Recently, I figured out the “eldest daughter trope” to its fullest extent. I had always felt the stereotypical description of the term but never to this degree. My father had a health scare and ended up needing heart surgery. Being that my parents are divorced and I was the oldest child and the only daughter, my phone was blowing up with messages from extended family members telling me “it is my responsibility and no one else’s” to take care of my dad. And I thought that way too. I called my advisors and told them I was taking a semester off. I was over-exhausting myself trying to please people who thought they had any say in my life. I went to tell my dad that I was taking a semester off to be with him and he sat up in the dimly lit hospital room and said, “Are you stupid? You worked so hard and now you are jeopardizing your entire academic career.”
Being that we are Indian I took this as a typical immigrant dad saying but I began to think more and more about it and he was right. I was so obsessed with pleasing everyone because they thought they were doing what was “best for me.” Because I was the oldest daughter it fell upon me to drop everything I was doing to assume all responsibilities of my family even though I have siblings who are more than capable.
I know this can be seen as a burden of being the eldest child but I use the term daughter specifically because it was me who had to quit school and stay home and not my brother. The domestic responsibility to stay home was placed upon me. And through all of this worry, stress, and anxiety of my father being in the hospital, I had to have a smile on my face and be strong for everyone else because “that’s just what the eldest daughter does.” I had to be there for everyone else and no one was there for me. The only person I would have turned to was my dad but obviously I could not.
I was also called “selfish” for my decision to go back to school. Because I refused to obey “my duty” I was made to feel guilty. The point of me sharing my experience is to shed light on the many eldest daughters who go through this in silence. Those who carry siblings, parents, or even grandparents on their shoulders and feel like they can’t breathe. Those who had to grow up too fast and then get told to grow up in their early 20s when they were not given a childhood in the first place. I know these feelings all too well and none of you are alone.