FAQ

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What gave you the idea for this book?

Lisette:

‘My Dutch publisher told me a story about his eldest daughter that could just as well have been a story from my life. I had already noticed how similar other firstborn women were to me. Right there and then, we saw there was a book in this about eldest daughters by eldest daughters.’

Wies:

‘We have been friends for over thirty years. When Lisette asked me to co-author the book with her, I started to wonder if sharing our birth order position was at the basis of our friendship. I had never expected eldest daughters to be so similar.’

Can you describe the content of the book?

Wies:

The first four chapters deal mainly with the past as we describe the important impact of the first years alone with the parents. Then number two arrives and suddenly the only child needs to adapt to being the eldest. The conclusions little girls tend to draw from that occurrence are formative for the qualities they cultivate from this point on. The heart of the book is formed by the five major qualities eldest daughters develop. As the danger of wanting to be perfect lurks, this potentially paralysing predicament has a chapter of its own.’

Lisette:

‘In the second half of the book we show how eldest daughters find their way in the five major life areas: friendship, work, love, your own eldest daughter and the ongoing relationship with the others they grew up with. In the back are a number of exercises, a list of (auto)biographies of eldest daughters and other accessible titles with short descriptions of what each book offers. And a test to gauge the insight into the effects of birth order which is a fun thing to do.’

You talk about the big five characteristics eldest daughters share. Which are they?

Wies:

‘Many eldest daughters will immediately say they feel responsible for almost anything and anybody. For the well-being of their parents, their siblings, their partner, children and friends, the cat of the neighbours, the world at large. That is our first and foremost characteristic trait.’

Lisette:

‘The other ones are that eldest daughters tend to be very dutiful women who do what they say, and more. We are often quite thoughtful and caring. And most of us like to get on with things. We see what needs doing and we do it. We’re hands-on.’

Can you say more on the advantages of being an eldest daughter?

Lisette:

‘When your parents ask you to keep an eye on your younger sister or brother, you might find that a huge challenge. You do it anyway and thus you learn to have an overview, to use your authority, to keep others safe and happy, to lead. We might not be born leaders but most of us have had training on the job from a young age.

Wies:

‘All of us have had to do things first. Our parents were nervous on our first day of school and so were we. We braved it and that becomes a way of life. We have no example. We are the example and so many of us have no qualms facing new situations or stepping into the unknown. It’s what we’ve always done.’

Is it true eldest daughters are more intelligent than others?

Lisette:

‘Many younger siblings have clubbed us over the head for this statement. We based this finding on the Norwegian study on IQ done over a period of twenty years on 240,000 boys entering the military. The scientist, Dr Petter Kristensen, could only make sense of his findings when he took birth order into account. The eldests scored higher than the second-borns who in turn scored higher than the third-borns and so on.’

Wies:

‘Economists have also looked into this, can you believe it. Professor V. Jospeh Hotz, for instance, sees the higher intelligence of firstborns as a result of the parental strategy to set an example with their first. My own eldest daughter pointed out to me how much more ambitious I had been for her than for her sister. By the time my youngest went to school, I had relaxed. I wasn’t on her case the way I had been with my eldest who had taught me children take care of themselves rather well.’

How did you do your research?

Lisette:

‘We invited eldest daughters to join us for one day and share their life stories. Once we had distilled the big five characteristics from their biographies, we read up on what has been published by psychologists and other researchers in the field, i.e. the books of Dr Kevin Leman, Frank Sulloway and Linda Blair to name just a few. Not all psychologists give credence to the lasting effects of birth order, but many do and even some who didn’t, have had to acknowledge they can only make sense of their findings by taking birth order into account.’

Wies:

‘The Eldest Daughter Day as we called our research event confirmed to us that as firstborns we know one another, even if we’ve never met before. While hanging up their coats, total strangers would look each other in the eye and start a conversation about their lives. It was quite something to be in a room with only eldest daughters like ourselves.’

At the start of each chapter you both share quite openly about your own lives. What was your own biggest discovery in writing ‘The Eldest Daughter Effect’?

Lisette:

‘I was dumbfounded, when I read Dr Kevin Leman’s rule of thumb that the second-born will turn into the opposite of the first. This explained to me why my brother was such a disobedient dare-devil when we were young while I turned into a quiet, good child. With me occupying the niche of the responsible one, like many other second-borns he became the rebel. I finally understand this dynamic between us.

Wies:

‘What fell into place for me was my tendency towards perfectionism. I really don’t like making a mistake and used to think the world would perish if I made one. I now discovered this is common to eldest daughters who don’t want to rock the boat after their sibling is born and they are no longer the undisputed entre of attention. They think they need to be perfect in order to be allowed to stay part of the family. Mission impossible, of course, but it’s a way of being that is hard to eradicate.’

Who will enjoy reading this book?

Wies:

‘Apart from ‘everybody’, I see eldest daughters as the first ones to pick it up. Many have let us know what an eye-opener it is to view their life through this lens. All of a sudden they understand patterns that underlie their behaviour. And once you have the awareness, you can make a choice whether or not you’re going to be the one feeling responsible this time, or taking care of the family again.’

Lisette:

‘Working women say that they understand the relationship with colleagues much better when keeping the effects of birth order in mind. We tend to recreate situations from our childhood and so eldest daughters may unconsciously treat colleagues like they did their siblings. As Wies says: once you are aware of such a pattern, you can start to make a change.’

Wies:

‘Mothers of eldest daughters, like myself, also avidly read our book. What we describe provides deeper insight into the inner workings of their firstborn. We hear that reading ‘The Eldest Daughter Effect’ together has opened whole new conversations between mothers and their eldest daughters.’

Lisette: ‘And don’t forget partners of eldest daughters who want to understand us better!’

Can you name some eldest daughters we all know?

‘Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, is an eldest of three who at a young age already determined which games her siblings and friends would play. J.K. Rowling who gave us Harry Potter is one as is Emma Watson who played clever know-it-all Hermione. Arianna Huffington who changed the face of news on the Internet. Functioning at the top of international politics, Madeleine Albright, Angela Merkel and Christine Lagarde are all firstborns, as is Hillary Clinton. Thoughtful Simone de Beauvoir and Sophie Kinsella who writes entertaining books that always carry a serious message, are firstborns with sisters. Lady Gaga and Beyonce are eldests who set high standards for themselves in the entertainment industry as is Whoopi Goldberg who has been dubbed ‘the captain of the ship’ by her colleagues on the popular tv-show The View. Also eldests are Meryl Streep and Gwyneth Paltrow who seem to be these perfect ageless women who can do everything and do it well.

  • "I love the way the authors share their personal stories as illustrations of the broader context. Very recognizable and encouraging!"

    Veronika Uhl, Ayurvedic and Yoga Therapist
  • "Reading it makes one realize more deeply that we are communal beings, not islands unto ourselves, and that however distant we might be from them as we grow up, our siblings and our parents always remain part of our essential identity.”

    Jim Garrison, Founder and President, Ubiquity University
  • "As an eldest daughter, I recognized how I face life situations and relationships throughout the book. It made me wonder how I can let go of some of the boundaries I have placed on myself, and make the most of the wonderful gifts this birth position brings.”

    Emilia Queiroga Barros, Notable Specialist at UNESCO
  • “The authors have captured the concept of being an eldest daughter brilliantly, along with the expectations that come with it, which each of us eldest daughters has internalized"

    Caroline van Scheltinga, Chairman and CEO of WIHL