An interesting article from the perspective of a “bachelor uncle” on the pros and cons of being the second born. Of course at the end of the article he gives his reason of why he is such an expert on the topic. His article was published 1855 in Harper’s Monthly Magazine.
Between the first baby and the second what a falling off is there, my countrywomen! Not in intrinsic value, for the second may chance to be “as pretty a piece of flesh as any in Messina,” but in the imaginary value with which it is invested by its nearest kin and more distant female belongings. The coming of the first baby in a household creates an immense sensation; that of the second is comparatively a commonplace affair. The first baby is looked for with anxiety, nursed with devotion, admired with enthusiasm, dressed with splendor, and made to live upon system. Baby Number Two is not longed for by any one, except, perhaps, the mother; is nursed as a matter of course, and admired as a matter of courtesy; is dressed in the cast-off clothes of Number One, and gets initiated into life without much ceremony or system.
Such was my reflection the other day as I watched the assembled family welcome the little stranger – the second in our household. I am but a bachelor uncle, and my opinion on such matters may be little worth, but it seemed to me that this second child was a great deal superior to the first, seeing that it was larger, quieter, and not nearly so red as his elder brother. Thereupon, retiring to my accustomed corner of the spacious family parlor, I indulged in various lucubrations apropos of babies generally, and second babies in particular, which I took care not to deliver viva voce at the time, but which I amused myself afterward by committing to paper, and which I now offer to the reader.
“A babe in the house is a well-spring of joy,” saith a modern philosopher. He speaks from experience, doubtless; and the saying shows that he hath never had misgivings about getting the daily bread for the babe, or for the mother that should give it suck. Yes, to people with health, peace, and competence, a babe in the house is a well-spring of joy; but to people who are indigent, harassed, and of doubtful health, I fear it is a well-spring of something very different.
I know I shall seem like an old brute of a bachelor to sentimental ladies, married and single, for saying such things; but this is a land of freedom of speech, where “a man may speak the thing he will.” And this I will say, on behalf of the poor babies themselves, that if they had any sense at all, they would wish they had never been born – at all events, the second would, and every succeeding baby of the aforesaid un- hopeful parentage. The first baby is generally welcome, even to parents who are doubtful about the morrow’s meal. It flings a poetry over their poverty; they look on it with unutterable love, with tender respect, as a charge committed to their trust by God himself, as a renewal of their own lives – a mystic bond of love that no time, and perhaps not even eternity itself, can untie. It is a new and wonderful thing! They can’t get familiar with the wonder of it! Its whole little being is a marvelous work; and the hearts of the parents, especially of the mother, glow with the purest ecstasy when they take it in their arms, and think: “This is my child, my own flesh and blood! From the care and the love of this creature nothing, I thank God, can set me free !” So it is with the first child. Indeed, one would think no child had ever been born into the world before, when one listens to a couple talking of their first-born during its first year. To them it is as it was to Adam and Eve when they hung together over their infant Cain: it is a new and grand experience. Thoughts of God and Paradise are in it: God is near above them smiling his blessing; the gates of Paradise are close at hand, and wide open; and the angels look forth with sympathizing eyes upon their joy. Ah! there is scarcely any joy in life equal to that joy at the birth of a first child! It never comes again: there is never another first child. Of course, parents will say and will feel that the second “is very precious;” that “indeed they love it as well as the first ;” that “each child brings its full share of love with it ;” and that True love in this differs from gold and clay-That to divide is not to take away: so that they can love a dozen as much as one. But let them compare their sensations at the first birth with their sensations at the second, and if they have any faculty of self-observance, he sure they will acknowledge a wide difference; to the love of the child itself; in the one case, is superseded the novelty of parentage.
But it by no means follows, that because the first child creates so much more vivid a sensation in the household than the second, it deserves to be loved more. As a general rule, you will find the second child, in various ways, superior to the first – often superior to all the succeeding children, where the family is numerous. The law and society give the preference to eldest sons and daughters; fairy tales invariably give the preference to the youngest. I set myself; in this particular, against both the existing social system and the wont and usage of fairyland, and think the second child is generally the best, physically, intellectually, and morally. With all due consideration for the Octavias and Septimuses, for Sextus and Quintus, and with the usual undue consideration for Mr. Primus and my Lady Una, I contend that their second brother or sister is likely to excel them all. I am not prepared to go to the stake as a martyr for this opinion, but I am prepared to wield a pen in its defense, and now add a few of the strongest arguments in its favor.
In the first place, a second child of ordinary parents, tolerably well oft benefits in infancy and childhood by the experience they gained with the first. They try experiments with the first; ask advice of doctors and old ladies; and are so anxious to help nature, that they often hinder her operations. The child is never let alone; it is always being taken notice of by some admiting nurse or relative. Now the proverb of the kitchen, that “a watched pot never boils,” applies, mutatis mutandis, to the nursery, and it may be said that “a watched baby never thrives.” But the second child profits by the experiments made with the first. The parents, having discovered that “let well alone” is a safer maxim than “trust nothing to chance” in the case of an infant, are content to let Baby Number Two lie on the floor sometimes, instead of being always in the arms; are not anxious to coax it to walk before it can get upon its little feet and stand; will allow it to ask for food, instead of forcing food down its throat; are not frightened into foolishness because it looks up to the open sky without a hat on. So, when it can run about, they do not mount guard over every motion, remove from the child’s path every obstacle, and help it to overcome every small difficulty; they have learned that all these acts of love are not so good for the child as its acquiring habits of self-help and self-reliance. If they have any faculty of prevision, they will see that a child who requires to be watched and helped all day long, will probably want watching and helping when he grows a man.
Baby Number Two escapes most of the medicines administered to Number One, and a great deal of the dressing – in which respects Baby Number Two has decidedly the advantage.
Baby Number Two escapes the evil effects of flattering tongues, which tell Number One twenty times a day that it is “the sweetest little thing that ever was seen.”
Baby Number Two escapes the evil effects of jealous suggestions, such as, “Ah! your nose is put out of joint. You’re not the only one now! The new baby is the darling now.”
Baby Number Two has the advantage of the company of an elder brother or sister he learns a thousand things more easily in consequence. His own voluntary imitation is worth all the direct teaching mothers and nurses can give.
Then, again, if Baby Number Two be followed by more of his kind, he is sure to take to them kindly; as he has never been the only one, he sees no harm in the coming of “another, and another, and another.”
It is also an advantage to him to play the protector and the teacher in his turn: he cares for the little ones, and is patient with them. I don’t deny that this advantage he shares with his socially-favored elder brother.
“But,” says some reader, and with considerable show of reason, “do not all these advantages which you attribute solely to the second son, belong also to the rest of the younger children?” I think not, and for these reasons:
After the second child is born, parents get quite familiar with the birth and infancy of their children; and whereas the first child attracts too much attention, it often happens that the third, fourth, and fifth, do not attract enough. They are cared for well, in a general way, but they do not get that particular care and attention which the eldest child got, and which was too much; nor the half of it, which was bestowed on the second child, and which was just enough. Parents with limited income – as if any incomes were unlimited-find that to educate the younger children at as great a money- cost as the two elder, is more than they can manage; and so the younger children are not so well off as the second child. Of course, I speak only of average children; here and there you have a genius born among the younger members of a numerous family – a Wellington, a Nelson, a Scott, a Napoleon; such children arrive at their destination in life, whether they be eldest, second, or younger children. The exceptions may prove the rule, but they do not weaken its truth.
In conclusion, I invite my readers to study the family history of their friends and acquaintances, and see if they do not find my assertion good. The second child is generally the best of the family. I ought to know, for I am a second child myself, and on that ground alone I began to turn my attention to the subject; and having come to the foregone conclusions, I make a point of watching the career of a second baby.