The Role of Birth Order (Part 1)

Like many first time parents, the news of our pregnancy jumpstarted a desperate attempt at preparation.  We began researching strollers, infant carriers, cribs, car seats, pediatricians, and frantically reading books on all things baby.  One of the books noted that reading to the baby in the womb could boost intelligence, so I started reading Charlotte’s Web aloud at night, while my wife chuckled aloud at my efforts. When our daughter came on the scene, we piped classical music in to her nursery (something else we’d read boosted intelligence), became hyper-focused on her sleeping, eating and pooping patterns, and generally consumed with her development as only first time parents can be. 

A year later, we celebrated being pregnant for the second time.  With absolutely no indicators of a different kind of pregnancy, it wasn’t until our ultrasound that we discovered we were having twins.  And not just twins, but twin BOYS.  We are still recovering from that news a decade later. 

Life after the birth of my sons could be defined by one word – survival.  There was no reading of the classics, or piping in classical music. If you got fed multiple times a day, your diaper changed occasionally (before a wet one sagged below your knee caps), and you were bathed a few times a week, you were doing great.  Due to sleep-deprivation, we had to make charts to remember whom we’d fed in the middle of the night.  Did screaming mean you were hungry or you ate and needed to be burped?  

When my son’s turned one, we threw a birthday party with friends and relatives.  It was also a celebration that we were all alive, intact and still speaking to one another.  I had this moment of watching my boys toddle around while my daughter chased after them.  I began reminiscing on all the intentional things we’d done before and after her delivery, activities designed to boost her intelligence and nurture her cognitive development, and remembering that we’d done none of those things with our boys.  I found myself questioning their intelligence and my contribution (or lack thereof).  

A decade later, I’m happy to report that they appear to be on target.  I laugh now as I think back on the panic that informed our parenting the first time around.   As parents, we can so easily become trapped in all we believe we need to do, and miss the importance of just letting our kids be.  We forget the importance of simply loving and enjoying these amazing gifts we’ve been given, and learning along the way.  

As I watch and learn from all three of my children, and as I interact with hundreds of children and families year after year in my practice as a therapist, I remain fascinated at how multiple children, with the same parents, raised in the same household, develop such distinct personalities.  Among the many factors that influence the differences, one of those is birth order.  Birth order is often defined as the science of understanding your place in the family line. Many experts believe that a child’s place in the family influences hobbies and interests, academic performance, as well as vocational choice and success.  Understanding the role of birth order can aid parents in understanding personality differences, and supporting kids as they develop into all of who God designed them to be.  

Firstborns and Only Children are often reliable and conscientious, natural leaders and achievement oriented, well organized and logical.  These individuals are particularly vulnerable to perfectionism and being overly critical.  Firstborns are often aggressive or compliant in nature.  These individuals tend to be ambitious and enterprising, while prone to stress, pressure, expectation, and anxiety.    Firstborn personalities can also emerge from being the oldest of your gender or having a five-year (or more) gap between you and the sibling above you of the same gender.

Middleborn and Secondborns are known to be negotiators, peacemakers, diplomatic, loyal, independent, and sociable.  They tend to be somewhat less defined than firstborns, only children or lastborns. While every child draws comparisons, (with or without knowledge and awareness that this is happening), sizes up other siblings and patterns life according to those observations and perceptions, middle and secondborns are particularly vulnerable to comparisons and defining themselves in opposition to an older born sibling.  

Lastborns tend to be precocious, engaging, affectionate, charming, tenacious and people-oriented.  Lastborns These individuals are particularly vulnerable to being attention seeking and manipulative.  Lastborns may function between being over-parented by older siblings who assign themselves the responsibility of teaching, correcting or co-parenting and parents who are somewhat “parented out” by the time the lastborn arrives on the scene.