By Rebecca Grandahl
For ten years, my family was made up of three little boys, one mother, and one father.
Then, when my mother was 40 years old, she unexpectedly found out she was pregnant again — this time with a girl. That little baby girl was me, the person writing this article and talking to you now.
Everyone’s childhood is different, but I can speak for myself in saying that being raised as the baby of four children with a minimum age gap of seven years was tough. At times, I was definitely grateful to be far behind, watching my oldest brother grapple with bills while I played with dolls, for example. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t shake the feeling of being left behind…and even, at times, excluded.
There are certain elements that seemed to come along with being the youngest of four and being the only girl. My brothers protected me proudly. I had three different people to look up to, and I could get away with things way more easily. My brothers paved the way so by the time I was old enough, I knew what I should and shouldn’t do. Plus, I knew how to get away with certain things, and I knew how my parents would react if I got caught.
Yet no matter how hard I tried, I could never get people to take me seriously. I’m not sure if being female was a factor — part of me believes it surely was — but from a young age, I remember wishing my mother would talk to me the same way she talked with my brother. She took every word he said with gravity, listened to him carefully, and replied in an adult tone to him. But when I spoke, I was treated like a baby. My questions and conversations were looked at as some sort of need to be satisfied, like a hungry baby in need of a bottle. My friends were referred to as “little friends” while my brother’s friends were just “friends.” I was perplexed as to why I couldn’t get through to people as an equal, so I came to the only conclusion I could think of, which was that when I was to become my brothers’ ages, I’d get taken seriously too.
Today at 20 years old, I’m still looked at as the baby. When addressed by my Aunt, I’m given the same mocking-type tone that is attributed when addressing a toddler. My hopes and dreams are “cute and nice,” but my brothers’ desires are “made of hard work and dedication.” Christmastime brings around everyone’s significant others, and while my brother’s girlfriends are showered with expensive gifts, my boyfriend is rarely acknowledged in conversation.
I don’t blame my family for this. I give them the benefit of the doubt that they don’t do this to be malicious. They have nothing to gain from that. Simply put, part of my first impression on the world was my birth order. I was female and I was a decade younger than the rest of my siblings. I spent my life trying to take control of that impression, but like concrete, it had long solidified in the psyches of my family. Like many people love to say, “you’ll always be Daddy’s little girl.” But that’s the thing. I’m not. And my family along with the rest of society, and all the other families who treat their youngest the same, need to accept that.
I can’t run away from being a woman and I can’t run away from being born last. I also can’t run away from being born ten years after everyone else. That doesn’t mean I need to be playing a never-ending game of “catch up.” That just means I have to work that much harder to get the world, and most importantly my family, to see me for what I am: a human being. I am a person who works just as hard, and someone whose aspirations and friends have no less weight than those who were here before me.
It’s not always going to be possible to end on a positive note. There are some people whose perceptions of me can’t be changed, and I can do nothing but accept that. I have to learn to reach my full potential without those people and to define my successes without them. If I upset them by throwing my innocence out the window, then that’s their problem. Because I’ve grown up like humans do, I’m chasing the world, and they can’t stop me.
So don’t let it stop you either. To put it clearly, forget birth order. Forget age. You can do anything. Numbers don’t matter as long as you can convince yourself that. If people treat you less because of how you look, or because of their most shallow and basic assumptions of you, challenge them to learn more. Challenge them to take off the mask they’ve glued to you, and look you in the eyes.