An Open Letter to the Eldest Child in an Asian Household
Nov 21, 2022   •   Kyzia Maramara
8List.ph is published by ID8, Inc.
Nov 21, 2022   •   Kyzia Maramara
Four years ago, we attempted to capture the universal experience of every eldest child out there. There are the usual pros and cons: You get first dibs on everything and order your little siblings around but you were also the parenting guinea pig and you take the blame for your siblings’ mistakes.
As the eldest daughter in an Asian household myself, that one was easy to write based on first-hand experience. But looking back, four years later, I realized that list is just scratching the surface. There are plenty of unique experiences only the eldest children will share — the burdens, struggles, and joys of being the first in the pack. Four years later, there are so many things I continue to find and understand about myself. And maybe you can relate too.
Certain expectations have always been tacked on the eldest child. Being responsible is at the top of that long list. As a child, I thought peak responsibility meant clearing the dishes or sleeping on time so my younger siblings would do the same. But unlike the petty childhood traits I had to leave behind in childhood, my responsibilities morphed and grew up with me into adulthood.
Being “responsible” now meant making sure to secure a job that pays the bills. It meant having a hand in securing your siblings’ future and swallowing the truth that you’ll have to finance a lot of things if you want your parents to retire early. It’s the real weight of responsibility in full glory. It presses down on you and it won’t let up soon. But the thing is, you’ve trained your whole life for this — you know how to carry it. Although sometimes you wish you didn’t have to, eldest children are born fighters. Their secret to surviving? They never give up.
When people ask how adults function every day the simple answer would be we don’t know what we’re doing 80% of the time. Eldest children (who are also navigating adulthood) have had countless “How do I do this?” moments.
Where’s the brochure on life? How was I to know that my fashion sense (doll shoes with knee-high socks, untucked shirts over baggy jeans) wasn’t trendy for a 13-year-old in 2012? Where’s the manual telling me when to skip jobs or the cheat sheet that shows how I can reach for my dreams while balancing my family’s needs? Adults and eldest children know there’s no guide to living life. There are two ways you can deal with this: Feel sorry for yourself or open up to the endless possibilities if you don’t put yourself in a box.
Family is important to Filipinos, even more so for the eldest child who practically had a hand in parenting their younger siblings. And so when great opportunities to break away present themselves, panganays can’t help but feel guilty.
You’re earning now, with enough money to blow on a 2-week trip abroad. You’ve finally saved up to move out and experience what it’s like living on your own But.. what about your parents and siblings you’ll be leaving behind? As much as you’d want them to experience everything good in this world, you sometimes need to go through it alone. And that’s okay. Don’t feel guilty for splurging sometimes and being your own person. It’s life, not a prison.
You know that feeling. An older sibling to have someone to look up to just so you’re not the first person who has to figure it all out. Growing up as the eldest daughter, sometimes I felt as if I had to walk the path blindfolded. From the then-trivial things like fashion sense to the big decisions like which career I should take. Parents can guide you — and I’ve often turned to them — but as much as you value your parent’s insights, sometimes it would be nice to have someone who would know exactly what it is like to grow up in this generation.
So life didn’t deal you a card that lets you be the second-eldest or the bunso. You can either cry about it or be the best eldest sibling for your kid brothers and sisters. Here’s your chance to be the person you wanted to confide in growing up. Make sure your siblings are lucky and #blessed they’ve got you in this lifetime.
And you realize how brash you were when you were younger. It’s true that eldest siblings have to set a good example for the little ones but it’s only years later that you realize how important that is. Now you notice things. Your siblings inherited your hotheadedness in your early years, they take after your moody traits, and they deal with disappointments the way you do.
But in the same way, they’re echoes of your mistakes growing up, they could also carry your best qualities, things you often overlook. They know how to look after your parents and they’ve turned into responsible adolescents who can be trusted to cook a decent meal for the family. Being the eldest child is a life of experiments but it’s moments like these that make you proud.
They say that as you grow older, your parents go from being an authority figure in your life to a close friend you get to grow old with. As an adult, gone are the days when they can order you to sleep at 10 PM sharp or come home at a certain time. They can still implement rules but you man the helm of the ship that is your life. You owe everything to your parents, you wouldn’t be who you are without them. And although you’re the parenting guinea pig (admit it), you are the product of all the right decisions they made and keep on making.
Eldest children across the world live different lives and experiences. Some have it easy while others have to struggle. Life is bittersweet and unpredictable that way. But whoever you are — the eldest child that has never known a day of strife or the one that has lived with it their whole life — you never walk alone. Stop thinking you’re the only one who can carry what life throws at you! Run to your support system, take deep breaths, and when life gets too much, go ahead and break away from it until you’re ready to come back.
You got this, eldest child!
Kyzia spends most of her time capturing the world around her through photos, paragraphs, and playlists. She is constantly on the hunt for the perfect chocolate chip cookie, and a great paperback thriller to pair with it.
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