I’m the oldest of four. And as you’ve probably already guessed from the title, that means that I often feel like the Guinea pig. I’m the one who hits “age milestones” first, so I’m also the one who gets the full benefit of my parents trying out their methods on someone for the first time. It’s like being a laboratory test subject, except that it’s not all that voluntary.
I believe this is a somewhat natural phenomenon for an oldest child to feel like a Guinea pig, but I think it becomes even more apparent when one is/has been homeschooled. Which I am/was.
From my own experience as a Guinea pig, I’ve discovered at least four reactions to the status. I’d like to take some time to explore about them.
So, to start with, there’s what I like to call Resentment. You resent your status as a Guinea pig. You wish your parents would be less experimental with you, and you’ve probably had a few experiences where something they tried has come back to burn both you and them.
Even worse with the above is the annoyance of knowing that your younger siblings won’t have to suffer like you did, because your parents have now perfected the method. In my case, I can look back at various school subjects and recall the books I used that my lucky, lucky, lucky younger siblings won’t have to even touch. Lucky. (Did I say that already?)
The next rung on the ladder of responses to Guinea pig-ness is Indifference. You are indifferent towards your status. You figure that once the experiments are over, your parents will have found the best way to do the thing and you can enjoy it when it happens. Simple, but inactive.
Thirdly, there’s Condescending Indifference. This is when, though you are reconciled and indifferent to your Guinea pig status, you begin to look down on your younger siblings for not having had to “work as hard” as you did. They don’t have to do that stuff that didn’t work. They have it easy. You feel superior because you did “more work” to get to where you are.
And then there’s Joyful Acceptance and Activism. This is also the hardest one. This is when you embrace the fact that God has made you the oldest for a reason. And that reason actually includes being the Guinea pig so that your younger siblings will have the benefit of your parents’ experiments on you. You also decide that you can trust your parents to make wise decisions about the experiments they run.
Along with the acceptance comes activism. Having realized your purpose as a Guinea pig, you decide to try to be as helpful as possible to your younger siblings with the settled-upon Optimal Method of Doing Things. You resolve not to remind them that you were made to try five other ways of doing this so that your parents could discover that this Optimal Method was the best. Rather, you remember that you have the opportunity to serve your younger siblings in this area.
Of course, nobody ever lives in one of those neat categories. I’m sure we oldest children flit between them or live between them more often than not. I know that I’ve experienced all four stages, and even though I try to live on Stage 4, I can slip backward easily.
I’ve now (almost) graduated from college, and as I stare down the road at further education, going off on my own, becoming independent, and maybe one day pursuing marriage, I see all sorts of places where I will be likely be the Guinea pig yet again. I can either be excited about the prospect, or I can gnash my teeth and moan and groan.
And though I may wish sometimes that I had an older brother or sister to watch be a Guinea pig and make mistakes that I can then avoid, I suppose I’m not called to that. I’m to be a pioneer and a Guinea pig. To boldly go where none of my siblings have gone before, and then to come back and tell them all about what to do and what to avoid.
Ultimately, it’s a mindset thing. I want to be a Stage 4 Guinea Pig. How about you?