Notice to younger siblings: Please do not throw this blog post in your older sibling’s face. Forward them the link, if you like, but don’t tag them in public on social media. Take it easy on them. Some of us “oldests” have trouble finding our role–as I’m sure you know. 😉
Last time I wrote about how oldest children are born to lead, and a great way to do that is to set a good example.
Today I want to talk more about that concept of leadership. There are lots of different ways to go about it, and not all ways are equal.
Oldest children have a reputation for being bossy. Most of the time we’ve earned it. The urge to tell others what to do and how to do it just seems to run in our veins.
But, fellow oldests, your siblings don’t need a third parent.
(Okay, I’m referring to most healthy families here. If a family is so dysfunctional that the oldest child has to step up and be a “parent,” then they’ll need more help than my little blogs posts can provide.)
The parents have the right to issue an order and expect it to be obeyed–no questions asked. The oldest child has no such right.
Even if your parents go on a date and put you “in charge,” I guarantee your younger siblings won’t appreciate your acting like a parent. And they’ll be quick to tell you so.
Does “You’re not Mom!” or “I don’t have to obey you!” sound familiar?
Although your siblings instinctively want to look up to you (even if they don’t realize it), you’re still “one of them.” So why should you boss them around?
As an oldest child, you can’t just be a dictator. You don’t have the authority. It’s not your power.
Your power comes when your younger siblings want to listen to you.
When you can suggest (not command) something, and your siblings figure it must be a good idea because you said it, that’s a position of power.
As I’m sure you know, that is no easy position to reach. But it’s not impossible.
You get there by gaining your siblings’ trust.
You have to be worthy of their trust, and you have to prove your worthiness over and over (and over) before you can expect them to willingly listen to you. It’s a long process to gain and keep trust.
But it’s worth it.
So don’t be bossy like everyone expects you to be.
Oh, it might work for a little while. Your loudness or pushiness might force them to do things your way right now.
But over time, they’ll just think you’re a know-it-all. And who likes a know-it-all?
Instead, give in to what they want to do. (Not always, but often.) You can still say things such as, “I’d like to do this.” But don’t be rigid on the little things.
Let your younger siblings make choices. You’re not the only one who can have a good idea. Let them live without feeling like you’re looking over their shoulder all the time, ready to holler, “Not like that! Don’t do that! Do this!”
Prove to them that you are on their team. Here’s one way to do that:
Don’t Belittle Them
When they’re trying to tell a favorite family story or family joke, don’t interrupt to correct up the details. (Most of the time, those details don’t matter.) Don’t roll your eyes. Don’t make a fool of them or steal their limelight.
When they’re scared of the dark or spiders or thunder or dogs, don’t act like they’re stupid. Talk to them in the darkness; don’t mock their nightlight or make creepy noises. Hunt down the spider and get rid of it. Sit with them while you listen to the thunder. Stand close to them when the scary dog walks by. And don’t cop a superior attitude when you’re being their hero. Act like it’s the most normal thing in the world for you to help them. Because it is.
Don’t act like their accomplishments are nothing. Cheer when they hit the home run. Say, “Great job!” when they’re talking about their good grades. Be impressed when they show you the latest project they worked hard on (even if you think it’s silly).
When they get excited, don’t treat them like idiots. You have things you love. So do they. What’s important to them should be important to you, as well.
Basically, try not to make them feel like a little kid. Maybe they are still little kids. But you know how you don’t like to be treated like someone too young to be important? They don’t enjoy it, either.
Do Brag on Them
Do it when they can hear you. Brag to your parents and grandparents. Even to your friends once in a while. Don’t overdo it so you embarrass them, but mention their accomplishments like you’re proud of them. Act like your siblings are cool. Because they are.
Building trust isn’t easy. But it’s worth it.
Whenever you interact with your siblings, think about what you’re doing. Ask yourself if your behavior will help them trust you.
If the answer is yes, then good for you! You are living your birthright well!
If the answer’s no, then change your behavior. It’s not too late. Everybody messes up. (I still mess up, and I’ve been at this for twenty-one years.) Keep trying. Keep praying. You can do this!
Don’t try to be the boss. Be their partner. Give them every reason in the world to trust you.
Okay, I want to hear from you all! Oldests, what have you done that helps your siblings trust you? How have you messed up from time to time?
Younger siblings, what helps you know you can trust your oldest sibling? Or how do they act that warns you it’s not safe to trust them?
P.S. If you don’t want to comment, head to my “Connect” page and shoot me an email. I love to chat about siblings. 🙂