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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There are 45 comments

  1. Lucy Munanto

    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. Danny

    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. andrea

    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. michelle

    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.

    1. CC

      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. Apple

    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. Paul

    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

  7. Ayesha11

    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. Matt

    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. Tricia

    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!

  10. Neil

    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.

  11. Tom

    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. 🙁

  12. Desperate

    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.

  13. Reece

    What you wrote about the eldest child being the leader and decision makers is true but I find that my family has two separate sets of “oldest, middle, and youngest” children. For example; I am the oldest and the leader for the most part, I have a sister and a brother under me followed by two more sisters. Now I believe that I am the “leader” of my younger sister and brother but that my third sibling is the leader of the two youngest. They heed her advice over mine and strive to be more like her.
    My sister directly below myself probably did the best thing by marrying and staying distant from the rest of us.
    My brother suffers from being the only boy and being the middle child. My mother spoiled him and my father ignored him. My mother always made sure to take up for him and make sure “mama’s boy” got what he wanted. My sister’s and I all have different opinions on how to deal with his tantrums. I choose to not participate in family functions he attends therefore I am seen as selfish and childish.
    My sister directly below him is and has always been disconnected from the rest of us. She became a mother at a very young age, and a great one I might add. I can go to her with any problems I might have.
    The second one to last is in a league of her own. Rebellious like myself she left home at an early age and made her own life. She is independent and a hard headed woman. I can see her future is very bright indeed.
    My youngest sister, who was once my heart, who is a very manipulative little miss, has decided for some reason unannounced to me that she no longer needs the company of any of us. That suits me just fine, right down to the ground even. She always called upon me for company and to share the latest news from her life, but now she acts as if I am a traitor and a spy.
    I do not choose to discuss with them why we don’t communicate any longer, or of the stress it has brought upon my mother and my relationship. It always ends in a quarrel, and I haven’t the heart any more. My mother and father are indigent and dependent upon myself for different reasons. I no longer have the same bond with my parents and hope the best for them.

    I write this not to bash my family but to let all of you know that families are not going to be cookie cutter style but come in all forms, even broken. I don’t dislike my family but have hardened my heart against them as an attempt to make my family my first priority. You see helping my mother with my brother was taking a toll on my relationship with my husband and I can’t lose him. My mother will come to the conclusion that all her “help” is actually hurting him. Hopefully before it is too late.

  14. Amy Stallings

    For me as the younger sibling, I am, like you, always compared to my older sister. However, I want to be in the sciences and my sister wants to be in the arts. Also, dealing with attention, my sister is always the one to get praised for the things she does, even the insignificant things. for instance, even though i am a good painter and singer (as is my sister), in conversation my parents will only talk about my sisters GREAT talent or if she says something kind of obvious, they will react like she just said something profound. This is what I consider to be the youngest child syndrome.

  15. Hans

    I am the youngest child. But I’m only 15 and I know how hard being the youngest.not every parents are the same so the environment also change.i have four siblings .my brother is married and I have two sisters that makes my life miserable all the time. They never appreciate me whenever I help them and when I don’t help them, they get mad.and I ask them, why do you do this to me and they answered ‘i am older than u so l can do anything to u’…..they never respect me as who i am. They see me as a useless person. They be kind to me just when they need a favour. I don’t know to who I would let this all out because I’m always lonely. My parents busy with their gadgets and their life. Yeah,im writing this while crying because I’ve been scolded by them😭😭 . I’m even struggling on how to get my grades better than my siblings…… They will never know this feeling. they are fucking sucks

  16. IceAndFire

    I am the second eldest out of 6 children and my elder sister has always been the leader of the pack, which I hate. I get along well with my brothers, who are both younger than me and people in their own right, but my younger sisters are acting like my elder sister in some ways so we don’t always get along, but again, they are people in their own right. My elder sister has always been considered the talented, creative, smart and prettiest out of both of us. She never really lets me do anything, because she hates me being considered on my level.

  17. Alison

    I’m the youngest of 5 I’m 57 now have a sister 58 and we’ve 3 older brothers 71, 68, 65
    When we’re altogether the conversation gravitates between my sister and the 68 year old having eyes only for each other , it’s hard work trying to be heard as they all over ride each to have there say and lead conversation .. I’ve always felt the odd one out I’ve always felt different to them , they all say they miss not seeing me but when I’m with them I’m overlooked they’re not interested in anything about me or anything I have to say , when we meet individually it’s different to a certain degree … I’ve had so many psychological issues have had loads of counselling my sister was the favourite and could do no wrong I’ve always been the scapegoat for my siblings getting the blame for all there wrongdoing , it got so bad In my early 30’s I nearly ended my life pain was too overwhelming I was saved from doing so by God I gave my life to Jesus Christ I’ve never looked back you see I’ve a son whose 37 he would of been an orphan not knowing his dad … I don’t regret any of my life .. I accept that in this world parents have favourites in Gods eyes were all equal there are no favourites ! I made peace with my mum and we became very close , my dad being only child my sister has always been his favourite he admitted it to me when I confronted him in my 30’s it’s been hard trying to live up to it I don’t have to anymore , I’m an person in my own right , been having bereavement counselling last couple years (to attain having a voice that my father wouldn’t allow me to have when small) my siblings on the other hand still prefer their own agenda which unfortunately doesn’t include me so long as they see me in the flesh that’s all that matters to them , I sit silently listening to them to be included occasionally it’s a fight a battle & now with them all retired too with little me still working were poles apart , it’s all about them their lives and I’m still insignificant how sad is that makes me want to cry even now at 58 soon even with my faith I struggle Lord help me to let go

  18. [Blank]

    i am the youngest out of 4 and I have to say some of these I can relate to. I have 2 older sisters one being 20 and the other being 19 I also have a brother who is 16 and than there’s me who is 14 going on 15. in my family practically all my clothes are hand me downs as well as all the things in my room including my jewellery I also tend to be getting ignored by my family but mostly my parents. my oldest sister dropped out of high school and is now working at a café and my 19 year old sister graduated and is now working at a nursing home.

    My brother he loves sports and does like 5 different sports a year. this year he did kick boxing and hockey and a couple others. As for me I play the guitar and do lessons every week which cost around $200 every two terms so that’s $400 a year in total but unfortunately my mum is pulling me out of lessons because it cost to much I mean its not as though she buys me anything else anyways and music is my one way to just relax. my mother dedicated a sing to all four of her children so I decided to learn the song and play it at a concert that I’m performing in thinking it might mean she wont pull me out of guitar lessons so I invited her to it as well as my father and reminded them each month about it but when the night of concert came no one in my family was there to see me play and when the concert ended still no one had showed up luckily my best friends mum said I could stay the night at their place and after about two hours of the concert ending my mother texted me saying “sorry I forgot about your concert I’m here now but where are you?” I simply said “if you cared enough to listen to me I told you I would be staying some where else for the night if you hadn’t of shown up to pick me up and I was right”

    she didn’t answer to that but I left my parents to go live with my grandma in who lives next door to my best friend.

  19. Michele

    Hi Blank, I guess you googled youngest child yesterday as I did . I am a mum of 5 girls the oldest being 28 the youngest 18. In the last few years I have come to realise the best thing a parent can give their child is to teach them from a young age they are an individual and they need to have at least one thing they can claim as their own, a skill I mean. I hope some way you can continue your guitar practice. I sounds like you are very mature in making a decision to surround yourself with more supportive people. please stay safe.

  20. Anonymous

    I am the youngest sister, I have one older sister that lives with my family but my other sister is a half sister that moved to Melbourne. I’m 12 and my older sister is 13. She bullies me every single day! I really wish she would stop and whenever I tell my parents they just say ignore her 😐 How am I meant to ignore her! Anyway if she does something to me, I will try do it back to her then she just cries and tells mum and dad… Then they tell me off! My older sister acts like the younger sister though, always trying to get attention and is too scared to go anywhere alone. Sometimes we get along but then she goes and ruins it by maybe calling me a name or hurting me. I am sick of getting bullied and having nothing done about it so believe me… being the youngest child is terrible!

  21. Vianna

    Yes I im the youngest child im 10 the middle child is 13 and my oldest is 17 the middle child my older sister never stops bullying me im sick and tired and then my mom just says keep the peace and then i get in trouble for it im so sick of it and today is MY friends party and my middle sister wants to go!! and my friend is turning 10 why would a 13 year old go to a 10 year olds party shes my friend and im tired of my sister stealing my friend i talk ti my oldest sis alot cause i have nobody else to talk to my cousin is super nice and we agree to eachother for everything but thanks to our parents we barely see eachother basically only on birthdays but not every time i just wanna go alone with my friends my middle sis wants to copy me literly on everything and im been living with this for a while and being the youngest our parents never believe the youngest they know the oldest children better and my middle sis never stops calling people names and she always makes weird faces people think being the middle child stinks and youngest get all the love but tell me about it when your the youngest IT STINKS.

  22. Vianna

    SO like seriously My middle sis is so physical she always hits my mom and she got me in trouble AGAIN its like i wanna punch her in the face she just hit me and now my fingers are numb and my mom thinks i started it my middle sis always ruins my room when shes upset she loves getting revenge and she thinks better then everyone else im sick of my sister i just want her to leave and never talk to me again i really hope she moves out soon shes really stupid today i reaked out and yelled and my mom Hates yelling i swear i was about to get something to hurt my sister with its going to far and I NEED some advice people

  23. Vianna

    sorry for commenting alot theres been alot happening My middle sis keeps thinking that shes stronger and better but shes pretty weak shes a brat
    and then ahe keeps freaking out like wth like abc if she needs therapy lol and then she started getting mad at me for no reason and my mom chooses her side! i mean my middle sis is so odd you can tap her on the forehead with your pinky and shel fall over and say Oww! i mean middle children are so weird like tell me about it

  24. Vianna

    and traditons stop earlier and i have to sit in the middle seat with the car theres so much stupid stuff in my life my middle sis is also super disgusting its my dads birthday today and I KEEP GETting ignored and lol my middle sis got burned .

  25. Anonymous

    so seriously guys My middle sis is always on the tv and shes not aloud to, like never.She always gets stuff taken away ,and we had a fight she said I never behave like wth bro and then i wanted to go on the tv cause i thought , well my sister goes on it all the time so when i looked being the youngest child is the worst and i watched a vid saying older siblings are bullies my middle sis got my mom and I got in trouble seriously like thats just stupid and she says she can easily kill me but shes pretty weak and everywhere it says younger children more love but thats literly just a lie i seriously despise being the youngest i Hate my life so much like shove my face into a pillow pls

  26. Anonymous

    seriously my middle sis is so physical so she just kicked me and again my mom takes her side im like so sick of this its like I wanna kill her she wants to make something with me that was mine but I wanna make it with my other older sister whos much nicer so she got affended as usual and hurt me and my took her side

  27. Anonymous

    Now My sister always thinks she can control me and I’m sick of it too its like having 3 or more mom’s and tired of it and your the one always get in trouble for no reason ,It is very hard being the youngest and all I hear is My sister talking bad about me, All she thinks is what I do to her but not what She does to me.

  28. Anonymous

    And now everybody I know doesnt believe me and but agrees my sister and my sisters get away with everything and im sick of it

  29. Anonymous

    As the youngest the middle children are spoiled in my family I try giving her robux and the next day she just completely forgets about it and gives me an atitude and my parents just pick her side like…

  30. Sandy

    पहले प्रयोग से ही मुझे पता चल गया था कि यह उत्पाद अलग है। यह मेरी त्वचा के लिए एक शानदार उपचार है जो दृश्यमान परिणाम देता है। युवा त्वचा का रहस्य जानने के लिए यहां क्लिक करें!

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