TikTok's "Eldest Daughter Syndrome" Made Me Feel Seen . . . and a Little Attacked

Courtesy of Dede Alexander

If you ask me, my 24-year tenure as the eldest daughter has been totally fine and super chill — but not everyone remembers it that way. My parents love to rehash the time I organized a weekly meeting to make Christmas presents with my two younger siblings. In exchange for my crafting supplies, they were made to sign Crayola contracts, swearing their dedication to the holiday spirit. I was shocked when they later attempted a Christmas coup . . . but the gifts that year were still impeccable.

To be fair, I held the same high standards for myself. In school, I was an avid rule follower, sometimes referred to as "bossy." When I got to middle school, this meant that everything had to be perfect — I had to be perfect. I stayed up all night erasing and rewriting my homework because my handwriting wasn't neat enough. I decorated my history notebook with ribbon and stickers and scrapbook materials just so it would stand out to my teacher.

Outside of class, I went to ballet five days a week, chasing the rush I felt from even the most wayward compliment. I took piano lessons for ten years even though I hated it. I read to my sister and walked my brother home after school, once hiding us in my parents' room and grabbing a baseball bat to defend from an intruder (read: the UPS delivery man).

Courtesy of Dede Alexander

On paper, it seems like I'm certainly a candidate for "eldest daughter syndrome" — a buzzy term on TikTok used to describe why so many eldest daughters are the way that we are. As a note: eldest daughter syndrome is not an official diagnosis. As explained by Kati Morton, LMFT in a TikTok with over 500K likes, "It's a term coined to describe the unique pressures and responsibilities placed onto the oldest daughter in the family." According to Morton, this stress can lead to:

  1. Intense feelings of responsibility
  2. Anxiety
  3. Trouble setting and maintaining boundaries
  4. People-pleasing behaviors
  5. Resentment for family
  6. Overachieving
  7. Guilt
  8. Difficulty with adult relationships

The idea that birth order can influence one's character isn't new, but some might consider it a bit outdated. Psychotherapist Alfred Adler was one of the first to suggest that birth order might have an effect on personality, and even life outcomes. In 2021, a study published in Frontiers of Psychiatry found that younger siblings in Japan had the fewest reported "difficulties" and considered themselves the most resilient. By contrast, middle children were found to be the most unhappy. That being said, some researchers remain skeptical about the relationship between birth order and personality, due to mixed evidence and a myriad of confounding variables (family income, family structure, state of caregivers, etc.).

Still, as long as eldest daughter syndrome doesn't claim to be a legitimate mental health diagnosis, it seems like it's helping people feel seen (if not a little attacked) . . . myself included. "So much truth it hurts a little," one commenter wrote under Morton's TikTok, along with many others, eldest daughters or not. "This is me. But not anymore. You can change this," another wrote, offering some hope to the collective.

Exact circumstances vary, but the eldest daughter syndrome discourse gives emotional validation to kids who took on more than they should've. I spent a majority of my childhood feeling like a bit of a villain, but the truth is, I was just an anxious kid desperately trying to stop her little world from falling apart. I wish I could tell her that one day, her "bossiness" would become a great asset. Her handwriting is still perfect, her siblings are fine (happy, even). And let's be honest, there's no way Christmas would've gone on without her.

Chandler Plante is an assistant editor for PS Health & Fitness. Previously, she worked as an editorial assistant for People magazine and contributed to Ladygunn, Millie, and Bustle Digital Group. In her free time, she overshares on the internet, creating content about chronic illness, beauty, and disability.