Monday, March 16, 2009

The Older Child

Here's a conversation that took place in my house today morning.

Mom: What do you guys want for lunch?
Kavya: Idli
Karthik: Pasta
Mom: I can't make two lunches. Karthik, I'll give you idli.
Karthik(with tears in his eyes and anger in his voice): I WANT pasta!
Mom: Ok. Kavya, can you take pasta today?
Kavya: Ok.

The above exchange, in different forms, has played out several times over the last 3 years or so and is symptomatic of the fact that the older sibling has a rather tough time in a household with more than 1 child.

I've seen in many households that the younger child, simply by virtue of being born later, gets his/her way most of the time. And its no different in ours. Like when Kavya and Karthik play together. Kavya is expected to share her toys and give them up when her brother wants to play with them while her requests for his toys make us advise her on the virtues of sharing and remind her that she's too old for his toys anyway. Or during dinner time. Karthik hates coming second and so we ask Kavya to eat slowly (or act as if she is still eating even though she has finished ) just so he can have the pleasure of finishing first. And then we ask to bear things patiently when he rubs it in her face.

Its easy to see why this happens. At 3 1/2 years, Karthik is still in the phase when even the naughty things he does are cute. Its still cute when he tells on Kavya or throws a tantrum. So most of the things he does are explained away with "he's just a baby". And because he starts crying real easily, he gets first - and sometimes, only - dibs on most things. So even when Kavya shouts at him after he has teased her or snatched her book or crumpled her papers or hit her, our first reaction is to console him and scold her.

The problem is that we tend to forget that Kavya, who is 7 1/2 years old, is a child too. Just because she is an older sister, we expect her to display maturity beyond her years when she is dealing with him. We expect her to be patient, never get angry, pat him on his back when he does something good, ignore his mistakes, not let his taunts get to her, never raise her hand but come and let us know when he hits her... the list is endless. As I've mentioned before, Kavya is a model big sister who loves her brother and enjoys playing with him. She even gets jealous when he plays with his cousin sister and genuinely misses him when he's not around. But as a kid, she does get irritated when he irritates her. And she gets chided for that.

Not that being an older child has no advantages at all. Until the younger one is born, Kavya had our undivided attention while Karthik, from the moment he was born, has had to share us with his sister. But there are undoubtedly more times, like today morning, when I feel that the first-born has it rather tough.


At 12:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

this post is creepy. maybe i wouldn't think so if i knew you from adam or it was written in a different way but holmes, it's creepy.

At 7:36 AM, Blogger Ven Sharma said...

I say it is time for Balaji to give his missus a hand with packing lunches and at the kitchen:-)

The younger one's taste and appetite is still not developed, so If I have to choose between idlis and pasta I would pick pasta like your missus rightly did.

I fully agree with you that your daughter is a child too.

As the adage goes -Adara mattey adi thaan karakkanum.

In our household, in addition to the arrangement, the mom or myself will have to accompany our son to the computer and feed him as well.

Both idli and pasta are excellent food choices.

At 8:15 AM, Blogger Funtabulous said...

Yay Balaji a post on family finally!!! Thanks! U made my day today ....btw when u write posts such as these are you sure you are not peaking into my house????!!!!!

At 8:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

as a single child, i've never had to face similar situations...but it was nice to read a nice, down-to-earth post about a simple event that speaks volumes of the kind of dynamics that parents will have to deal with...very nicely written, bb...

a cousin of mine who's 3 1/2 years old fell off his high chair and fractured his elbow...he has a sister who's close to 2 years aunt was amazed as to how the older kid was so responsible and patient as he went through the surgery and also had to subsequently deal with his kid sister who was falling all over him, unable to understand the gravity of the aunt was amazed- so am I - at how the 3.5 year old acted with such restraint and understanding...

At 9:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Poor Kavya :-(

At 12:25 PM, Blogger B o o said...

Hmmm... Reminds me what my big sis told me and my parents one day. "I was told I am old and I should know better when I was 4 years old. But when she became 4 years, she was still young and the baby. She ll be the baby even when shes 60 years old." She was just kidding around but its the truth, is nt it? I think it comes with a big sisters job description. But as long as they dont feel neglected, its fine I guess. Wonder whats in store for me!!

At 4:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

BB, nice post. And I have observed the same in most places.

I am trying to keep it a bit more fair in my place. Some of it is planned (i.e. me deliberately trying to pay more attention to the older one, which I usually do even in other households), but some of it is just natural to me. I somehow hit it off better with older kids, where I can actually have a conversation with them. The 4-10 year phase is the most fascinating. The 'oh, the baby is so cute' usually only lasts a few minutes, and I'm happy to hand off the toddler back to the mother/father pretty quickly.

If I don't watch it, I might overcompensate, and have my 2nd one hate me!

But I think the 1st one usually gets some advantages too. For one, the parents are usually a lot more attentive to every sound/movement/action from the elder one. I have tons more pics/videos of my 1st one. By the time the 2nd comes around, it's all "been there, seen that". So it takes a lot more to get the camcorder out of the closet :-)

The really sad stories are the middle ones. I am 4 of 6. So I could write stories on this :)

At 8:27 PM, Blogger Rubygal said...

Finally someone who understands the extra burden an elder child carries..
Balaji, both eldest and youngest child do get their attention but in two different type.. an elder child get the parents attention whenever she makes a will always be, don't do that you should set good examples to you younger siblings..
Whereas the younger one gets their attention just by doing cute stuffs.. however, i am not really complaining cause i love being the eldest child as i get to do everything first..from using a hp to driving a car..i did all that before them..sooo hey, eldest do get its privileges too..

At 10:55 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

anon, creepy?!

ven, not sure whose side u r on :)

funtabulous, i'm sure the situation exists in several homes :)

ram, oh yeah, we are surprised at the wonderful kavya handles karthik several times too. kids never cease to amaze :)

boo, that's exactly it! guess we needed a big sister to put it into words exactly. what she said perfectly encapsulates the heart of this post :)

prakash, i guess its the reverse for me. i am more comfortable with the babies in the "oh they're so cute" phase. and bingo on the attention the older one gets from the parents. with the 2nd one there's defly that "been there seen that" feeling whether its pictures or fretting over the food habits. we just take things lighter since we've seen it all before :)

rubygal, oh yeah, being the older one definitely has its advantages. no hand-me-downs, as u said. this post was just the result of a thought process triggered by that morning conversation :)

anon, that sentiment was what made me write the post :)

At 2:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


it's time for you to grab books on Parenting than Paterson :)

At 10:42 AM, Blogger Raju said...

Been in Kavya's shoes for quite a few unforgettable years. :) The problem with the parents is that, the young continues to be the 'chinnavan' and so the elder one is always expected to act almost like a third parent. In fact, in several homes, the siblings rivalry is caused by the parents, without their conscious effort. Some of those 'small hurts' are likely to stay for decades to come.
In your case, it makes sense to avoid a choice like 'Idly vs Pasta' (since the difference in the ease of preparation is so huge) and also, the young ones (knowing that they have an audience), might simply prefer contrary to the elder one. (e.g., if Kavya had said 'Pasta', my guess is, he is more likely to say 'Idly', unless there is absolute hatred towards any particular dish, in which case a parent wouldnt have had it as one of the choices). The problem is, reverse psychology is better introduced to the kids only after a certain age. I can say all these, from my point of view of 'sensible approach'. I honestly donno how I would behave practically when I have kids, since there will be a mix of emotion. In K&K's case, there is a chance of you taking Kavya's love on Karthik for granted, thus expecting her to do and understand things beyond her age. For ex, wouldnt Karthik feel jealous when Kavya plays with her cousins? What if he does (he also loves her and so he should reciprocate some kindness that she is expected to provide), and what if he doesn't (he isn't really attached to her, so he doesn't care whom she plays with)? :) I am just thinking aloud, but I have a feeling that the situation can be improved.

At 11:04 AM, Blogger Ven Sharma said...

No restaurant can give you both idlis and pasta, but the mom can.

At the next meal Kavya could possibly have her idlis.

The same scenario could happen in front of the TV, while adults watch the Oprah, the daugher would want Hannah Montanna on Disney while the son would probably want SpongeBob on Nick. Assume that there are only 2 TVs in the household.

Or worse still, it could be like daughter wanting to watch AquaMarine or Enchanted and son wanting to watch The Incrediles while you are driving your SUV/Van with a rear DVD player.

The other 2 scenarios are not as important as the food one coz If Karthik had not been offered pasta, he most probably would have starved that day.We dont want that.

Its all a balancing act the mom does my friend. I dont know how but only the mom knows.

Does Karthik like Maggie 2 min noodles? Does Kavya like pasta with shredded cheese on it? Just a thought-- these days you could get those non stick small idlis plates where the end product will be like bite size idlis. Give it a try maybe karthik will like it. I dont want to turn your blog site into a recipe trading one :-)

At 2:40 PM, Blogger Swamy Srinivasan aka Kittu Mama said...

haha amazing post balaji. you rock man :)

BTW, i've to say that i;ve read so many of ur posts and would love to say hi to you. Its great that you are able to maintain this blog with great posts. Keep up the gr8 work balaji. Me a die hard fan of tamil movies, music etc., I've read some reviews in your blog. Spell bound stuff. Do take a visit to my blog and some of the stuff i've rambled :)

At 6:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

it is not just because she is older.
It partly because she is a girl. I've given in to "annan ku vittu kudu" lots of time. The beauty is i also used to pretend that i too enjoyed his choices. so it wasn't as if he was selfish.
This was mainly during the he-was-12-i-was-8 time.

At 12:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Something that reminds me of my house. Elder one (daughter, 11) has her own preference, Younger one (son, 7) has his own, I have my own preference (lateral mostly to both) and my spouse has a gala time packing off each one of us off as the day breaks (and not to miss, she has her own preferences :)). I should not make dosai for my daughter. Says I don't know how to make it as thin and crispy as her Amma.

Agree with Prakash on the extra attention of the first. My daughter taunts the younger one about it.

I have seen the middle one syndrome in my family, me being a fav of my mother, my youngest brother, of my father and the middle brother became a fav of paati, who fawned over him.

One thing that is common between the kids, these days is that they prefer eating out (ambience?) to home food. :) Food eaten outside is enjoyed, but home food is a ritual for them. In my case, food goes into the kids' mouths if the TV is on (daughter is an expert at watching anything under the sun, open mouthed with the food drying out) and they are threat-fed by us about TV being switched off.

Mrs. now has devised a scheme on who gets channel switching rights for them as they don't agree on what kids channels to watch.

At 1:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Mr. Balaji

I am coming to California in the end of may and will be studying there for 3 weeks. I wish I could visit you and your familiy once and have meal together. I am regular visitor of your blog and find it great.

best wishes


Post a Comment

<< Home