First Born Daughter Syndrome In Black Families

“Black women are superwomen,” everyone says. However, these words are more than just a catchphrase.

They form a reality that is most evident in the lived experiences of eldest daughters. Forced to mature faster than their siblings, the eldest daughters’ young innocence is too often shunned and scraped away as they are promoted to the large, towering role of deputy parents.

According to Amaka, this double standard of denying girls wholesome, well-rounded childhoods often leads to adult women suffering from burnout, resentment, and anxiety.

When this notion is swept into the African setting, where misogyny is the order of the day and the idea of women as divine nurturers persists rigidly, it becomes the ‘eldest African daughter syndrome.’

While being generous, strong, nurturing, and dutiful are not inherently bad qualities, they can be detrimental to the well-being of women who are expected to bend over backwards, devote themselves tirelessly, and bleed themselves dry while receiving little to nothing in return.

We took some time to speak to a few first born daughters and this is what they had to say:

Unathi, a 32-year-old who has four younger siblings says, “As the eldest, my parents have different expectations compared to my brother who is only two years younger than me.” She adds that her parents do not ask for financial assistance from her younger siblings even though they both have jobs.

“Parents are demanding, however how the way they raised me has helped me as an adult,” says Unathi.

She adds that she would never raise her children the same way her parents raised her.

Nelisa, a 40-year-old says, her parents were probably more strict with her because it was their first time being parents. “As girls in black households we are expected to do more house chores and take care of our younger siblings whilst you are still a child yourself,” she says.

“Looking back, they were instilling a leader in me but it took away my childhood – there were a lot of expectations even though I was a child. I was always treated as this grown person,” explains Nelisa.

She notes that she wouldn’t follow the same approach with her children as she believes they need to be given a chance to develop on their own.

Samantha, a 27-year-old says it has its ups and downs, but for the most part, she hasn’t had the greatest experience. “The constant pressure to perform at your best is crippling,” she says.

“Seeing my family proud and inspired by my efforts and achievements is great, but only for a while before they ask for the next favour,” explains Samantha.

Addressing this problem head on is an important first step towards resolving it. Recognizing and admitting the existence of a problem is the first step toward its resolution.

Black women must begin to reclaim their self-ownership and identity from society. It can be difficult to break free from a script that has been written before one is even born, but actions such as setting boundaries, teaching oneself to say no to strenuous demands, taking some time to unwind, and holding painful but necessary discussions with parents and siblings may be a good place to start.

We all deserve to live our lives on the paths that we choose for ourselves, not the paths that our parents, families, or society have chosen for us.

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