Monday, 9 August 2010

The birth order debate - does it really matter?

I grew up being "the youngest" for six years, before my brother came along and usurped me. I'm not sure I ever really recovered and probably function more as a 'last born' than a middle child.

I married another 'youngest/third born' and we were never going to be happy with just two kids. If our parents had have thought like that, neither of us would have been here. We were going for three. We owed it to ourselves. The fact that we ended up with four children is a whole different story.

I've noticed lately that there is a theme amongst my children and those of my friend's. Look, I know Alfred Adler got there way before me, but I do think there is something in the the whole Birth Order theory.

The traditionalists would say that there are 3 (or 4) types of birth-order personalities. Usually the 'eldest/first born' is described as a leader and a high achiever (there are other, less flattering terms but I will leave them for now). The 'second born/middle child' tends to be a good listener and negotiator. The third born are the family entertainers and risk takers. The 'Only child', the fourth category, tend to be uber-firsts (just add "very" to typical descriptions of first-borns and you get the picture).

There is so much information out there about this theory and how it defines families and people. It isn't always about order per se, but the child's function in the family (so if the oldest child doesn't play their part for one reason or another, the next might step into their place and take on the traits of a 'first born'). Obviously there are other influential factors that change the 'typical' picture. Things like:
  • having a particularly critical parent (might make the eager to please first child into a rebel who doesn't want to do anything) or
  • gender (where a second born who is the opposite sex of their first born may also act as a leader) or
  • as is the case in my own family, a large age gap (where the child 'on the end' may be more like an 'only child' than a third or second born, leaving it open for the third born to still be the 'baby' of the family although she clearly is not. Just saying.), or
  • coming from a large family, (where due to depleted parental resources, birth order personalities can become mixed-up).
While I do agree with the general concepts of the BO theory, from my own, highly reputable social research, conducted from the comfort of my own loungeroom, my own personal theory is more about anxiety levels in first borns.

When I think about Nugget, he is many of the things a first born typically is, but he is mostly about the 'afraid of new things'. His younger, more social and braver brother, Doo Dah, approaches new situations with enthusiasm. Apparently unaware of the potential challenges of entering a room full of people, having others look at you, introducing yourself to new people or understanding the subtleties of the situation. He just goes in and makes himself at home.

Nugget, on the other hand, waits in the wings. He observes, he analyses, he dips his toe in and, eventually he gets right in there. Once he has deemed it safe. He rarely makes a social error (unlike Doo Dah) and seems to make friends easily. Kids like him.

At first I found this extremely hard. I am a group person. I love to entertain and, well, Nugget cramped my style a bit, while he was hanging off my leg, hiding under my skirt. I didn't really understand why he needed to hide and look before he revealed all his gorgeousness. Over time I have come to accept it. It is not so bad. I could probably learn a thing or two from him in actual fact (says the queen of foot-in-mouth-especially-after-a-couple-of-drinks).

When I was discussing this with some friends recently, they too found the same thing with their 'first borns'. 'Second borns' seemed to be more laid back than their earlier siblings and first borns seemed so uptight. And anxious. They are the ones with nightmares and 'tics' and stutters and sleeping issues and anal tendencies. Poor ol' first borns, the parenting guinea pigs, seem to worry about pleasing people.

I am certainly no expert on this topic. Just thinking aloud really.

What are your thoughts and experiences on birth order? Does it matter really?

Photo credit: http://img.timeinc.net/time/daily/2007/0710/a_wbirth_1029.jpg

17 comments:

Busy Working Mama said...

I'm not sure that it does...but then again I was the oldest by 9 years. My daughter will be a spoiled lonely only (that's the mother-in-law's phrase) :)

life in a pink fibro said...

Well, there's a lot I could say here, but being a first-born I'm worried about not pleasing people and so will keep my mouth shut... But Mr6 and Nugget are same-same. Doo Dah and Mr3 also same-same. After that, you're on your own...

toushka said...

I think there is something in it. I also believe that two first borns are happier together in marriage than a firsty and a lasty. Probably because they can share tales of how annoying younger siblings are.

MandyE (Twin Trials and Triumphs) said...

Great post! As an only child, I often feel woefully unprepared to raise more than one child. :) But I think about it from time to time that I'm thankful I have twins...by sheer necessity it calms my Type-A tendancies! HA!

I have seen the tentativeness of the first born with a close friend's boys, ages 10 and 8. I think it might be related to the "bubble" that parents tend to put around their first-born...everything has to be just perfect, he can't touch this, must wear that...etc.

Maxabella said...

Hmmmm... "nightmares and 'tics' and stutters and sleeping issues and anal tendencies" seem to describe a first-born that I know very well indeed!

I'm very attracted to birth order being the middle of three girls (plus the add-on, really-an-only-child brother). I think it mainly only works with same-sex siblings as the gender thing really gets in the way. Look at my 3. First born a boy isn't going to be the 'leader' for long with two girls coming up behind him. And the other night he wanted to get something from the back deck but wouldn't go by himself. I said "ask your sister to go with you" and he turned around and asked The Badoo!! What difference would The Badoo make if faced with a monster on the back verandah? Only Maxi-Taxi could know.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out...

Maxabella said...

PS - Pop over to my blog and meet an old friend...

DancingInTheRain said...

I actually borrowed a book from a friend on this topic when i found out i was expecting girl no. 3. Some interesting quotes for you...

oldest brother of brothers - 'usually the boss ...quite meticulous.
yougest sister of brothers - 'usually a congenial, optomistic, attractive, fun-loving woman...things usually go her way without much effort on her part.'
youngest brother or brothers - 'often like the daring young man on the flying trapeze...Many assassins were youngest sons.'

MultipleMum said...

@Busy Working Mother - who knows if it does or doesn't?

@LIAPF - I was going to add a "I know Sister A will think this is about her" clause, but didn't. It isn't about you, more about the next Gen in our family!

Toushka - agree about the marriage. The girls I was talking to about this also said that they married same-order guys (coincidence?).

@MandyE - explains why you are so organised with your blogging (and keep such good records of your twins' development). Envy from this 3rd born!

@Maxabella - Your son wasn't the case study (promise). More of a mix of lots of kids. Funny that he fits all of my adjectives though. Unintentional!

@Dancingintherain - thanks for the very relevant quotes. Love it! What was the book called?

Jess said...

Hmmmm interesting. I am a first born and I married a first born - I think this is a good combo. We seem to 'get' eachother.

I can totally relate to the night terrors (I used to beg my little sister to let me sleep next to her!!), the anxiety (us firsty's carry the emotional burden of our parents) and the need to please everyone. There is also a great sense of responsibility... I had a double whammy though - first child of a relationship destined to end in a terrible divorce 7 yrs later. Not pretty!

Talli Roland said...

Interesting question. I'm not sure, really. I'm the youngest and the most adventurous of the family. My husband, who's the oldest of his, is also the most adventurous. I'm don't know if it does matter! It's probably more about personality.

Stacia said...

"Depleted parental resources." I'm totally stealing that phrase! And my daughter (the oldest) is also wary of new things. Makes me wonder if it's somehow a reflection of our tentativeness as first-time parents.

Nichole said...

Great post! So true... my bro (the 2nd born) is so laid back. He was the first boy so he totally has 1st born traits, but I envy the way he can just let things roll of his back. He's a motivated, go-getter, but in a cool way! :)

Cate said...

My third is definitely the family entertainer, but my second is yet to learn her role as negotiator!!

The one I heard recently is 'first borns want to rule the world and last borns want to change the world'.

have a great weekend
xxxCate

Lucy said...

Isn't that funny. I just ordered abook on birth order.

I am fascinated by it.

I am one of five - a middle child. But am I? There is a 9 year gap between me and b/g twins. I am older than the youngest by 18 months. Am I really carry "first" traits? Or "baby of the family" traits. Argggggggh!

When it comes to my delicious three, they are displaying text book characteristics...

the rhythm method said...

My first born sounds like your nugget - I was beginning to think it was my fault (oh, mother guilt!!). My second born is FAR more relaxed, but I wonder how much this has to do with my confidence as a parent - and ability to relax over things that would send me in a flap with Boy 1. Either way, I think there is some truth to the birth order theory.
I am the baby of 4 - I don't know what this means in this birth order theory. My theory is that once the 'medal positions' (gold, silver, bronze) are taken, everyone after that takes on the smell, appearance and characteristics of everyone before ( partly due to the fact that by this stage, you are wearing everybody's hand-me-downs). Fourth and all subsequent siblings become like the leftover cereal at the bottom of the Tupperware container - little bits of everything, corn flakes, rice bubbles, wheeties.

Life In A Pink Fibro said...

LOL - I've only just caught up to your response to my original comment. I promise I never thought it was about me. Though, as the eldest, I do believe that everything is about me... jokes. :-)

Suzie G said...

Oh, Miss A (4) is definitely the uptight one, and Mr C (2) is soooo laid-back!! I like that you call the first-born the parenting guinea-pigs - too true :)
PS I am a first-born...

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