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The Not-So-Golden Challenges of Being a Young Adult “Golden Child”

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Wilfrid Laurier chapter.

I’m the “Golden Child” of my family. While no one has officially given me that title, reflecting on how my parents (and step-parents) interacted with me and my step-siblings growing up, this title is quite obvious now.

I’ll admit, my experiences are a bit different because I’ve only grown up with step-siblings. The comparisons between us were different than comparisons made between blood-related siblings. As much as my parents did their best to make my two families feel no different than a “normal” family, it was. I only saw these siblings every other week and, even then, sometimes they would go to their other parent’s house and the time between visits would be longer. However, the biggest difference I can recognize is that my parents treated me differently than my step-parents and they both treated their blood-related children differently than me. Of course, this made sense and the treatment didn’t take away from the love they showed me, but it also didn’t stop me from carrying the burden of higher expectations.

Being the “Golden Child” had its benefits when I was younger. I was allowed to do things my step-siblings couldn’t, I had access to things before them and I was rewarded with bigger “prizes” (for lack of a better word) for my accomplishments. Now, to my own credit, a huge reason for this was because I tried really hard.

I’ve always been a people pleaser and validation is so important to me; and who better to get that from than my parents? So, of course, I pushed myself to work really hard, get the grades I knew would make them proud and stay far away from trouble. From a young age, I became so worried I’d let my parents down and it stopped me from doing anything too bad. I had my moments, like any kid did, but I never really fell off the wagon and I was quick to make up for my mistakes. Thus, the “Golden Child” title was achieved.

Grade 11 was a big eye-opening moment for me in noticing how the expectations were different. I’d gotten a 62% overall in math (my first mark below 75%) and I called my mom in tears, heartbroken because I felt like I’d let everyone down. On the bus ride home, I quickly regained my cool. I knew I got some of the best marks between my two step-siblings, so why was I so devastated? I didn’t really recognize what that feeling I had on that bus ride was until the height of the COVID lockdown when I was 17/18 years old. My older step-sister had moved out for school, my younger step-brother was spending a lot of time at his dad’s house and I had a lot of time to reflect.

I’ve been, and I think I always will be, held to a much higher standard than any of my step-siblings. Not because I was better than them, but because my parents had seen what I was capable of in middle school, in high school, in my first year of university and in my second year. As much as I liked feeling special when I was younger (who didn’t like competing with their siblings), the meaning of my “Golden Child” status has changed significantly now that I’m older.

At 20, the “Golden Child” status doesn’t allow me to get ice cream and Starbucks drinks when I do something good (even though I’d much prefer that). So, let’s explore some of my least favourite expectations that come with being a young adult “Golden Child.”

1. Coming Home/Being Around

While I know both sets of parents would love it if their respective step-child came around for family dinners or short visits, there’s never an expectation for them, not like there is for me. My step-siblings seem to have a permanent “maybe” beside their name, while mine is always “yes.” There’s never any hesitation that I’ll be around, which means I often move my schedule around so I know I’m available. I know that this logic is not shared with my step-siblings.

2. Calling/Texting the Grandparents

I know I talk to my grandparents (and step-grandparents) more than any of the grandchildren. While I have a very close bond with my Grammy and have never felt pressure to talk to her, I know there’s this secret expectation (hope might actually be a better word) that I’m going to keep in contact with all the grandparents. I’ve been told by these grandparents and my parents that I’m usually the only one texting or calling, and the pressure has been put on me specifically to keep this up.

3. Doing Well in School

While I know this is usually every parent’s hope for their child, it’s always felt like the pressure has only been on me. It has always been known that “Abby is going to get good grades,” “Abby is going to get into university,” “Abby is going to finish school,” and the latest addition, “Abby is going to continue her education after university.” I know this is probably because I keep my parents in the loop with my schoolwork more than my step-siblings have, but the pressure has always felt heavier on me. I’ve never felt like I was allowed to fail without feeling intense guilt about that failure.

4. Doing Well in Life

This is something I’ve just started talking to my parents about as I get closer to graduating and starting my adult life. I’ve always felt intense pressure to be on the right track in life. My parents have started talking to me about the things we’re going to do when I’m older. All the house parties I’ll have in my own house, the trips we’ll take with my future kids, the wedding I should have (small wedding or eloping seems to be the general consensus between them all) and how they’ll interact with my future partner. While my life isn’t planned out, I feel like I have a guideline to follow, and I have this need to meet these future standards. The pressure comes from these conversations being centred around my future and only my future. It’s not “when you and your step-sibling are each married and have your own houses,” it’s always just me.

I love my parents, I really do, and I’m so grateful for the childhood they gave me and the love they’ve always shown me. But I’ve been put on a pedestal my whole life, and the older I get, the more afraid I am to slip off that pedestal. I’m sure, to a lot of people, this comes across as very whiny and sometimes it sounds a bit like that to me, too… but I’m sure there are some people out there looking for validation for this feeling and that’s what I’m hoping to give.

Abigael Chalmers

Wilfrid Laurier '25

Hi! My name is Abby Chalmers (she/her) and I'm a writer for Her Campus WLU. I'm a third-year student at Wilfrid Laurier, majoring in Communication Studies. I enjoy writing about life and love sharing my interests and opinions with others! When I'm not writing, you can most likely find me creating yet another Pinterest board!