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How Eldest Daughters Can Start Putting Themselves First — Now

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How Eldest Daughters Can Start Putting Themselves First — Now 

If you’re always the one reminding your siblings to get your parents a gift or coordinating family get-togethers, you may be suffering from eldest daughter syndrome. While there isn’t extensive research on the health effects of this “syndrome,” that’s not stopping eldest daughters from sharing their stress from overachievement, fear of failure, and burnout on social media. So what’s a tired, big sister to do?  

First, find out how you got here

Your birth order doesn’t determine who you become but can help shape your identity, says Susan McHale, a former professor at Penn State. Being the firstborn means getting extra attention and pressure to fulfill parents' expectations.

Being female adds another layer. Daughters take on more of the "caregiving and the emotional work" than sons, says McHale. This often continues as they become "active agents within family systems," such as caring for aging parents, says Alison Alford, a clinical associate professor at Baylor University.

But it’s not all bad

Some eldest sisters come away from the experience with stronger leadership skills and a sense of purpose. Research also shows that when family members value their unit above themselves, it can lead to some health benefits. “Participating in family relationships is incredibly rewarding,” says Alford. 

Your move

If you’re struggling, reflect on how your familial role makes you feel. Depending on your answers, you may want to… 

1. Set boundaries. If you're draining yourself for your family's needs, Alford says to be clear about what you will and won't do moving forward.

2. Learn to let go. If you often seek control, the responsibility may fall on you to loosen your grip. Your siblings might surprise you.

3. Ask for validation. People just want to be noticed and valued, says Alford. If that resonates, try gently asking your family for more recognition.

4. Break the cycle. If you have or are considering kids, think about how you can avoid putting them into boxes. Don't gender their chores, and give them time to feel like a kid.

Read more about eldest daughter syndrome and how to navigate it

ask an expert


We asked you to vote on a question you’d like answered. The winner was:

What are some signs I should try a different birth control method?


Colleen Denny, MD

Colleen Denny, MD

Director of family planning at NYU Langone Hospital—Brooklyn.

“[Listen] to your symptoms and your reaction to birth control. Some people feel like they have more nausea. Sometimes breast tenderness can be an issue. The pattern of their periods, when they're using birth control, might be a reason to switch. 

“You should stop birth control if you have a medical reason. There are people who have issues with their blood pressure, people who have problems with clotting diseases, people who have migraine headaches, or smokers in their late 30s or beyond [who shouldn’t] take birth control containing estrogen

“If for any reason [your birth control method is] just not fitting with your life or your preferences or [is causing] symptoms, you shouldn't feel like that's the end of the road. We have so many types of modern birth control.”

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. You can read the full story here.

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