that their shoes are not easy to fill.

Firstborns are adulated yet prodded, coached and pushed to perform. Would they have had it another way?

Brenda Makhakha,26

Actuarial Analyst

I am the first born in a family of three, but I also have a step sister and a step brother. I am proud to be the eldest child, although that has come with a yoke of responsibilities and many sacrifices.

I guess the deep sense of responsibility I have always felt comes from the knowledge that so many people count on me and expect me to make them proud.


At the age of nine, I could cook rice and do laundry, but my sisters couldn’t manage that at the same age. Yet I always sought perfection in everything, a trait that frequently got me into loggerheads with my sisters.

After my mom passed away in 2016, I had to step up. Playing the role of deputy parent while occasionally allowing myself to be my father’s daughter, has been relatively enjoyable, especially when I get consulted in critical family decision. When we were young, I used to love the fact that I had powers to punish my siblings whenever they made mistakes. Unfortunately, we all grew up and now I can’t beat them.

Sometimes I feel like I let my siblings down. For example, there was a time when my younger sister started asking me questions about sex, which I did not respond to because I regarded her as a baby whose innocence shouldn’t be corrupted. Yet clearly she wasn’t.

I have always felt that like it is my responsibility to ensure my siblings are comfortable and safe, so, I check on them regularly.

Growing up, there were times I felt as though my parents did not love me at all. They were always so hard on me but all soft and tender when dealing with my younger siblings.

I would be punished for their mistakes because apparently, it was my job to teach them what’s right. I began to envy them because I was being treated like a mature person when in reality I was just a baby like them. But with time, I came to understand that more is naturally expected of me, and was only aimed at helping me set a good example for my siblings.

I remember waiting patiently for my siblings to eat to their fill before I could take my share of the food. Presently, I have set aside a percentage of my earnings to help them whenever they need financial assistance from me.

As a firstborn, it is my responsibility to guide and provide leadership to my siblings, but that does not supersede my parents’ authority. They will always have the final say.

Steve Yator, 27


As the first and only child of my parents, I was very active and talkative. I also loved playing football, and was cheeky and very troublesome. But isn’t that what being the favourite child entails?

I enjoyed being my parents’ only child, but that joy was short-lived.

When our second born arrived, I was so happy. I didn’t think of her as an added responsibility on my shoulder. My only concern was that she had forever dethroned me from my seat of glory.

Then, sooner than I imagined, I assumed responsibilities of taking care of her. I had to babysit her sometimes. And, when she started school, I would wake up earlier than her so that I could help her get ready and then walk her to school. Because we were in the same school, her safety was also my responsibility!

In case she misplaced her sweater, handkerchief or lunchbox, I was expected to answer for her or at least account for the loss. I even fed her sometimes.

Then came the third born, which meant even more responsibilities. This time, I had to sacrifice my love for football so that I could always be with them.

But being close to them also had its benefits. Whenever our parents returned home and found us bonding together as siblings, we would share equally the gifts they brought. Being the eldest, I sometimes manipulated my siblings to give me part of their share. Whenever my sister did something wrong, she would bribe me to keep me from telling my mother.

Being a first born has largely been fulfilling, blissful and has served to instill discipline in me because I needed to be a good role model.

As a deputy parent, I am expected to work harder than usual because I need to support my siblings financially from time to time.

I have grown accustomed to it and these days, I don’t feel burdened. I feel blessed and honoured to stand in for my parent. I have known when and where to draw the line. I know when to be a deputy parent but also when not to overstep my mandate.

Being a first born has shaped my view of life. First, it introduced me to parenting early enough. I understood that being a parent includes being patient with your children. This is a trait I will borrow when I eventually become one. Being a first born also introduced me to critical decision making skills from a tender age. And, to date, I never shy from making tough decisions.

One of the perks of being a first born is that you get the best. That’s what I believe. However, the pressure to be your best can be overwhelming. Even so, I endeavor to always be myself.

Cosmas Otieno, 26,

Graphic designer and freelance virtual assistant

“Being the eldest child is quite daunting, but also fun. You are the role model to your younger siblings so you have to lead by example, and that requires you to always do things right.

I have three siblings, all sisters, and our mother has been the only present parent for the better part of our lives. My father passed on when we were children.
In primary school, my head teacher constantly reminded me to keep my family in mind and to always help my mother who was really struggling to take care of us. In the end, she did very well.

It home, my mother urged my sisters to “work had like your brother.” So from a young age, there were always expectations attached to me. I started helping out around the house earlier than my younger sisters did, and I had to take on some parental responsibilities since mine was a single mum. It hasn’t been easy. While in college, I had to find a job so I could foot my bills and support my siblings.

When my father died, I was constantly worried about my youngest siblings. I felt like it was my responsibility to ensure that they got proper education. I am like a deputy parent to them. Whenever I am not home, I frequently call them and occasionally visit their schools to check on their performance and wellbeing.
In light of all this, I have had to deny myself some luxuries and put my siblings’ needs first. There were times I felt overwhelmed and even wondered why I had to be the first born. But now, in my quiet moments, I feel happy to be my parents’ first child.

Being the first born shapes your behaviour especially when you come from a humble background like me. Through everything, you always look for ways of making things better for your family. That helps me stay focused because I want the best for my family.

My status has also enhanced my leadership skills. I not only bark orders. I offer guidance, and I am always ready to share my opinion whenever I am consulted on various issues. My perception of life has totally changed. I used to see life as a competition where I would compare myself with others, but now, I take one step at a time.

I honestly feel proud of myself. My discipline and the desire to get things done the right way has influenced my sisters’ behaviour, and our mother is so proud.

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