Second Child Syndrome: The Unfair Life Of The Second Kid

I feel sorry for ‘Beetle’. As he approaches six-months old, he’s probably had what you’d call a pretty unfair life when compared to that of his older sister. It’s not that we don’t love him, care for him or cherish him – we obviously do. However, he is a second child – and that means he’s got second child syndrome.

It’s not his fault. He had no say in when he was born or the fact that his big sister outdates him. But, as the second kid to arrive, I can already see a difference in how we’ve treated him, and how we continue to treat him, compared to how we handled L at the same age. It’s not bad or negative – you don’t have to get on the blower to Social Services – it’s just best summed up as ‘different’.

There’s no question that the little dude is awesome, that we’re lucky to have him and that we’re enjoying spending time with our new addition. But, the facts are simple – he’s a second child and will be forced to live his life with the unenviable and unfair task of following in his big sister’s footsteps. It’s just the situation he finds himself in.

Unlike some other conditions, second child syndrome can’t be cleared up with a course of antibiotics. Instead, it’s just something he’s going to have to accept and deal with – he’ll probably have feelings of injustice, unfairness and favourtism at some point in his life because he’s treated differently by those close to him.

The aim is to always treat siblings in the same way. However, that’s easier said than done. It’s not a competition – I’m not saying that I prefer one over the other. Neither am I pitting them against each other in a complex sibling rivalry that will result in just one winner – although there’s definitely an idea for a Channel 5 game show somewhere in there.

I think this second child syndrome is caused by a few different factors.

1) We already have a kid, so there’s a sense of deja vu. It’s obviously adorable when he yawns, stretches, smiles or giggles, but it’s all a bit ‘been there, done that’ – he’s yet to bring anything new to the table. Unfortunately for him, L got there first. Everything she did, and continues to do, is a new experience for us as parents – uncharted territory, if you will. Although still fantastic to see with the second child, it’s not as new or exciting as he’s ultimately just following the same path that she took.

2) As second time parents, our outlook is different to what it was first time around. Despite not always knowing what we’re doing, we’ve somehow managed to raise a child to the grand old age of four – quite the achievement! As such, and as experienced parents, we’re more relaxed, assured and competent this time, plus we have a vague idea of what is around the corner. This could come across blasé, but it’s more about mindset – there’s not the stress, worry or panic that was present when L was younger because we’ve already proved we can do it.

(3) You don’t have the same ‘free’ time with a second baby because you already have another kid. Despite having a newborn, life just has to continue and the little arrival just has to go along with it. The attention-seeking, whirlwind of energy that is the older sibling isn’t going to relent. They still need looking after, entertaining, and taking places – you just have to do this whilst getting to grips with a newborn. It’s not until you become a parent of multiple kids that you realise just how easy it was with one. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!

So why do I think this? Well, expanding on the points above a bit further, let me give you a few real-life examples of how second child syndrome has manifested for ‘Beetle’.

  • He has plenty of hand-me downs. He has new things too, but he has a lot of his sister’s things – clothes, toys, pushchair, car seat, cot etc – whereas everything she had was brand new.
  • The world doesn’t revolve around him, whereas everything was carefully planned around L, her needs and her routine. Hell, he barely has a routine and just sleeps whenever!
  • ‘Beetle’ pretty much comes along with us wherever we go and has to deal with it. We spent a big part of L’s early months just hanging around the house, yet he’s taken everywhere as we continue to live our lives – often for his sister’s benefit.
  • We’ve got a lot of photos of him, but no where near as many as L at this age. In fact, I think there’s only one physical photo of him in a photo frame in the house. The same goes for pregnancy – there’s a handful of photos of the missus pregnant, whereas we have loads with L and actually did a timelapse video when she was in utero.
  • We don’t know how old he is or when certain milestones happened. With L, we could tell you (to the day) how old she was, when she smiled, lifted her head, rolled over etc, yet we’re clueless with ‘Beetle’. I often have to double check when his birthday was when filling in forms.
  • His arrival into the world meant that L’s bedroom was ‘upgraded’ from the nursery to the spare room – complete with double bed. For ‘Beetle’, regardless of his age, he’ll be calling the nursery home because there’s nowhere else to upgrade him too!
  • By this age, L had been to multiple different sensory baby classes all in the name of aiding and benefiting her development. On the other hand, ‘Beetle’ has been to two – both of which took place in a soft play for his sis!

Second Child Syndrome The Unfair Life Of The Second Kid baby and sister soft play

With examples like this, it’s easy to see how a second child can feel ‘ordinary’ in comparison to their ‘special’ older sibling. Obviously stuff like this isn’t planned. It’s not a malicious attempt to destroy him emotionally and set him up for a lifetime of feeling undervalued, bitter and jealous. It’s really just a case of ‘the early bird catches the worm’ – or ‘tough shit’ for a more to the point quote.

Hey, it might not all be too bad for dear old ‘Beetle’ though. As the eldest child myself, I remember being hugely pissed off that my younger bro and I appeared to be judged against different standards. Whereas I “should have always known better” in every sodding situation, he could get away with murder – something that literally happened in the summer of 1996, but we don’t talk about that anymore…

What’s your experience of second child syndrome? Do you feel like you were treated differently to your older / younger sibling growing up? Do you reckon you’re raising your kids differently at all, which could create second child syndrome? Let me know below!