Friday, September 12, 2008

Birth Order: Fact or Fiction?

If you're anything like me you puzzle all day long trying to figure out your children.  These living, breathing, crying, whining, smiling, melting, wonderful, precious little creatures have been placed in our care and we aim to do the best job we can as their parents.  So why not a little bit of science and theory to help make it easier?  Why not pigeonhole them into stereotypes to ease our jobs and make sense of it all?  Alas, you all know as I do that this is impossible and that categorizing our variable children is the last thing we want (or can) do as parents.

Still, wouldn't it be nice and helpful?  "No, Johnny's not bossy, he's just the oldest and a natural born leader."  "Susie's feeling sad today because she's a middle child and has identity issues."  lol :)

This article outlined a lot of the theory behind birth order and the science of predicting general characteristics of children within a family.  Here are a few summarizing tidbits from the article:

-natural leaders, problem solvers, strong organizational and reasoning skills 
-twenty-one of the first twenty-three American astronauts were firstborns
-well represented among Rhodes scholars and university professors
-better at relating to adults than to other kids

Middle children:
- great negotiators and peacemakers,  laid-back attitudes and a love of socializing
- natural schmoozers and consensus builders 
- most likely to move far from home once they grow up
- prone to rebelliousness and competitiveness

- least likely to be disciplined
- become adept at wrapping people around their little fingers and clowning to get attention.
- may suffer from other's assumptions that they are spoiled, stubborn, and manipulative.

Does your family fit the bill?  After reading through these descriptions, some are uncannily right on, while others leave me wondering.  I guess there's my proof that NO tool can accurately pin my wonderfully maddening, varied, and beloved children.  And I guess that's a good thing--as my mother-in-law beautifully reminds me, let each be his own and try not to label!


Anonymous said...

Who knows. I come from a large family (8), it went B, G, G, G, G, B, B, B. So we have an eldest B, eldest G, then youngest G and youngest G. We have a few middle Gs and Bs. The point is, the characteristics are so generic that you could find them in any person in any order. Families are too unique to pigeon hole that way. Can you guess what number I am?

Bethany said...

It also depends on spacing of children, multiples, and personality of the individual child. There is just my sister and I in my family and I'm six years older. While many of the aspects of the First Born came into play (I'm NOT known for organization), both of us maintain aspects of all of them. Most likely because of where are birthday's fell, we were seven grades apart. By the time she hit middle school she was pretty much an only child because I had gone away to college. It all depends on the total family dynamic.

As for anonymous, I'm guessing third girl/fourth child.

B-Mama said...

I agree that number of children, temperaments, spacing, etc. have a lot to do with how children "turn out". My sister and I were the only two, spaced 3.5 years apart (4 in school) and ended up bucking the system and rather reversed in our birth order identities. I was the youngest, yet had a lot of the firstborn characteristics.

Right Said Red said...

I agree with much of what Bethany wrote. That being said, I think many of the sterotypes hold true for smaller families. When you only have 3 children, or 2 children, these labels often times do "fit." The larger the family, the less likely there is a "middle" child, and two or three children can take on an eldest role (or you might have multiple children taking on this role if there are gaps or large spaces between babies).

Mary Alice said...

I am a total believer in this birth order stuff! My husband and I are both total first borns, and I have found that understanding this really helps me to temper my bossiness, especially when dealing with my adult younger siblings.

Also, I see that both my first boy and first girl have some eldest child characteristics.

As for multiples, both in my twin brothers and my own twins I see a difference between the older and younger, even though the difference in age is just a few minutes, they take on the birth places. For us, JJ is a happy go-lucky middle child, and MaryB is a baby all the way.

It will be very interesting to see what develops next, since there is a 3 year gap between Mary and the baby Lion, but then Lion will only be a year older than his baby brother.

Lion is definately the "baby" to Peter and Holly and will continue to be treated that way, but he will be dominant over his little brother, and I wonder how Mary will evolve over time.

Again, I think that these things are helpful not to pigeon hole people but to understand them, and I think that the ways that they hold true among adult siblings are helpful and very interesting, my husband and I come from families of 3 kids each, so we line up perfectly with this, and so did my mom, and you can definately see those relationships in her family as well!

Another theory that has really helped me to understand my kids lately has been "love languages" -- I haven't read the book, but I listened to Kimberly Hahn summarize it in a bible study and I have already benefitted from what I gleaned from that, so I look forward to reading more.

texas mommy said...

Mr. Incredible and I and our first born, Dash, fit the mold for first borns! B-Mama, your post reminded me of some things that "The Temperament that God Gave You" by Art Bennett brings up about our God-given temperaments (different from personality). I think knowing your tendencies/natural inclinations and those of your family members can help as you relate to your spouse and your kids. It can also help as you struggle with your own sin to know your weaknesses. Sometimes labels can be good to help us understand why we react in certain ways and can help us to do better!

Anonymous said...

You only see birth order effects if you ask family members to describe personality. If you ask co-workers, the characteristics aren't there for most people.

And even in families it works best if there are 3 or fewer children, no major age gaps, and no divorces/remarriages. Even then, it's a rule of thumb that doesn't apply to all families.

Mary Alice said...

Really interesting to note that these are only noticed by family members, that makes a lot of sense, but I wonder if it means that the personality descriptions are less true, or if they only apply to behavior within the family?

Again, I find it most helpful to understand my own behavior and my ways of relating to my siblings, also to understand my own perfectionism as typical of a first born and to try to stop being so hard on myself about certain things when appropriate.

It makes sense to me that the group dynamics in larger families would be different, too.