Home Movies Reveal Second Child Woes

After a full day of watching home movies of a decade of my children’s lives, I’ve come away with more than I expected. For one, my husband needs some new clothes. He kept saying, “I still have that shirt” or even, “Look, I’m wearing that one.” I’ve gone through a dozen wardrobes in a decade. For another, I began to see that no matter my efforts, second children simply don’t get all the fuss that first kids do.

After three videos of her brother, my patient daughter wondered when she would make an appearance. Only one more videotape and then the next two were of her, my husband informed her. “What? There are FOUR of him and only TWO of me?” she cried.

My heart sank. It was true. There had been a lot of video of my son. Too many minutes of us anxious new parents hovering and waiting for a smile, a laugh, any sign of fun in our upside-down world. We used that video camera for proof that we weren’t just seeing things in the bleary-eyed haze of sleeplessness. Our new tiny sweetheart by day, insomniac-bloodcurdling-screamer by night did in fact smile, coo, show some sign that he liked us. We needed to record it in case he never did it again.

And so for every new skill, we readied our camera and waited. Ten minutes of video of a staring baby, five minutes of him teetering on wambly legs—not good drama. We realized this as time went on. We got better. But still every other day our son did something cute, like “reading” a book. How could we forget we had recorded that three times before?

When my daughter came along, scenes of her nearly always include big brother. We didn’t hover over her crib waiting for a coo or a gassy smirk. As the parents of two small children, we were quick and to the point.

We created second child syndrome without even realizing it. To our daughter’s eyes, it may look as if our son steals the show in every scene. He’s always there. But the truth is, we never had to wait as long for her smiles or giggles. We didn’t have to choreograph a show with baby talk and rattles to get a second of cute out of her like we did for him. Her brother did all the work for us. We just hit record and watched the action unfold. He could throw a ball in the air and she acted like Elmo had just eaten a banana while standing on his head. She laughed so hard she got hiccups, every single time. At five months old, this was their daily routine.

Our videos revealed that my son had my daughter’s white wicker furniture first, the shelf that hangs in her room, and the plastic Kewpie dolls that were mine as a child. “Why does he have my dresser?”

kewpie dolls

A hand-me-down from Mom to son to sister. She doesn’t know it yet, but Mom is sentimental.

I’m a second child. I know the feeling. Everything looks different when you are always second in line, always waiting your turn, waiting to be old enough. You want videos featuring just you with the same ten minutes of parental torture. You want everything to be the exact same. You keep score even if your parents don’t.

As a survivor of second childhood, I know now things aren’t always what they seem. When I got older, I knew my parents loved me and my sister just like I knew it was possible for me to love both of my parents. That was all I needed to know. Now that I’m a parent, I know what it’s like to feel so full of love in every way possible for two completely different beings. No amount of video or photos can quantify that. But I still make sure her firsts are just as important. I still completed her baby book and wrote down every date.

I don’t want second child syndrome to be part of my daughter’s life, but I know no matter what I do, it will. For now, I hope she’ll be happy with the discovery of two more videotapes…of her. Whew.

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41 Comments

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41 responses to “Home Movies Reveal Second Child Woes

  1. I know the feeling. I had five older brothers. We have loads of old home movies starring them, and maybe five minutes of footage of me (and almost none of my baby brother!)

    It’s only natural to record every waking moment of your first child, I suppose. When the next one comes along, it gets less and less. And that second child will never know the feeling of being the star of the show like the firstborn. But, they at least, have the joy of having an older sibling to play with all the time. My mom was an only child and so I try not to ever complain about sharing the spotlight with my brothers.

    • Yes, I’m glad on both counts! I could never keep up with sharing myself and trying to capture memories for more than two kids. And my husband is an only child and had no one to play with. While watching the videos, that was one thing that was evident. My kids spent every second together and they liked it and I have proof!

  2. I can sooo relate. I am the youngerst of 4 boys. The most famous picture of the children is probably of the three of them. And movies – forget about it. Who had time for movies at that point?
    I try to be sensitive my younger boy but I have a feeling he would say (when he is in the therapist’s office at some point in his life) that he feels very much like the 2nd child.

    • We’ve realized that we have one video left and it must cover five years. Yikes. At some point I stopped taping their cute day-to-day stuff. I need to get it out again. Even little snippets are fun to watch.

      Growing up I began to realize that I didn’t have it so bad when I realized that my sister was jealous of me too. I figured we must be even. 😉

      • We all get busy and it’s hard to keep up with everything. But like you said, each position in the family has it’s advantages.

      • Yeah, good intentions. 😉 My daughter’s scrapbook is hiding half complete in my closet. I finished my son’s.

        My sister always said I was spoiled because I was the baby. Or she’d get mad because I didn’t have to wait as long as she did to do things, like get my ears pierced. My son notices things like that. If he waited until 9 years old, she had better wait too!

  3. Is it just me, or are those Kewpie dolls up to something?

  4. I held my breath reading this. I am a second child and I promised myself I wouldn’t do this to our second. But I have. We have 8X10 framed pics of our older daughter all over the house and exactly two of our younger. I’ll get a good cry in before I go to Michael’s and buy out their frame department for number 2. Wonderful post!

    • I swear it must even out somehow. I bet I have more pictures of my daughter because my son always ducks out of the shot. He went through quite a phase of not wanting his picture taken. I told him to remember it when he complained that there were more pictures of her. 😉

  5. Our kids are really far apart in age so our youngest seems to get “better” than our other two because she came at a time when we had more money, and were more mature. Plus, they are adopted, and she came to us when she was younger. Sometimes, in situations of photos or memories or movies, our situation is in total reverse. “why did you do that with her? you never did that with us.”

  6. I’m the youngest of three girls. I’ve seen less than a dozen pictures of me in my childhood, whereas my oldest sister has three full photo albums and my middle sister has two. I think this is one reasons we really only want one. We take pictures and video of Doodle doing *everything* and we shower him with as much fun and affection as we can. I want him to have the memories (and proof of those memories) of having fun and his parents loving him to pieces like I never really had. Sure, my parents loved me, but I spent every second with my two older sisters who I was too young to play with, that’s all I remember.

    • I don’t have a ton of pictures of me either. I think some of it was the time. Neither of my kids can complain about that. We must have thousands! I may have messed up in the video department, but I did OK with photos.

  7. no matter what you do, it’ll be something. we do the best we can, right? i’ve got 3 boys and i’ve worried about each one’s role a lot, but you get what you get and there’s a benefit to each position. but of course, i’m a first born. 😉

  8. Wow!! Those cewpie dolls are amazing! Color me envious!

  9. As she gets older, she may be thankful for a little less attention. Although, I guess I shouldn’t talk. I was a first child, and my daughter is an only.

    • I don’t know. Both of my kids seem to thrive on it. Some days I can’t wait for teenage years and closed doors. 😉 It won’t matter. They’ll still tell me what I did wrong. Isn’t that what we all did, regardless of birth order?

  10. Glad you found those other videos!

  11. This is so true, and only worse for my deprived third child!!!

  12. I’m the fifth of five kids. And while there are probably a total of 10 pictures of me and a zillion of my eldest sister as a kid, I got the best end of the deal. I learned from their mistakes and they tested my parents so I didn’t have to. That way I got to be the perfect child. Fair is fair.

  13. I just had a discussion with my youngest about this same topic! He didn’t understand why his brother has three edited, with photos, home videos and he only has one. Sigh. If only there was more time in the day!

    • So we’ll just have to keep taking pictures and videos and get to editing and making the albums one day. At least the materials will be there, if not the presentation! I am determined to even things out as much as I can even though playing catch-up is hard.

  14. i am a second child. i have a great older sister who paved the way and i learned from her mistakes (we were different personality-wise anyway). i have two girls and a boy and my middle child, daughter, is in a tough spot, but she’s the best at telling us exactly what she needs. i read somewhere that #2 kids grow up balanced–or at least i’d like to think so ; ) family dynamics are so interesting.

  15. I’m the favorite now, and that’s really all that matters. (Don’t tell my brothers and sister that little nugget, m’kay?). I too was second. My kids for the first time got to see photos of me as a baby. A handfull of them were in my brother’s box as he was digitizing. So few of me…fewer still of my little sis.

    Your comment about your husband’s never-changing wardrobe made me remember something: my hubby wore the same shirt when we met as when he held all four of our babies for the first time. I made him retire it then, at that last birth so the cloth would still be good enough to sew into a memory quilt for each of them later. Love that shirt.h

    It’s not just hubbies either. It takes me 8 or more years to retire a favorite article of clothing!

    • Oh yes. My husband still has this one T-shirt from when we were dating. He used to look really good in it. Now I look at the faded blue, holes, and think, “He used to look really good in that shirt.”

      With two kids, I’ve gone up and down several sizes in ten years. Nothing fit after each child. Everything shifted! I still have a couple of old things, but surely I can’t wear them. He has trunks of T-shirts. And he jokes about my shoes. 😉

  16. lisa

    I can relate. I’m a second child but I still waited until my second offspring was three before I bought her “first” Christmas ornament. Luckily people still hock the Hallmark ornaments from 2008 on e-bay!

    • And it’s not like she’d know about that first ornament for many years anyway, right? Sometimes we just know how to manage our time better the second time around. We know as long as we get it done by the time they start keeping score, we’re OK. We like to take risks. 😉

  17. Loved it! I feel this way many times in regards to my middle daughter…

  18. I was one of the middle children with no baby book, very few pictures, etc.It bothered me enough that ALL my children (4) have baby books, whole photo albums of their first year … and almost no videos of everyone. But now its the older ones crying, “Foul”. Why? We’re experienced (read tired and older) and slightly financially better off parents now, so we are different parents to the younger than the older. So we get the “I didn’t get to have a cell phone until I was 17” (“Yes, because that’s when they became affordable), “You never would have let me …….” (True but now we know it would have been okay). There are as many ways to be unfair as there are children to watch for it.

    • It’s true. Kids will always find a way to point out how they were wronged. So I can go to great lengths to be careful and they’ll still find something. In other words, I shouldn’t sweat it!

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