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The Youngest Child Syndrome

THE sister of two very talented and successful women, Marcella Purnama tells us why being the youngest child isn’t always as fantastic as everyone says it is.

Marcella and her sisters.

Most people say the youngest child has it the easiest. They’re the spoiled ones who can’t do anything wrong, after all. But if you’re the youngest, like me, you’ll know that’s not true. Often it’s actually the opposite. We’re the ones who have it the hardest.

Generally speaking, the oldest child is usually the boss, the planner, the leader. They’re born with that natural instinct to lead and to find out about stuff, whether it be organising a holiday trip or asking a stranger how to get to the supermarket.

They’re the ones the parents turn to when they need something done. They’re usually more confident, more responsible, more stubborn and more opinionated. This is called the Oldest Child Syndrome, and my older sister is a perfect example.

The middle child is usually referred to as the “odd” one. Well, the theory is that the middle child can’t beat their older sibling in authority and they can’t beat their younger sibling at getting their parents’ attention, so they’re stuck in the middle.

Middle children are usually introverts who keep things to themselves. If the oldest child and youngest child have similar personalities, the middle child is usually at the other end of the rope by themselves. At least, my second sister is and she definitely has the Middle Child Syndrome.

The youngest child, as many of you know, is spoiled and more of a follower. They’re forever referred to as the baby – it’s a name that’s stuck with them for life. Even when they’ve grown up, their parents never really understand they’re no longer children.

The youngest child usually demands more attention from their parents and are a bit of a rebel. They’re too used to walking in the footsteps of their older siblings and that makes them want to break free and prove to the world that they’re different. At the very least, I do. This is the Youngest Child Syndrome.

Of course, there are plenty other syndromes, the Single Child Syndrome, Oldest Child being Male Syndrome, Youngest Child being Female Syndrome and whatever other combination you can think of, but in my family, we’re perfect examples of the Older, Middle and Youngest Child Syndromes.

When you have siblings, it’s hard to run away from the inevitable comparisons. I know, I’ve been there, and it’s not that my parents and teachers and friends want to do it, they just do it unconsciously.

When my parents try to correct my mistakes, they start their lectures by saying, “When she was your age, your older sister never…” and it goes on.

When you go to school, you go to the school your older siblings went to years ago. Usually you’re taught by the teachers who taught them earlier and they’ll inevitably make comments like, “Ah, you’re her little sister”. Immediately, deep down, you begin to question whether you’re on the same level as your older sibling. It’s inevitable.

Looking back, I took triple science and extension maths in senior high school because my sister took those same subjects before me. I chose to major in psychology and media and communication when I had the slightest freedom at university partly because I wanted to prove to the world that I was different. I wanted to shout that I was me and not my sister.

My parents know that, for sure. They love each of us for our distinct abilities and talents, but sometimes the unconscious comparison is still there, and when your older siblings are the closest living people to perfection, it gets even harder.

My oldest sister is the multi-talented one. She can sing well, dance well, perform well, play the piano and guitar and be the MC at any event. She is a natural leader, able to organise every party, every holiday trip without a single mistake. She is clever and is currently on her way to completing a PhD in Bioscience in Singapore.

When people look at her, they know she is the soul of the party. With her bubbly personality and her beautiful looks, it was little wonder she was prom queen and the boys worshipped at her feet. She is taken now, married to a wonderful guy a little more than a year ago.

My middle sister is the smart one. Have I told you that her UAI (Universities Admission Index, now called ATAR – Australian Tertiary Admission Rank) was 99.95? She was a science student and is now a doctor in Melbourne. Her friends love her and she always has the right values and morals.

She is a very good writer, and if she chose to be one, I believe her book would be the next number one international bestseller. Not to mention she has a very good eye for fashion and I trust my sister’s opinions even more than my own. She is a very good listener and a philosopher. She is kind, loving and gentle.

In summary, they’re the most perfect people I have ever known and I love them (I’ve also self-diagnosed myself as having a “sister complex obsession”).

But their perfection does nothing for my self esteem.

As far as people are concerned, I will always be someone’s “little sister”, especially when it comes to my middle sister. In high school, my teachers had the highest expectations of me because she held the unbeatable record of having the best UAI in the school’s history.

At home, my parents hope I’ll be more like her – easy to teach and someone who will adopt the right morals in life.

In church, it’s the same thing. I am her shadow. Coming to Melbourne four years after her made me “her little sister” all over again. On Sundays after church I never get asked to go to lunch if my sister isn’t there. Sadly, they never really think of welcoming me as a separate being. They just think of me as “her little sister”.

And maybe that’s why I’m trying so hard to be someone so different to my siblings.

Don’t get me wrong, I am immensely proud to be their little sister, they are everything an older sister can be.

But maybe, a part of me wants to be known as who I really am, without comparison to those who are very dear to me.

Sometimes, people forget that part.

Who has it the hardest?

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18 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. It’s fascinating to know that the three different sibling complexes actually do exist outside the realms of my family. Your description above of the oldest and middle child syndrome cannot be more similar, if not precisely exact, of my conditions at home.

    But I’ve always believed that the existence of those complexes depend highly on context. For example, even though my sister (middle child) is the introvert at home and is not as opinionated as me (oldest child), in her friendship group she presents a more confident front and is apparently the organizer of their monthly gatherings and the person who decides on the most difficult choice every friendship circle possesses: “Where shall we eat tonight?”

    So sure, at home we meld (no pun intended) into our expected complexes and know our place because it’s normal for families to have a natural pecking order. But outside in the real world, we are free individuals and no syndrome should ever dictate who we are and who we can possibly be.

  2. I feel I have never been able to take care of anyone. In elementary school when we were to take care of a younger student or take them on a “buddy”, I noticed I was the only one who did not get a long wtih my buddy. I have never really taken care of a girlfriend or a another person. Maybe I just never had to as a child because there was no one for me to take care of. My parents and sister always took care of me in times of need. This may be an aspect of younger sibling syndrome.

  3. i am the youngest of four sisters. something that i know i do with them is that i absolutely seek their approval for anything. even after graduating with honors from a worldwide highly respected university, the fact that the middle sister missed the ceremony still affects me 6 years past. i am constantly dependent on them to “look at me” and right now, i am tired of myself. i am not in the slightest saying i’m going to hurt myself, i am just tired of doing that but the more i try to abandon the habit the more it seems to hurt that i “move away.”

  4. I am the youngest of five and have struggled all my life for a position in my family. I may have been stoiled as a youngster but as an adult my value is completely the opposite. I have gone through many tramatizing experiences in my life and have found it difficult to make major achievements. Now in my fifties I have still not received much respect or value from my older siblings because of this. Being married for 26 years now with two great young adult kids I cant understand why I feel so unloved by my entire family still. We raised our children more so with my husbands family because there was just more support and my family lives six hours away. I’ve really longed to have a closer relationship with my siblings but I believe they don’t feel the same way as we very seldom speak to eachother.

    • Michelle, I am 60 years old and the youngest of 4, two male two female. I wrote to my nearest-in-age brother last year and explained how it felt to be bullied by him (still!!), asking him to give me some respect. Unsurprisingly he has not spoken to me since, but I have at long last been able to make great strides in my own career and my recovery from 4th child syndrome! In fact, it’s been so empowering that i have decided to take a few years off having siblings at all (reasonably easy because we are geographically distant). Now, when i wish to make a decision about my life, I do not fear their disapproval. Maybe one day they will notice my ‘silence’ and ask themselves if I’m still alive – and if I’m contacted i will respond as any other person would, rather than a wee girl who should ‘know her place’
      I have three adult daughters of my own and it has been difficult to raise them while feeling so lost and underrated myself. Luckily I’ve been able to explain some of it to them and they are becoming more open with me and with each other. Hope this may help – from a Youngest Child who has rebelled at last!

  5. I’m a middle child.

    My elder, never like organizing and never a leader (very opposite to what stated), and my youngest is very very spoiled and ignorant, she never need to demand attention (the attentions are all on her), and she loves taking her sweet time without taking others into account.

    I’d say as a middle child, I’m always set myself in a “get ready to take over” status.

    At least this is what happened to me and my husband, who is also a middle child

  6. Just more B.S. Wait maybe all us kids in our 50scan find a lawyer to start a class action suit nameing all the 80+ moms and dads who must be ultamately the cause of all our problems

    • You are funny in a closed mined way.

    • And a bad speller

  7. oh my god! finally!! why does everyone assume that being the youngest is the easiest and best? its so not! The youngest basically gets the scraps of love left at the end from the eldest down. Its like hand-me-down love, its old and worn and most of the time doesn’t make anyone as excited as what the eldest child gets, and this article outlines how it is to be the youngest perfectly!

  8. SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO in my opinion true. I’m a last born and i hate absolutely everything about my brother. Supposedly my dad says being tickled is my fault. However the hell that makes sense, you idiot.”However, if you’re a last born like me, you’ll know this isn’t true…”( this article) Yes! YESS YES YESS! My brother is such imo an idiot who can’t ever realize he’s WRONG! I think I know how you feel. The mention of his name pisses me off.

  9. What do you mean the babies are followers?

  10. I can relate to this a bit. I am the youngest of three girls and I was the wayward youngest and still am. I wandered in rebellion as a teen then came around to their beliefs for a while in early adulthood trying to be what was right, like them. Not long after that I realized their path was not for me, I am agnostic as opposed to Christian to be exact. I have felt good about this ever since, five years later. I think we all had struggles with each “syndrome” and have adjusted and accepted ourselves in adulthood. However I still battle one irritating thing. I do not handle ‘no’ well! My mom has always given too much and was only in my life during my turbulent toddler years and turbulent teens. Both times I should have been taught no. Now I am 28 and for the first time I am faced with a ‘no’ I am struggling with. My husband doesn’t want any more children. I feel like I’m 14, feeling an immense level of injustice, silent and pouty! We do have enough children, four. We do not live in a time or culture that promotes large families. It’s just part of being the baby for me, I want to live my life my way and I love children. He is a bossy oldest of 3 and has decided for us, baby ain’t haven’t that! Feeling like such a baby!!! See, do the older two struggle with their syndromes!? Middle sister, yes. Has a left out complex and is a perfectionist. My oldest sister has accepted her roll as boss, plans Christmas and vaca itineraries and marches us around… I test her for laughs!

  11. As a youngest child myself I can’t agree enough.

  12. There is much truth in your observations and those of some of your commentators. The youngest often strives to be different and outstanding from the elder siblings. They have often got away with a few things, but much of what they have received is second hand, tired and attention toward them is sped up.

    I am the youngest of 4 and from an early age determined not to be like my eldest 2 siblings mainly because of their immoral and self centered personalities.
    As it is I am different, all grown up and middle aged now. The eldest 2 have despised me for many years, most friends think it jealousy on their part. My parents openly trusted me the most, although I was the youngest, I was the most responsible and careful.
    I think if we make of life what best we can, much of the “syndrome” stuff falls by the wayside, as often do family members who add nothing of value to one’s life.

  13. I agree youngest definitely has it the hardest

  14. I had the opposite problem in school. I am the youngest child, but my older brother is a bit of an idiot. All through school, he barely passed his classes (he is currently doing a modified version of year 12 over two years) and a lot of teachers assumed I would be the same.
    Because of this, every time I went to select an extension subject (consistent A’s in Maths, Science, History and Music), teachers would sit me down and go “are you sure this won’t be too hard for you?” and then stop me going for it (the school also seemed to think I had Autism and convinced the government to give them money..). This happened EVERY time and it got to the point where I had to move schools just so I would be allowed to be intellectually challenged.(Started this year and for the first time in ever, I’m not acing subjects while doing nothing)

    So, yeah, I was still following my idiot brother my whole life, but in a different way. :(

  15. It is absolutely true what you wrote about the youngest one, i am the youngest in my family and i hate it,

    I had two sisters, the oldest was 5 years older than me and died several years ago and i have no problem at all with my oldest sister, we shared the same hobbies as photography, video filming and music listening.

    So i stuck with the middle one who is 18 months older than me, she was and is always rebellious, manipulative and dominant, in her puberty she drove my parents to desperation , i share absolutely nothing with her and she keeps me reminding that i am “Her little brother”

    And she is always looking for more power, she is a professional mediator, runs in local political parties and with her organization she have connections in the government, and she knows everything better and she is very annoying to me.

    For 20 years i lived in a northern Provence in the Netherlands and there i was myself and not someones little brother, now i am back in my hometown in the middle of the Netherlands where i am “The brother of Xxx” again, i really hate it.

    And nothing helps, she’s staying messing with my life, even with the women in my life, so i am single again and 55, there are only two solutions left to solve this problem, or i must kill her or i leave my country and disappear, so i think to move on again to another place on Earth far away from her, the second halve of my life i want the freedom to be myself again, to life an easy and peaceful life without hate.

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