Eldest Daughter Syndrome :: What It Is and How to Treat It

Eldest Daughter Syndrome :: What It Is and How to Treat It

I’ve recently seen a slew of articles come through my social media feeds about Eldest Daughter Syndrome. Maybe you’ve heard of it, too. In case you haven’t, I’ll provide a brief recap: Eldest Daughter Syndrome is commonly described as the feelings experienced by the oldest daughters of the family, including feelings of extreme responsibility, people-pleasing, anxiety, guilt and even resentment towards siblings and parents, presumably due to the relational dynamics within the family of origin.

Eldest Daughter Syndrome is not an officially diagnosable mental health disorder, but based on conversations I’ve had with my friends and other New Orleans Mom bloggers, it is a very real experience for many women, and an unpleasant one at that.

I’m not an eldest daughter myself, but am the mother to one, and have been thinking about this pop psychology phenomenon and how to best help the big sisters out there avoid or overcome EDS. Below are a few tips that just might help:

  1. Set expectations for everyone in the family

It seems like at least part of the issue that oldest daughters struggle with is that they feel like there is an unnecessarily higher level of expectations placed on them than on their siblings, or that they are being asked to do more than those around them.

Clearly stating expectations for the entire family (or those who are old enough to comprehend) can establish a sense of structure and fairness for everyone, especially our kids who see things as black and white.  It can be helpful to show that the whole family pitches in by having younger siblings participate in household chores in ways that are age appropriate (putting away laundry and toys, for example).  Letting our girls see that they are not the only ones who are being asked to help with household chores (especially chores in the kitchen or with laundry) will give them a sense of equal opportunity expectations for everyone, even if the chores themselves are different for each person.

  1. Allow for disappointment

A big component of Eldest Daughter Syndrome is the feelings of guilt and anxiety, particularly centered around disappointing our family. Perhaps an easy way to combat this is by giving our daughters freedom to let us down. Set the expectations (as mentioned above) but don’t go ballistic if and when your girl doesn’t meet them. Let her off the hook sometimes from perfect execution of the tasks/chores/expectations and let her just be a kid. Let her room be messy on occasion. Let her let you down in some small ways, so she can learn that not meeting everyone’s expectations all the time doesn’t cause irreparable damage to relationships with those you are closest to.

  1. Have conversations around family dynamics

From personal experience, I can admit that I do have different expectations of my ten-year-old daughter than my five-year-old son. That is normal and expected, but I think as we are communicating expectations to our kids, it is important to acknowledge that these differences exist, but also why they exist. My daughter is likely to be much more understanding that I ask her to help get the car loaded in the mornings and not her brothers if I explain that this is because she’s an early bird and is ready to leave 10 minutes before schedule, while her brothers are struggling to get their shoes on with 30 seconds to spare. The more we talk about our roles and responsibilities, our goals and hopes for our family and how we can achieve those, the more bought in our whole family unit will be.

So godspeed as you raise our eldest daughters out there. If we all do our best to surround them with love and support, with encouragement and grace, and with a healthy dose of fun, we can prevent the spread of Eldest Daughter Syndrome.

Sarah Brichetto
Born and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee, Sarah moved to New Orleans in 2009 after graduating from the University of Tennessee (Go Vols!) and is proud to call New Orleans home. She is a CPA and the Finance Director at a local real estate development company. Sarah lives in the Freret neighborhood with her husband, Matt, and their three kids: Elizabeth, Paul and Isaac. You can often find them roaming the neighborhood streets, taking streetcar rides, or enjoying one of the many local parks. In her non-existent free time, Sarah loves to try the newest local restaurants, cook, read, and write.


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