The firstborn’s burden

Sunday columnist Peter Leith has seen a lot of the world, a lot of Australia and a lot of life.  Aged 90, he makes the time to observe the world around him and agitate for change. He also reflects on times gone by.


Firstborn children have to ‘do-it-the-hard-way’. For starters, they are stuck with under-qualified parents.

Then, if they have a sibling within 12 months, they have to share what they’ve taught their parents with a snivelling little nappy-crapper who distracts parental concentration from the main game – them.

If the arrival of a sibling is delayed for five or more years, the firstborn faces the trauma of sharing his or her hard-won limelight with an interloper, who again benefits from the hard work done in parent education.

If siblings follow at more reasonable two to three-year intervals, there is time for everyone to re-arrange their egos … and their IDs.  

Even in a happy marriage, firstborn children risk the burden of expectation – from both parents – that they will be what their father or mother is not.

I write this in appreciation and gratitude to my two years, one month and six days older brother Jack, who is buried in Mareeba cemetery, in northern Queensland.

Are you a firstborn? Do you recall whether adjusting to the arrival of a sibling was difficult? Do you have an idea or observation for Peter? Send it to and put ‘Sunday’ in the subject line and we will forward it to him.

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Written by Peter Leith

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