Confessions of a “Golden Child”

You have probably heard about us. The children who behave just as expected—when the expectations are high—and the ones the family brags about. We are known as the “Golden Child” and can do nothing but shine.

Since birth, I was expected to be obedient, the treasure my parents could show the world and say, “She’s such a good girl; she gives us no trouble.” I was—indeed—so good at it. It was my innate talent. My behavior? Impeccable; my grades? Outstanding; and when my little sister was born, I was expected to be something even bigger than a golden child: a role model. And the gold chain of my success started weighing me down.

The heaviness projected towards the shaping of my personality. I became a people-pleasing, rule-following, perfectionist child who hated herself whenever she made a mistake. My parents often described me as “shy” to excuse my quietness, but the reason for my lack of words was nothing else but fear. Fearfulness and the inevitable anxiety that comes with it filled my days, living terrified of saying the wrong thing or acting the wrong way. Somehow, I had connected my high grades and good manners to my parents’ love; one couldn’t exist without the other.

Image Credit: https://www.choosingtherapy.com/golden-child-syndrome/

On the other hand, my little sister would grow to be as imperfect as she needed to be. She would misbehave and do badly in school. Still, instead of getting my parents’ disapproval—like I thought I would get—they hired tutors, stayed on top of her homework, and showered her with gifts anytime she’d get something higher than a D. Regrettably, this response from my parents planted a seed of resentment. I have always loved my sister, but growing up, I couldn’t help but be upset at the different treatments we got. I failed to see that this also affected her, after all, living while feeling you need to reach your big sister’s standards also creates resentment.

As an adult, I understand my parents didn’t think I needed special attention. I was always so put together, “mature for my age,” and such a good student that my achievements were just as expected of me. My A’s were not as impressive as my sister’s C’s. They didn’t do this on purpose or with bad intentions; my sister deserved all the attention she got. Unfortunately, the effects of this imbalance between us are clear. My sister is now a confident woman who understands her value is not determined by her mistakes, while I am still insecure and believe perfection is the only way to get people to love me. However, since I moved to New York City and away from the need to please my parents, I’m slowly finding my worth beyond my grades.

Finding what I enjoy outside of a classroom

When I got here, I made mistakes, so many mistakes. I misbehaved, revealed, and learned to forgive myself for that. I eventually realized my parents didn’t stop loving me even if I wasn’t their golden child anymore, so I forgave them for making me think that. My sister and I forgave each other and became the best friends we were always supposed to be. Most importantly, I took pride in my academic achievements for the first time in a long time. I always told others that “getting A’s is not something to be proud of” as a defense mechanism because it wasn’t celebrated in my house. For five years, I stopped attending school and concentrated on finding what made me worthy.

Throughout the quest to find my value as a human being, I decided to apply for college and allow myself to enjoy my life as a student. For the first time in a while, my high GPA made me proud because I saw it as the fruit of my efforts and not as a testament to my worth, a reason for others to like me. Sometimes it is still tempting to measure my value against my academic achievements because I am still unlearning many things. It is an ongoing, difficult journey but it is also necessary. To fully embrace my college journey, I must let go of my search for perfection and focus on what being a student is about: learning and connecting.

If you are your parents’ “Golden Child” right now and feel the suffocating burden that inevitably comes with it, I hope you understand soon that you are allowed to make mistakes, that you must aim high for yourself and not others, and that your value goes beyond how bright you shine.


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By Roxanna Cardenas

Roxanna is a Venezuelan writer living in New York City. Her works include essays, poetry, screenplays, and short stories. She explores fiction and non-fiction genres, with a special interest in horror and sci-fi. She has an A.A. in Writing and Literature and is working on her B.A. in English with a Creative Writing concentration.


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