Birth Order – Does It Make a Difference?

  If you were to write down a few words that best describe your personality, what would they be? Would any of the personality traits listed below go on your list? Is there one of the four sets below that you feel describes you better than the others?

  1. perfectionist, reliable, conscientious, a list maker, well organized, hard driving, a natural leader, critical, serious, scholarly, logical, doesn’t like surprises, a techie
  2. mediator, compromising, diplomatic, avoids conflict, independent, loyal to peers, has many friends, a maverick, secretive, used to not having attention
  3. manipulative, charming, blames others, attention seeker, tenacious, people person, natural salesperson, precocious, engaging, affectionate, loves surprises
  4. little adult by age seven, very thorough, deliberate, high achiever, self-motivated, fearful, cautions, voracious reader, black-and-white thinker, talks in extremes, can’t bear to fail, has very high expectations for self, more comfortable with people who are older or younger

Dr. Kevin Leman, an internationally known psychologist and author, believes that each of us generally fit into one of the above categories, and the order of our birth can influence which personality traits we lean towards. Those who fall into category A are typically firstborns. Those in category B are middleborns, those in category C are lastborns, and those in category D are only children. But what exactly is this idea of birth order, and what does that have to do with mothering with purpose?

Dr. Leman describes birth order as the secret to understanding the personality differences among those who make up our family. These differences affect how we relate to others, how we handle problem solving, and even the way in which we parent. Understanding birth order can help us better understand our kids and what makes them tick. Having a better understanding of how God created our kids is key as we strive to mother with purpose.

Now, before we dig into this, I want to remind you that birth order is a theory. Scripture does not come out and specifically say that the order in which we are born determines our personalities. It does tells us:

 “For You shaped me, inside and out. You knitted me together in my mother’s womb long before I took my first breath. I will offer You my grateful heart, for I am Your unique creation, filled with wonder and awe. You have approached even the smallest details with excellence; Your works are wonderful; I carry this knowledge deep within my soul.”  Psalms 139:13-14 (VOICE)

Each of us was created with great care and detail by our God who loves us deeply. We are each unique in our looks, how we think and feel, and in our personalities. We were created for His purposes and His glory. As we talk about birth order, remember that God created you with intention and with a purpose in mind and that He created you exactly how He wanted you to be. 

There are a few things that we need to take note of as we take a look at birth order. First, birth order and personality are typically ingrained by age five or six. It’s also important to note that birth order isn’t a one size fits all. Different factors or forces can have an impact on a person no matter what his birth order is. Some people find that they don’t take on all of the characteristics of their birth order, and some may even take on the characteristics of another.  There are also times when you may observe actual role reversals between two children. There are several reasons for these exceptions. 

First, is spacing. If there are five or more years between children, this essentially creates a “second” family. For example, there are 11 1/2 years between my husband and his younger sister.  As a result, they both grew up essentially as only children.  

Another exception is gender. The first male and the first female of a family can both take on the characteristics of a firstborn. My two older kids are a perfect example of this. My son was born first and clearly fits into the description of a firstborn. My daughter on the other hand, was born second, but has characteristics that fall into both the middleborn and the firstborn categories. 

Physical, mental, or emotional differences can also impact which birth order characteristics a child will assume. Multiple births, adoption, death of a child, or the blending of two families may play a role as well.

The final variable that can impact a person regardless of their birth order is you, the parent. Your own birth order will affect how you identify with each of your kids and how you parent them. It is common for a parent to over identify with a child in the same birth order position as themselves. This can lead to one of two things. Either the parent places too much pressure on that child, or the parent tends to spoil or favor that child. 

Now that we have a better understanding of what variables can affect birth order, let’s take a look at the characteristics we tend to find in each one. We’ll start with the firstborns. 

Firstborns are natural leaders. They are reliable, conscientious, well organized, goal oriented, achieving, perfectionists, and often don’t like surprises.

Firstborns often fall into one of two categories. The first is the compliant, nurturing, caregiver. These firstborns are model children that grow up seeking the approval from anyone who is in charge of them. They are good students, hard workers, and always aim to please. Because of this need to please, compliant firstborns often find themselves being taken advantage of by others. They internalize these hurts and typically reach a point where they need to explosively vent to another. 

The other category that firstborns can fall into is that of the aggressive mover and shaker. These firstborns are assertive, strong-willed, and high achieving. They set high goals and have a strong need to feel that they are essential to any success that is happening around them. Aggressive firstborns often develop badger-like qualities and will scratch, claw, or bite to reach their goals. 

Now, before we talk about how to parent our firstborns, it’s important to talk about the characteristics we find in those who are only children for they share many similarities with firstborns. Only children tend to be mature for their age. They are thorough, deliberate, high achievers, and self-motivated. They are cautious, black-and-white thinkers, hold high expectations for themselves and others, are perfectionists, and have a fear of failure. Only children never have to compete with other siblings for parental attention, favor, or resources. This lack of competition means that only children have not only their parents full attention, but they carry all of their parent’s expectations as. well. All of a parent’s hopes and dreams are focused on this one child, and that can be a lot of pressure for a kid to handle.

When it comes to parenting firstborns and onlies, they are our guinea pigs in this adventure of motherhood, and everything they do is important. We read all the books on how to be a great mom, record every new milestone, take thousands of pictures, and complete the baby book in its entirely.  Our firstborns get our undivided attention and we strive to follow all of the rules about how to raise a great kid. This includes sanitizing the pacifier as soon as it hits the floor. This attention we give encourages our firstborns to achieve and helps them develop a greater confidence. Yet, it can also set them up to demand perfection of themselves and they struggle under the pressure of meeting the standards they have set. 

As you parent your firstborn or only child, remember a few things. First, let your child make some of his own decisions. As first time parents, we want to ensure that our child gets everything we feel he needs or deserves and often will push our kids into things that honestly aren’t meant for them. Remember that your firstborn will do anything to please you. Give him the opportunity to make some of his own decisions. Let him decide what his interests are and move forward from there.

Next, resist the urge to improve everything your firstborn or only child says or does. Our kids view us as perfect and are constantly observing us and striving to be just like us. Accept his slightly wrinkled bed that he’s just made, do not refold his clothes that he just put away, and resist the urge to wipe the counter again that he has just cleaned. To step in and redo things your child says or does reinforces to your child that you feel his efforts are not good enough and he is not measuring up.

It’s also important to exercise patience with your firstborn or only child. Remember that your firstborn or only child has a need to understand what the rules are and doesn’t like to be surprised. Take the time to clearly lay out things for him.

Next, think carefully about the responsibilities and privileges you give your child. I admit that my oldest is the one I will typically turn to when I need help. Make sure responsibilities are age appropriate and if there are younger siblings who are old enough to take on some of those responsibilities, pass them down the line. Your oldest should not always be the one to take out the trash. Also think carefully about always using your firstborn as your babysitter. Though it can be helpful, it is a lot of responsibility for a child who already demands perfection of himself.

In addition to the added responsibilities you give your child, there should also be additional privileges. For example, as the oldest, my son chooses what time he goes to bed; his younger siblings do not. My oldest also now has a cell phone, and though my daughter pleads for one of her own, she will not receive one until she is older. With age should come additional privileges

And lastly, it’s important to spend two-on-one time with your child especially if he is a firstborn. Once a younger child is added to the mix, firstborns often struggle with the reality that this new intrusion to the family demands a lot of attention that was previously focused on him. Make it a priority to spend some time just with your firstborn. Dr. Leman says,

“Firstborns respond better to adult company than children of any other birth order. Firstborns often feel that parents don’t pay much attention to them because they’re always concentrating on the younger ones in the family.”

Make an effort to spend some quality time with just your child. Maybe take him out for a special treat or let him come with you to run a special errand. This quality time together can help alleviate any resentment your firstborn might have towards his younger siblings. 

Next are the middleborns. These are the kids who fall somewhere between the firstborn child of the family and the lastborn. It is more difficult to define middleborns because they often will pattern their life based off how they perceive their older sibling. In general, middleborns tend to be peacemakers, independent, somewhat rebellious, thrive on friendships, have large social circles, and are generally unspoiled. To truly understand the heart of a middleborn though, it’s important to look at the entire family and the roles each person plays. In some families, the middleborn is quiet and shy while in another family the middleborn is very social and outgoing. Some middleborns are very laid-back and go with the flow while others are impatient and easily frustrated. Middleborns may be extremely competitive with others or easy going. They may take on the role of rebel of the family or be the family peacemaker. Dr. Leman says,

“More than any other birth order, you must look at the entire family to understand a particular middle child. How he or she finally turns out is about as predictable as a Chicago weather report.”

Besides being hard to define, middleborns also struggle with feeling that they don’t have a special place in the family. They feel that the majority of a parent’s attention falls to either the beloved firstborn or the baby. Middleborns will constantly negotiate and compromise in order to try and “fit in” with everyone else. However, they still often feel left out and will seek friendships outside of the family. Friends offer that feeling of being valued that a middleborn may not always experience to a sufficient degree at home. 

When it comes to parenting middleborns, it’s important to do several things. First, take extra care to make sure your middleborn feels like he is valued and a special part of your family. Ask for his opinion on things, and allow him to make his own decisions or decisions for your family whenever possible. For a middleborn who often feels overshadowed by older and younger siblings, doing so can help him feel as though his thoughts and ideas matter. 

It’s also important to recognize and celebrate your middleborn’s achievements. It’s easy to celebrate the achievements of the firstborn because it is a new experience for the family. By the time you get to the second or third child however, these achievements can feel rather routine. It’s important though to recognize and celebrate those things your middleborn does well. 

One-on-one time is crucial for a middleborn who may feel lost in the mix. Middleborns often won’t share how they really feel so it’s important to take the time to ask questions and listen carefully to his thoughts on certain situations as you spend that time together. 

Another area that is important when it comes to parenting your middleborn is to make a special effort to cut back on the number of hand-me-downs. With two boys in our family, I routinely take the younger one to the basement to “go shopping”. Though hand-me-downs are helpful and even sometimes necessary economically, it’s important to give your middleborn a new item of clothing sometimes. A brand new pair of shoes or a new coat will be extremely appreciated by your middleborn.

Lastly, update your family pictures. Though it sounds silly, this is very important to a middleborn. Dr. Leman says,

“There tend to be a billion photos of the firstborn and about six of the next child. To a child flipping through the family album, this is a sure sign that he’s not loved as much.”

Take the time to update your family pictures and make sure there are pictures of your middleborn alone, as well as with his siblings. 

The last birth order we will look at are our lastborns. The youngest child in the family tends to be the most free-spirited. They are naturally charming, outgoing, and affectionate. They tend to seek attention and will manipulate others to get their own way. They are tenacious, are more likely to take risks, love being around other people, and love surprises. Lastborns also typically are the entertainers of the family. 

As much as they make us laugh however, lastborns often struggle with feeling as though they are not important and nothing they do is important. A lastborn will quickly realize that in his family there will always be someone who is older, bigger, stronger, and more equipped to compete in life. He will also realize that every new milestone he reaches, his parents have seen before. Dr. Leman says,

“None of their accomplishments seem original. Their siblings have already learned to talk, read, and ride a bike. So parents react with less spontaneous joy at their accomplishments and may even wonder, ‘Why can’t he catch on faster?’”

To make up for these feelings, lastborns will often become rebellious, temperamental, manipulative, impatient, and try and grab the attention of everyone in the room any moment that they can. 

So, what can we do as we parent our lastborn? First, give your lastborn his fair share of responsibility around the house. Though it is very tempting to coddle the baby of the family, it is important that he is given age appropriate responsibilities. Responsibilities teach independence, team work, and also protect the youngest from older siblings who may feel resentful that he’s getting the easy way out. It is common for older children to look down on their younger siblings and bully or tease them. There may be times as the parent that you need to step in and stand up for your youngest child. 

It’s also important to be consistent with discipline. Everyone says that the youngest of the family gets away with murder in regard to family rules and regulations. Dr. Leman says, 

“Statistics show the lastborn is least likely to be disciplined and the least likely to toe the mark the way the older children did.”

Take note of the rules in place and the consequences used for your older children and implement them with your youngest. If there is a family rule that everyone helps clean up the kitchen after dinner, then that rule should also apply to the youngest of the family.

Next, recognize and celebrate the achievements of your lastborn. Though it’s important not to coddle your lastborn, it’s also important to make sure he doesn’t get lost in the shuffle of doing life. Recognize when he has done something well and celebrate those things he accomplishes. This will go a long way into helping him feel as though he too is an important member of the family. 

Finally, try to complete his baby book before he turns 21. Life gets busy when you have multiple children. It’s important though that your lastborn knows that they are loved and they are valued as much as the firstborn. Spend time with him, take pictures of him, and let him know how thankful you are that he is part of the family. 

I’ll close with a few words from Dr. Leman. He says,

“It isn’t always what you know that’s important. Everything doesn’t ride on knowledge, skill, and technique. You could read all the books, use all the techniques, and say all the right words (you hope), and there is still only one thing that remains absolutely necessary. This one things is every parent’s secret weapon, and it work equally well with very birth order. The irreplaceable secret weapon that no parent can do without: unconditional, go-for-broke, no-holds-barred, sacrificial love for your kids.”

Love for your kids. The greatest thing you can do when it comes to mothering with purpose is to love your kids. 

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References:

Good, Jason. “Raising Your First Vs Your Second Child”. Parents. https://www.parents.com/parenting/better-parenting/style/raising-your-first-vs-your-second-child/. 14 Oct. 2019. 

“How Birth Order Affects Personality. Dr. Kevin Leman. http://birthorderguy.com/parenting/how-birth-order-affects-personality/. Accessed 10 Oct. 2019. 

“The Importance of Spending Time Together. ParentingNI. https://www.parentingni.org/blog/time-together-importance/. Accessed 30. Sept. 2019.

Leman, Dr. Kevin. The Birth Order Book, Why You Are the Way You Are. Revell, 2009. 

Voo, Jocelyn. “10 Tips for Parenting Firstborns”. Parents. https://www.parents.com/parenting/better-parenting/style/10-tips-for-parenting-firstborns/.  Accessed 10 Oct. 2019.

Voo, Joceyln. “10 Tips for Parenting Lastborns.” Parents. https://www.parents.com/parenting/better-parenting/style/10-tips-for-parenting-lastborn-children/. Accessed 10 Oct. 2019.

Voo, Jocelyn. “Birth Order Traits: Your Guide to Sibling Personality Differences.” Parents. https://www.parents.com/baby/development/social/birth-order-and-personality/. Accessed 10 Oct. 2019.

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