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?