Being the youngest in the family is a curse. I have tried to explain this to Andrea on multiple occasions. She sometimes points out her own difficulties as an oldest sibling. But such concepts as the “Responsibility of Command”, and the “Burden of Parental Expectations” seem trivial in light of the baby’s “Guilt Due to Constant Weakness” and the shackles of the so-called “Free Spirit” which haunts us younger children like a mocking poltergeist frightening us away from any lofty ambitions in life.
Andrea was finally convinced of this by watching Lydia, who has developed a habit of self inflicted guilt that we have aggressively struggled for a long time to cure her of.
It is not common for arguments to break out in our family, especially not in front of the children. But occasionally we will get into some serious discussions about life, and reflect on decisions that were recently made and consider how we could have handled things different. I, as the timid younger child tend to preface these discussions by making it clear that we are not arguing. I say, “We should discuss this situation, but it is not your fault that this happened. It is not my fault either. It is simply something that happened.” But several times recently when I have finished this preamble in the presence of Lydia her reaction has been to sheepishly turn her head towards the floor and quietly announce to the room, “It was my fault. I did it.” She does this regardless of whether we are discussing tax forms that have gone missing or talking about how we regret not asking for mayonnaise on our sub sandwich. The curse of the youngest child is to assume all guilt. “I don’t understand what happened, but it must be my fault.” is simply the battle cry of the baby child, and it would be much more comical if it were not so serious.
We have yet to find a solution to what we see as a very big problem, and one that we feel could damage her psyche for the rest of her life, if is is not handled correctly.
Just the other day we were in our bedroom enjoying the sunshine as a family. Clara and I were on the couch reading a magazine, Mother was on the bed looking at her phone, the baby was in a bouncy bed sleeping in the sun. Lydia, the restless free spirit, was jumping and crawling in circles around the room.
We had warned her several times to be careful not to wake up the little boy by jumping near him. So, all three of us were already poised and lunged in unison as Lydia did a handstand on the side of the bed and then performed an amazing forward roll right off the edge, crashing down onto the floor with the practiced precision of a WWF wrestler. Her extended legs came just inches away from the Baby’s sleeping head in the bouncy chair.
Her mother grabbed her and pulled her away from the still sleeping little man, and told her once more, quite firmly and specifically not to do somersaults off the bed onto her baby brother. Lydia looked quite bewildered. She broke free from her mother’s grasp and ran over to her brother’s bed and pointed an accusing finger into his face. “But Mom!” She cried, “It was /his/ fault!”
And just like that the curse is broken. The cure was so much simpler than we could have imagined. How do you cure a child suffering from “Youngest Child Syndrome”? Of course, you make them a middle child.
Maybe we will be more prepared this time.
I hate to imply that I’m taking the glory of family guilt away from any of you firstborns, because I know how much you enjoy that kind of thing. Also, you all scare me, and I know, mathematically, you will always outnumber us babies. I fully admit that Lydia’s behavior was not entirely classic, and much of my previous statements were tongue-in-cheek.
I honestly believe that Lydia’s self imposed “Whipping Child” position in the family was actually encouraged by her older first born sibling. Clara tends to take mistakes very personally, and she will occasionally use her little sister as a shield simply because of her own feelings of weakness. It is apparent to me that Lydia is just continuing this tradition of blame to the younger generation because that is what she has seen.
I will carefully point out that my patterned introduction to discussions with my wife that start by saying “no one is at fault”, is almost entirely an experienced sensitivity to the fact that she, as an oldest child, instinctively believes everything wrong that happens in our house is personally her fault. Which is contrasted with my own baby outlook that tends to give everything up to the way things “just turned out”, even in cases where I’ve been a complete buffoon. For example, I have driven my car until I ran out of gas on the side of the highway numerous times, but I’m completely open about saying this because, even at this very moment, I don’t believe it was ever really my fault. Andrea would roll her eyes at me right now and say, “Don’t you think there is anything you could have done differently?” and I would probably respond, “Hmm. Nope. Can’t think of anything. I stand by all of my choices.”