Birth Order: What happens when it gets rejigged?

Do you ever think about birth order and the roles and personality traits that accompany your childrens chronological entrance into the world? Does birth order play a role in determining the dynamics of your family?

When I had three children, which was for the first 6 years of my parenting, I had 3 very distinct birth orders. I had the eldest, the middle child and the baby. I don’t think my eldest is a typical eldest child. His visual disability may play a part in this, but so far he is not particularly conventionaI and conservative and nor is he one that needs constant approval! And on further reading of first born traits I am not so sure he is perfectionistic or sensitive to criticism.

I then had a middle child who acted more like a first born in some ways due to the older child’s visual disability and hence adopted more of a caretaker type role. He knew from the age of one he would have to go and find the ball that his brother had kicked into the bushes. He knew as a toddler that he couldn’t come back from somewhere, even somewhere familiar, without his brother in case he got lost. The middle child became the most independent, compassionate and capable and quickly worked out his role in the family dynamics.

And then there was the baby of the family. Traits similar to most youngest children, he was more of a rule-breaker, willing to push the limits but all the while more of a “mummy’s boy”. He probably wont like me saying that! The youngest usually doesn’t feel the need to compete with the other two, but rather they are confident to walk their own path, usually with an abundance of ideas, but not necessarily following them all through.

Then I went and had more kids and the birth order went all haywire. My baby is now planted smack bang in the middle of the family dynamics with 2 older brothers and 2 younger ones. He has now become my middle child. I started thinking about this last year when I noticed a few changes in him that may have come about because of this “new” role. He was now classed as one of the “big boys” and therefore saddled with the roles and responsibilities that come with that, but all the while still craving that nurtured, slightly spoilt ‘baby of the family’ title.

Sometimes we may need to think about the different needs of our kids and maybe looking at birth order will help us to understand a little more about their place in the world. Birth order was first theorised by Alfred Adler in what was to become known as the Adlerian Theory. He used the principles of birth order for psychotherapeutic practice and many still see the benefits today. In summary his findings (not my observations) were as follows:

First Borns: Tend to be quite driven, conventional and natural leaders. Parents generally have high expectations and in turn first borns are eager to please. They also often turn to the father after the birth of the second child. (that part was definately true for my eldest) They like things done right the first time and generally don’t like surprises. Research suggests that most political leaders are first borns.

Middle Children: Sometimes the second or middle child feels left out as they are sandwiched between the first born leader and the baby. As a result, the middle child usually becomes quite independent, and is good at forming strong relationships outside the family. They are usually flexible and dynamic but have more of a laid back personality. They are good listeners and negotiators and their dislike of confrontation usually labels them the peacemakers.

Youngest Child: The baby of the family can often be described as the rule breaker. The one that pushes the boundaries as mum and dad loosen their grip on discipline. They are often described by elder siblings as the spoilt one. They like to entertain, are usually more extrovert and tend to take more risks.

The only child: Retaining 100% of their parents attention, only children can be overprotected and spoilt, but are generally more comfortable with adults, sometimes struggling to form strong bonds with children their own age. They are more responsible and often mature more quickly but like first borns, tend to be sensitive to criticism and keen to impress. They tend to be well organized and task-oriented.

This is a very simplistic look at birth order traits and there are all sorts of other factors that come into play when looking at a childs personality. When there is a larger family with a big gap between siblings, they say the heirachy can start again. And then of course there are blended families where children’s place in the family pecking order can again be shuffled about. But it can be an interesting exercise to see if you and your children fit into these descriptions or maybe other factors have ensured your children remain exceptions to the theory.

Do birth order characteristics ring true for your kids or did they for your own family growing up?

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This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. Hi Martine,

    I’ve done a whole stack of reading on birth order and wrote some posts about it too. Miriam Stoppard talks about birth order up to 4 kids.

    Michael Grose himself has said that the ‘birth order philosophy’ has become much more prevalent since the advent of the pill because women did start to have less children and at a determined age gap between babies; so it was easier to see particular traits coming to the fore.

    Birth order isn’t an exact science and really can be maleable.

    But yes you are probably in the minority aren’t you 🙂

    What I’ve read about birth order rings true for me and my siblings as well as my husband and his siblings. We are both from a 3 child family.

    How much of an age gap is between your children? Because that can have an affect.

    Anyways, I find it fascinating. I wouldn’t live my life by it, but fascinating none the less.

    Love & stuff
    Mrs M

    1. Martine

      Thanks Maria, I will have a look at some of your posts too. The first 3 have 18 months between them so are more of a 3 child scenario, but then there is a gap of 6 years between the 2 year old and the I guess they may start the order again. That means I have 2 babies! Thanks for your comment Maria, it is an interesting study.

      1. Exactly on the age gap. There’s 4 years between my 3rd and 4th. So my 4th will have both last born and first born traits.

        Something to do with sibling rivalry. From memory 4 years I think is the minimum for the ‘restart’ so 6 years will definitely do it. There’s 9 years between and my sister so I have both.

        Also, I read that children are most influenced by the closest older sibling more than the others.

        And, second borns will be probably end up being different to the first born (subconsciously I think). So if your first born is academic, the second may end up being sporty just so they can be different to the first and get some attention.

        Sorry I’ve taken over your post 😉

        Love & stuff
        Mrs M

        1. Martine

          Thanks Maria. So yes definitely on the restart then! My first and second born are very different, and it will be interesting to see if the 4th and 5th are too. So far they seem really similar but still only little so time will tell! Thanks for the extra info it is all really interesting. 🙂

  2. katepickle

    I’ve been thinking about birth order a lot lately…

    I call our big boy our ‘middle child’ even though technically he is 3rd born… because the first two are twins he fits the middle child name better… though not all of the traits.

    The whole twin thing really messes up the first born thing too… I wonder if anyone has written about twins and how they work in birth order?? I suspect also the fact that out girls are identical makes a difference because they are the same sex and really very very similar.

    But the baby… the baby fits his description perfectly. He is the rule breaker… the risk taker… the only one who has ever been brave enough to just wander off….

    Fascinating stuff… must read more

    1. Martine

      Thanks Kate. I did read about twins a little and Adler said that one was often stronger or more active than the other and so was seen by the parents as the older one and therefore taking on more of the leader type first born traits. I guess if they are really similar the whole identity thing may come into play too. There has been a lot written , but i guess like everything it is important to just use what is relevant. 🙂

  3. Grady Pruitt

    I haven’t studied much on birth order, but as you were describing the traits of first and second/youngest, I could definitely see these in my two sons. While my older son is more cautious and wary, my youngest is a daredevil that would climb the walls if he could just get a foothold. (Yet, after falling down off it, I can’t seem to get him to climb the “rock wall” at the playground.) The younger one is definitely more likely to break the rules. My oldest definitely gets upset at times if he doesn’t get something right the first time. Very interesting stuff. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Martine

      It is interesting that so many of your kids traits do seem to be typical of their birth order. I know with my own family my older brother was far more conservative and cautious than I probably was (and still is!) so that rings true for us too.

  4. Mez

    I find this topic fascinating – I think I have a typical first born and a second child who is a middle child with no younger sibling! Great post, I enjoyed reading it. Cheers, Mez

    1. Martine

      Thanks Mez, i guess it all comes back to that whole nurture v nature and how much of their personality is innate and how much is developed by environment and circumstance.

  5. Marlene

    Hello there! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and tell you I really enjoy reading your articles. Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that deal with the same topics? Thank you!

    1. Martine

      Thanks Marlene, do you mean birth order topics or parenting in general?

  6. kelley @ magnetoboldtoo

    Too found it difficult when Boo was born, going from the baby to middle at 5.

    I think that regardless of the studies it has to be hard to go from baby to middle no matter how hard you try .

  7. Owen

    I guess that those traits are common to all kids. I am a youngest child so I can attest to being a rule-breaker.

    On the other hand, I guess the change of roles is the primary reason for sibling rivalry.

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