Chapter OneWelcome Home
Good for you. You did it.
You're a parent! Maybe it happened through birth.
Perhaps it was through adoption. But the agony of waiting
through hours of labor or months of paperwork has finally
culminated in you getting to meet your special treasure
face-to-face. And now you're bringing that wonderful,
incredible child home with you!
All sorts of emotions are flooding through you-a mixture
of joy, wonder, and if you're smart, most likely a little
healthy fear too. You wonder, What kind of parent will I be?
What will this child be like?
If you birthed this child, you went to Lamaze class, wearing
your sweats, carrying your pillows, and watching as your
classmates' bellies bloated to ever-increasing proportions and
then dropped with the weight of a bowling ball. You learned
how to breathe in different patterns during those week-day-evening
classes, while on the weekends you shopped in
baby stores for your first crib, changing table, and baby
clothes. You've scoured several books to find just the right
name, insisting that no child of yours will ever be called
Buford or Betty.
You suffered through months of restless, sleepless, and
seemingly eternal nights. You might have enjoyed the extra
calories you could take in, but the sickness, nausea, backache,
and swollen ankles you could have done without.
When the day finally came, you had five people in one
small room, all telling you what to do. They all seemed so
sure of themselves and, to be fair, encouraging of you. But it
didn't take long for you to realize that you were the only one
in the room who was in true pain.
Before you had the Epidural, you grabbed and clenched
your fists, you thought words you never thought you would
think, your throat was as dry as a desert, and all they would
give you were those pitiful little ice chips, parceled out as if
they cost a million dollars apiece-and yes, I know you were
pushing as hard as you could. (I also happen to know that
you wanted to punch out three or four people in the room.)
But as that special little gift from God worked her way
down your birth canal and suddenly popped her head out,
and those tiny shoulders worked their way through your
body, you finally heard the delightful cry of your newborn.
The doctor asked your husband if he'd like to cut the umbilical
cord. A quick glance at your husband's queasy complexion
told you he was in no shape to do anything.
And when that twenty-inch child was laid upon your
breast, you buried your chin into your chest to get as good a
look as possible at this new miracle, saying to yourself, She's
so beautiful. I can't believe she's mine.
Or perhaps you became a parent through adoption. You
spent months or years researching just the right people who
could help you find "the child of your heart." You talked with
multiple agencies, attorneys, agonized over how to become a
parent, wondered if you would ever become a parent, investigated
domestic and international routes, and, in hope,
waded through enough paperwork to make you completely
dizzy. If you had to travel internationally, you had doctor
checkups too-and more painful shots than you want to
Then all the feverish activity stopped, and the real waiting
began. Even though you weren't physically pregnant, you
were emotionally pregnant-waiting with longing for
anywhere from months to years for your child. Perhaps you
sat in a rocker, hand-stitching a baby blanket or dreaming
your way through a baby-name book. Or perhaps you held
off, worried that your heart would break if you didn't get a
child. And then you got "the call" or "that first sweet
picture." And you fell in love with that child from the first
instant. Your world spun into the feverish activity. You did
what you didn't dare to do before: bought a crib, decorated a
baby's room, packed a bag with diapers, lotions, and all the
When you saw your child's face for the first time, you saw
the realization of years of hopes, the joy after the pain of
infertility or miscarriage. And your awe in holding that child
was mixed with a pang of pain-knowing someone else's
sacrifice to bring this child into your life. As you headed
home, you vowed to be the absolute best parent you could
be for this truly special child.
So, whether through birth or chosen through adoption,
your firstborn has come into this life with a great entrée.
Now the question is, what are you going to do with her?
WHAT HAVE WE DONE?
Remember: This isn't just an ordinary kid that you've
brought home. She's a firstborn. It's not that subsequent
children in your family will be chopped liver, but firstborns
are a special breed (and, after all, the subject of this book!).
Although you may not be able to believe it looking at your
tiny bundle of little toes and miniature fingers, nestled deep
inside that baby blanket is a little Judge Judy or Judge
Firstborns have a knack at excelling. You already know
plenty of them. You've seen them in the movies or on television-Sharon
Stone, Michelle Pfeiffer, Nicole Kidman,
Sandra Bullock, Harrison Ford, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Cosby.
They're all firstborns. You've read about them in your
history books-George Washington, Jimmy Carter, Harry
Truman, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and a whole host of
other presidents. You've seen them excel in business (it
seems that just about every CEO is a firstborn), and you've
probably read some of their books-those of Dr. James
Dobson (actually, since he's an only child, we'll call him a
super firstborn!), Dr. D. James Kennedy, and William Shakespeare,
to name just a few.
Firstborns are the generals of our world. Frequently exacting,
very rule-conscious, normally conservative, your first-born
will probably be your most reliable child, if you have
more than one child. The chances of him or her being an
astronaut, engineer, or CPA are higher than you can imagine.
Despite your best efforts, this child will get more individual
attention from you than any other children who might join
your family down the road. For your part, you'll probably
have higher expectations for this child than all of your other
children combined (though I hope this book will challenge
your thinking in that area). Why will all this be so? Think
about it-this child is now your only child. She doesn't have
to wait in front of the television while you fix dinner for
another child. For one year, two years, three years, or
maybe even four years (or a lifetime, if this firstborn is your
only child), this baby will have you all to herself. Everything
she does will be new to both of you. You'll clap for her first
steps, coo over her first spit-up, and probably take pictures of
her first bath. Her "baby book" will bulge with photographs,
mementos, and keepsakes.
Down the road, if you do have more than one child, when
the last child spits up, you'll probably either wait until
bedtime to clean the shirt or ask your firstborn to grab a
washcloth. When the middle child starts walking, you may
mention it to your husband when he gets home from work,
but other than that, you may think, Yeah, it's about that time.
You'll probably buy a baby book for the middle child, but
when he turns five you'll feel guilty for how empty and slim it
is, compared to the firstborn's book.
Why is this? Because you've already seen everything a
baby can do one, two, or three times before!
The extra attention a firstborn receives gives him a "performer's"
mentality. He learns early on that he's there to
meet expectations. This has the negative effect of creating
some anxiety but the positive effect of making him really
want to please you by being outstanding. Consequently, he'll
wear responsibility and leadership like a pair of comfortable
So take heart-you've got an opportunity to raise a child
who's a great leader and contributor. I've raised three
firstborns, so I know what I'm talking about.
LIFE WITH A FIRSTBORN
"Now Dr. Leman," some of you might be saying, "how can
anyone have three firstborns?"
Our true firstborn, Holly, came before all the other kids.
Our second "firstborn," Kevin, was actually our third child,
but as the first and only male he has taken on many firstborn
characteristics. And our youngest surprise child, Lauren, is
six years younger than her nearest sibling making her, in
effect, a firstborn in many ways. After all, her siblings were
all in school by the time she was born, so she has received
from us all the extra attention a firstborn would receive.
They want to achieve.
Here's what life is like with a firstborn. I'll use Lauren as an
example, since Holly is now thirty years old and out on her
Just after Easter break, I was taking Lauren, an extremely
conscientious student, to her third-grade class. Lauren,
believe it or not, was studying Latin. Even though as a
psychologist I've spent a good bit of my life studying human
nature, I have to confess that I never anticipated driving my
eight-year-old daughter to school while she read Latin in the
Curious that Lauren was working so hard on the first day
after a vacation, I asked, "Do you have a test in Latin
"No," Lauren said, "I'm just reviewing my verbs."
As a lastborn, the only time I "reviewed" my verbs was
when the neighborhood tough guy, Wooly Bully Wayne,
used to teach me dirty words!
That's the positive side of a firstborn-they really do want
to achieve. But that drive to achieve can have a negative side
too. One semester Lauren's grades suddenly dropped from
an A to a C. There's not a C thing I can think of about
Lauren, so my wife, Sande, and I immediately went down to
the school to see if we could find out what was going on.
As we sat down with Lauren's teacher, she explained that
the big thing at Lauren's table was who gets done first. The
first student to complete an assignment carries a great deal
of clout in Lauren's peer group. Well, Lauren, by her nature,
is not a hurry-up kind of a person. She can do A-level work,
but not if she rushes. I remember several instances when
Lauren would work on a homemade birthday card for three
days or even a week; she doesn't just grind them out in five
minutes like so many kids do. But a firstborn will usually rise
to any challenge, particularly one that builds a sense of
esteem and accomplishment, so Lauren sacrificed quality for
speed-to become an integral part of a peer group.
They need to learn that failure is a part of life.
The normal firstborn wants to excel. Adding to this already
inherent desire are overblown parental expectations-even
more so because this is a first child. Many parents today
attempt to build their own self-esteem by pushing their children
to excel at everything. They view second place as losing
out to first place, rather than being well above average,
which is quite wonderful in itself. Firstborns quickly pick up
this mentality and run with it; they are the family's flag bearers.
However, as you'll see later, I believe the home ought to
be a place where kids learn to fail, because failure is a part of
life. It isn't something to be feared; it's something you learn
from. And then you pick yourself up and go on. But you'll probably
have a harder time putting that philosophy into practice
with your firstborn than you will with any later children.
They are examples for later (if any) siblings.
There's yet another element that makes firstborns so different
from later children. Because your firstborn is older, his
younger siblings will look up to him with awe. As the baby of
my family, I wanted to do everything my older brother did.
He was my biggest hero, and I wanted to be just like him.
The oldest-born child is usually the strongest, smartest,
and biggest in the family. If he has several younger siblings,
by the time they catch up to him, he's already moved out of
That's all the more reason to raise your firstborn right. If
your younger children look up to him, you want him to set a
good example. Though it's likely that at least one of the
younger siblings will eventually rebel against his example,
you still want the example to be there.
Even though I tell first-time parents all this information in
my seminars and counseling practice, many still fall into the
first-time-parent syndrome. And so will you. My wife,
Sande, and I did too. You probably will expect too much
from your firstborn. You will be stricter with him than with
any of your other children. You will follow his progress more
closely than all of your other children combined. More likely
than not, however, this child will ultimately reward you for
GET READY FOR THE TINY TYRANT!
Two months ago, it was just you, if you're a single parent, or
you and your husband, if you're married.
If you're a single parent, you're used to making decisions
on your own-getting advice from others and then making
the final call. If you're married, formally or informally, you
two have worked out a compromise for who has what kind of
power and influence in your family decisions. Like most
couples, you've probably grown fairly comfortable with this
arrangement. The lines have been drawn, both of you
understand how it works, and you've reached a relative state
All that is about to change.
She'll take over your life.
This child, as innocent as she seems, and as docile as she
appears, will immediately begin to formulate a game plan to
completely take over your life, your home, your checkbook,
and every second of your day. I'm not kidding you, and I'm
not exaggerating. It's human nature. Your child is going to
figure out how to manipulate you. Consciously or unconsciously,
she's going to explore what buttons need to be
pushed in order to get you to do what she wants you to do.
Are you motivated by fear? She'll learn to prey on that.
Do you give in to relentless whining? She'll figure that one
out soon enough. Are you persuaded by hostile rebellion? If
so, she'll be all over you.
She'll have a strong sense of order.
You'll always have a power struggle with this child. By
nature, first children tend to be a very meticulous breed.
Holly wouldn't accept it when I told her, "Oh, honey, we'll
be leaving around nine o'clock." If I tried that, she'd say,
"But how long after nine o'clock? Or are we leaving before
nine o'clock? What do you mean 'around nine o'clock?'"
I had to learn to say, "Holly, we're going to leave at
And at 9:06, I'd get a firm reminder: "Dad, we're running
Firstborns have a need for order. They like to be in charge,
and for good reason: They usually are!
She'll lead the pack and figure everything out.
It's like this. I have a friend who runs road races and marathons.