Youngest Kids Don't Get Enough Credit

The other day my oldest informed me that he had outgrown his tennis shoes and needed another pair. He was desperately trying to convince me that he needed an expensive pair of Air Jordans. My youngest was standing nearby and sweetly informed us that the only pair of shoes he owns is an old ratty pair of Nikes that has been handed down three times.

It broke my heart a little.

He wasn’t complaining — he’s just simply resigned himself to the fact that my oldest always gets shiny brand-new stuff, meanwhile he is relegated to the leftovers his two older brothers have discarded. All three of my kids lament their birth order and believe they each somehow got the short end of the stick. I do my best to assure them that there are pros and cons to every slot. But our interaction about the fancy new shoes got me thinking about the plight of the youngest child.

People often assume that the “baby of the family” is spoiled. And let’s be fair here: Being the youngest does mean a lot of sacrifices and experiencing somewhat of a different — not necessarily better or worse, just different — childhood than older siblings. I can totally see how frustrating that would be.

For us, the stereotype about the baby not having (ironically) a baby book is true. Dutifully documenting everything and taking a bazillion photos has waned over the years; our youngest’s baby book is barely filled out. I could tell you the time, date, and location of all the mundane milestones (hello, eating solid foods for the first time) of my oldest. Meanwhile, I’m just proud that my youngest was clean, fed, and wearing clothes half the time.

Our youngest is so easy-going and well-behaved that I’m convinced he is the spawn of two Care Bears. He practically requires no parenting at all, which is good, because we are so busy with the other two, he often gets the shaft on attention. After years of being dragged to his brothers’ sporting events, it finally dawned on me that he might like to be on a team of his own.

Being the youngest and smallest — therefore the most vulnerable — he is an easy target for big brothers to pick on. Plus, it feels like the older two get more advantages than him. “Why do they get to stay up late?” our youngest said to me the other night as his brothers were playing in the other room while he had an early bedtime. “It’s just not fair!”

It’s not all bad, of course. My oldest kids will tell you that our youngest is, in fact, spoiled. They’re not wrong. I truly love all my kids equally and I try my hardest to parent them the same, but I do know I’m guilty of, ahem, indulging him in certain ways.

I tend to infantilize him a bit more. With the other two, I knew there would be another baby, and that it wasn’t my last chance to do all baby things. I think I am hyper aware that this is my last baby, our last set of firsts, so I’m trying to milk every last bit of this “baby-ness” that I can.

I am a little less strict with the baby and let more slide with him than the other two. It’s just that I’m tired. So. Effing. Exhausted. I have less energy to micromanage things like I did previously. Plus, I have loosened up a little over the years. Or maybe I’ve given up? Some days I can’t tell. Maybe a little of both.

Even though he was the last to join our family, our youngest is never — not for a single second — last in our hearts. A mother’s love doesn’t work that way. I can only hope his experience as the youngest member of this wild herd will make him adaptable and independent and creates a resilience and determination that he would not have otherwise had. I hope he always stands up for himself while retaining that inherent sweetness he possesses. I hope he demands respect and never settles for less than he deserves. Which reminds me, I definitely need to buy him some new shoes… and work on that baby book.

Christina Crawford is a Dallas-based writer, guacamole enthusiast, and mom to three feral little boys. She spends her days putting out fires (actual and metaphorical) and trying to keep goldfish alive. Her words have appeared in Newsweek, HuffPost, Health Magazine, Parents, Scary Mommy, Today Show Parents, and more. You can follow along on Twitter where she writes (questionably) funny anecdotes about her life at @Xtina_Crawford

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