Whenever I have to answer the question, “Tell me about yourself,” one of the first things out of my mouth is that I’m the oldest of four kids. This info does more than tell someone about my family; birth order plays a role in forming our personalities. But being the oldest can also lead to conflicting feelings that other family members may not understand. Maybe you held emotional weight as a kid that wasn’t fair for someone so young to carry, and now you have trouble setting healthy boundaries. Maybe you were subject to higher standards than the rest of your siblings, and now you deal with the pressure to be perfect all the time. Though not an official medical term, “Eldest Daughter Syndrome” describes the expectations that some women face as the oldest child, as well as the effects they’ve dealt with as adults.
As the phrase began gaining traction on social media, I began to notice how some of my more anxious behaviors might be connected to the fact that I’m the eldest daughter. In particular, I realized that a lot of important relationships in my life have been affected by it. To unpack some of these dynamics, I sat down with Sherri Lu, the founder of the Eldest Daughter Club, because the space she has provided me for healing, as well as self-discovery, has truly been transformative, and I wanted to dive deeper. While not all of the quirks I experience are strictly caused by being the eldest, there are certain things that I feel on a deeper level because of this position I’m in—and I’m not alone.
MEET THE EXPERT
Founder of Eldest Daughter Club
Whether you’re following on Instagram, TikTok, or X (or all three), Eldest Daughter Club, created by Sherri Lu, is the safe space eldest daughters deserve. Lu’s content ranges from community polls to healing reminders to skits about stereotypical eldest daughter syndrome behaviors. She hosts in-person meetups and virtual events and has even created an unofficial eldest daughter holiday (August 26, in case you were curious).
No matter how you grew up or what experiences you’ve encountered, the Eldest Daughter Club is a place for all big sisters to learn more about themselves, laugh about their quirks, and heal.
How Eldest Daughter Syndrome Affects My Relationships to this Day
I act as a “third parent” to my siblings—even though nobody asked me to
I remember being so excited the first time my parents went out on a dinner date and trusted me to babysit my siblings. Having that extra responsibility made me feel so much older than I was, but as the years passed, my role as an occasional babysitter somehow turned into me feeling like I was my siblings’ third parent. I put myself in the middle of a lot of family arguments, but I didn’t realize that until I was in my 20s and noticed that it had led to unnecessary conflict between my siblings and me. What stung me the most, though, was that nobody asked me to get in the middle—I had brought it upon myself.
Eldest daughters assuming a parental role is a common occurrence, whether it’s one we take on ourselves or it’s expressly placed on us. “Perhaps when our siblings were younger, it was expected for us to take care of everything,” Lu says. “But now that we’re older and our siblings can take care of themselves—or maybe we don’t even live with our families anymore—we continue in assuming that role.”
Lu’s advice for any eldest daughter in this situation is to think about why you take on this extra responsibility and consider how you feel when you do. “There’s no right or wrong way to be a big sister. But the most important thing is choice. If you feel very proud of caring for your siblings, all power to you. But if you don’t want to do those things, it’s also totally OK to say no.”
I have trouble asking for help
When I was in school, I was more likely to suffer in silence when I was struggling instead of asking for clarification. And at one of my first jobs, I didn’t want to risk asking a “stupid” question and seeming incompetent (even though I know that it’s better to get over my pride than do a task incorrectly and have to fix it). I now know this stems from feeling like I need to do everything by myself for it to mean something, and Lu tells me I’m not alone.
“We’re independent because we’re the only child for a certain amount of time,” she says. “We’re told, you’re so strong, you’re so competent, you take care of everything. I think that feeling of being afraid to ask for help is because sometimes we feel like it’s a weakness… it goes against all the praise or emphasis on independence we’ve been taught.” To break this cycle, all we need to do is reframe how we think about it. Asking for help is a strength, not a weakness. It doesn’t make us any less strong or competent; instead, it helps us learn and grow.
I have an anxious attachment style in romantic relationships
When I’m dating someone, I’ve noticed that I need more reassurance in our relationship, whether that’s by wanting to communicate frequently throughout the day or by spending quality time together. But sometimes, this need does more harm than good, like when my constant texting pushed a high school boyfriend away instead of bringing us closer. Even though wanting reassurance is not inherently a bad thing (having your needs fulfilled in a relationship makes you feel more satisfied!), it makes me anxious, and I never considered that this behavior in romantic relationships could have come from somewhere more specific.
Since attachment styles are thought to develop in early childhood, I really believe that my Eldest Daughter Syndrome produced this result for me. When my anxiety first showed up as a kid, I always felt more safe when one or both of my parents were around. Maybe the times they couldn’t be left a bigger scar than I thought, or maybe my issue lies more in my wanting to feel in control all the time, another common eldest daughter trait (which we’ll get to later).
Lu explains that “your experiences make you who you are, and certain things happen that affect your attachment styles.” Knowing this now, I still get anxious over an unanswered text, but I’m not as quick to read into things. With the right work and self-discovery, achieving a more secure mindset is possible for me and any other eldest daughter experiencing the same thing.
I like it when my friends come to me for advice, but I feel like I’m bothering them when the roles are reversed
We’ve all got that one person in our group that we think of as the “mom friend,” but I like to think of myself as the “therapist friend.” I’m always so grateful that my friends trust me and feel comfortable enough with me to open up, and I never consider it a burden to help them work through their emotions. So why do I think that I’m one when I’m the one that needs advice? Even if it’s a topic we’ve already discussed at length, like unpacking a painful breakup, why am I so hard on myself for still wanting space to talk about it?
Lu and I talked a lot about double standards like this one. In the case of assuming a therapist role, she thinks it’s as much a level of understanding on other people’s part as it is a double standard for us. “Maybe we were therapists for our parents or our [siblings], so we understand that even though we’re happy to do it, it can take a toll, especially if there’s too much,” she says. “So when we’re the ones that need help, we’re hyper-aware that it does take a toll.” The best way to overcome these conflicting ideas is to recognize them as such. Set boundaries that make you feel more comfortable, and pay attention to the boundaries that other people set as well. “I’m not a burden if someone doesn’t tell me,” Lu reassures.
I feel like I always need to be in control
When I looked up a list of common traits of Eldest Daughter Syndrome, I wasn’t at all surprised to find perfectionism and a need for control toward the top. I’ve always felt uncomfortable in unfamiliar situations, and I see this come up in a lot of different ways in my life. My parents have told me they never thought they could plan surprises for me as a kid because I wouldn’t react all that positively. When I go out with friends or plan longer trips, I take the reins in coordinating when people are free so our plans make it out of the group chat. In job interviews, I describe my attention to detail as a strength and a weakness because I know I can be a bit of a perfectionist.
Eldest children are often thought of as leaders or role models for their younger siblings, and gender roles cause eldest daughters to feel a greater pressure to succeed in that area. It’s no surprise to me that we then strive for perfection in all areas of our lives; we had such high standards placed on us from such a young age. I was told as a teenager that I set the standards for my siblings on things like grades, but perfection was never something my parents asked for. They just wanted me to put in the effort and do my best. It was me who put the pressure on myself to be a straight-A student.
Lu certainly understands the need for everything to be perfect, whether it’s at her corporate job or even in planning content and events for the Eldest Daughter Club. Her reminder that “getting it done fast is way more impactful than it is being perfect” is something I remind myself of often.
Being the eldest daughter is a label I’ve always been proud of, and I still am! But becoming more aware of how the expectations I faced growing up have affected the relationships I’ve formed since then has helped me heal, even if those expectations weren’t intentionally placed on me. I’m certainly not perfect, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to shake some of my experiences, but I’m learning to stand up for myself where it counts and let go of the idea that everything I do has to be perfect. Plus, having a space like the Eldest Daughter Club and friends and family who support me despite all my quirks is something I am grateful for.