Sunday, January 3, 2010

Out of Order?: Some Thoughts on Birth Order

Two weeks of family time over the holidays got me thinking about birth order and how it affects us as kids and as adults.

When I was pregnant with Tiny Baby, I spent some of my weeks of bed rest reading uniquely unhelpful books about birth order, gender, and age spacing between kids.  These books spouted several different scary theories about how having children too close together (oops!) can irreparably harm the older one and about how having two children of the same gender in succession (again, oops!) can destine the younger one to feelings of inadequacy.

Family members also shared with us their concerns about birth order and the role it played in their lives.  Both my father-in-law and my dad were raised in families with several boys close in age.  Each felt negatively affected by the challenges of competing with his brothers and cautioned us of the potential hazards of having a younger son following so closely in the Stride Rite footsteps of an older brother.

Despite these warnings, neither Husband nor I worried too much about birth order.  And that's probably because neither of us felt like it played much of a role in our own lives.  Husband is an Oldest; I am a Middle.  Both of us got plenty of attention, plenty of affection, and plenty of encouragement.  Neither of us felt like we were set in competition against our siblings.  And, of course, we knew we would never become those parents, the ones who neglect one child and heap praise on the other.

But then we both come from families with three children and in which he is the only boy and I am the only girl.  And I wonder whether the uniqueness of our genders mattered more than the number or order of kids.

And I wonder about Tiny Baby and how being the younger brother of Big Boy - the beloved first grandchild on both sides of the family - will shape his experience.

And I wonder whether love and time and patience are all any child needs to forge his own path and chart his own course in the world.

And I wonder if I give enough of any of these things to either of my kids.

Are you an Oldest, a Middle, a Youngest, or an Only?  How has your birth order affected you?

Image: "The Three Brothers" courtesy of Just B Cuz via Flickr.


  1. I'm youngest. And I totally don't fit the stereotype of an outgoing, easygoing, charming Youngest. And I don't think my daughters fit the stereotype, either?

  2. I'm oldest. I fit some of the stereotype. Not all. I think more influential than birthorder is the number of children in a family and how it stretches the amount of attention the parents can afford each child. (I guess you can already see how I feel about the Duggar family)

  3. With 2 sons, 18 months apart, their situation is similar to your sons. They are so different in personality, interests, and learning style - have been from the beginning - that while some comparisons are inevitable, it's more the contrast that is remarked. The elder is and always was so outgoing, that I'm sure his brother felt like "the little brother" or the shadow a bit. Except he had gifts of his own, which were quickly noted and earned him a place of his own with those same adults who would compare.

    I think competition between siblings is unavoidable, and when not taken to an extreme, can be part of what solidifies their relationship.

    I can't help but think birth order, like anything else, interacts with other facets of individual nature, nurture and parental attention.

  4. I think no matter what place your kids end up in, they'll beef about it. My mother has one older sister and 2 younger brothers and always felt like a cheated middle kid. So she only had 2 kids.But my sister always felt cheated. I don't think it matters so long as we love them and try to be fair.

  5. I have read the research on birth order and think, like all theories, it has valid and ridiculous points. It comes down to determinism, in my mind, do you believe that being the oldest, youngest, or middle will truly determine what happens in your life?

    As the second oldest of ten, I felt I received plenty of attention and love. I am successful, do not feel competitive, and adore all my siblings. Sure, like all families, we had our difficulties, but what family is perfect?

    This is why I wasn't too worried about my kids being so close together. It is harder on me than on them!

  6. I'm an oldest, hubby is a youngest. I think there are so many factors. For me, I always resented that I was the oldest, and a girl, because my brother got treated completely differently (but a lot of that was the boy thing... like getting told to date a lot, but I was told not to or I'd look like a tramp... harsh example, but that's what I'm talking about).
    Hubby is the youngest of two, both boys. He's much mellower than his brother, and his mother swears it's because he's the youngest, but I'm not so sure.
    I think a lot of it is what you buy into yourself.

  7. I'm number six of seven girls, which, of course, is weird. My dad was trying valiantly for a boy. By the time I was born, my dad had given up on having a boy thing and, because I was good in school, he treated me as the "boy," in that I was groomed to go to college, unlike my sisters who were all groomed to work. Life with immigrants!

  8. I'm an oldest, but always wanted to be a youngest; my little brother always wanted to be the oldest; my boys are probably too close together and maybe that's why they're not always as nice to each other as I would wish. Sometimes I feel that the first mantra of parenting is: You can't win. No matter what you choose someone is likely to complain. At least you and your husband are on the same page and it's the extended family that worries and frets. In the end I'm a reformed cynic turned optimist, and I think we can all make something good of whatever our situation is—celebrate everything easy and savor the soul-deepening aspects of struggle.


  9. I am 18 months younger than my brother and I can't imagine doing things differently. All my life, he has been close by- playing (often simultaneously) the roles of my tormentor, my confidant, my advisor, my advisee, and my best friend.

  10. I read about birth order and I am the first born of three girls. We 3 fit the birth order very accurately. But big deal.

    I have two boys 17 months apart and I would do it all again. They are 7 and 8 1/2 now. Whatever you have is what you will make work.

  11. I have two sisters. Have you ever seen the movie, The Other Sister?

    That's us.

    My older sister is an overachieving lesbian.
    I am definitely used to being the peacemaking, everything-to-everyone so-why-doesn't-everyone-love-me-me-me?!
    My younger sister is.......well, have you seen the movie?

    Birth order among my kids is so dodgy. I'm so glad we had twins because if we'd just had the one baby, it would have been too much attention on one child. With twins, we're all pulled in all directions.

  12. I have a similar post in the works. I find gender and birth order with siblings is fascinating.

    I have an older brother and so does Tim. I think having a brother played more of a factor than whether he was older or younger in my case. I also think being such polar opposites personality wise made a big difference. I'm hoping that since Hannah came first and is so doting and nurturing with Luke that they're relationship will be stronger than mine was with my brother but we'll see!

    Great post Kristen!

  13. I am the youngest of four (oldest sister, two boys, then me). They are 10, 8 and 4 years older than me. By the time I was 7, it was just me and my next-oldest brother living with my mom; by the time I was 10 he'd moved in with my dad.
    In some ways I am a textbook youngest; in others, my sister is more like the youngest child (she's more rebellious than I am, for example, and I'd say we're about equally responsible). I find birth order science fascinating, but I'm just not sure how much I believe it. I guess all I can do is parent each of my five kids as the unique people they are. In the end, if they still come away with some "typical" first- or middle- or last-child qualities, at least they'll be the best possible versions of those.


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