A few years ago, my Grandmother loaned me a book that she was incredibly anxious for me to read. She was beside herself with excitement over the book, so I read it out of curiosity…and because I knew she’d be calling me soon to ask if I’d read it (Yeah…she’s a firstborn)! The book was The Birth Order Book by Dr. Kevin Leman. I majored in psychology in college, so by the end of chapter one I was hooked, regardless of grandmotherly expectation; however, I don’t think you need a psych major to be interested in the subject of birth order. Anyone can benefit from understanding why someone’s birth order matters, and find the book an interesting read.
Let’s explore the birth order concept Dr. Leman writes about:
First of all, what defines a firstborn? It’s not quite as black-and-white as simply being born first. According to Leman, there can be several “firstborn” children in a single family. Any time there is a gender change (the first girl after two boys, etc) or any time there is a significant gap between siblings, of at 5 years or more. Having a large gap actually creates a whole new family unit, and by the time the “second family” comes around, the older children tend to act more like little mothers and fathers to the newborn rather than siblings.
Firstborns are typically easily categorized as perfectionists with a strong need for approval. You can usually spot a first born because they are dressed nicely, hair and makeup done up perfectly, and they show up on time. Firstborns are generally leaders, and often the most highly successful people in the business world – CEO’s, doctors, lawyers, many American Presidents- are firstborns. They can be compliant and ready to please, but they also usually have a strong responsibility for making sure things happen as they should.
Typical characteristics of a firstborn are:
Middle-borns, and especially second-borns are the hardest personalities to pin down. A second-born in particular plays off the first born. If the firstborn is quiet and compliant, the second-born may be wild and unruly in an attempt to compete. The third-born will play off the second-born, and so on. Middle-born children tend to feel left out in their family unit: not getting the respect and attention the firstborn star receives, and also not getting the laughs and affection the last born gets. (Dr. Leman’s words, not our’s!) Remember, however, that if the firstborn child is a boy and the middle child is a girl, she may possess firstborn characteristics because though she is technically second-born, she is also the firstborn female.
Middle-borns show up less frequently in psychologist’s offices as they are used to working through problems on their own. They tend to be the mediators of the family; conversely, they also tend to be the rebels. Some typical characteristics of middle-borns are:
- Somewhat rebellious
- Thrives on friendships
- Has large social circle
- Peacemaker, negotiator
The baby of the family typically receives the most lax parenting as
parents have “been there, done that”. They don’t always receive the praise the firstborn got for hitting the same milestones unless they work hard for the special attention. Consequently, babies tend to be the class clowns, the most outgoing, and the perhaps the most fun! Not surprisingly, a great deal of actors and actresses tend to be the youngest in their family!
- A little manipulative perhaps!
- A Great Storyteller
Only children tend to grow up as “super-firstborns”, where they naturally exhibit typical firstborn characteristics, but to a higher degree. They receive all their parents’ attention for the entirety of their formative years, and unlike firstborns, they never have to share it with subsequent siblings. Interestingly, a child born much later than their siblings (five years or more) without any other siblings born after him or her, is more likely to grow up with qualities a “lonely only” child posses rather than those of a last-born.
- Mature for their age
- Perfectionists (overly critical)
As with all psychological theories, there are always going to be exceptions to the rule and if you felt like these were more like stereotypes than descriptions, remember that generalizations can help us understand birth order better, but aren’t necessarily defining. In the case of blended families, adoption, or the loss of a child birth order can get shaken up. Most psychologists agree that a child’s personality is pretty established (although not fixed) by age 5. So any time you introduce an older child to a new family, as is the case with blending families or adoption, they will take their birth order with them. In your new blended family, you may now have two children with last-born characteristics, even though one is older than the other! In the case of losing a child, Leman says that birth order will move up. For instance, if the firstborn dies, the second-born child will assume the place of the firstborn…depending on how old the child is. (Once they reach adulthood their personalities are fairly set in stone!)
What does this mean as a parent?
The first way this information benefits us as parents is that it gives us an insight to why our children act the way they do. It’s also exciting information in a way, because it gives us the opportunity to recognize the value of each birth order spot. Firstborns are natural leaders, middle-borns are easygoing and peacemaking, last-borns are fun! As parents with this knowledge, we have a chance to try to pull all those qualities out of all our children, regardless of their birth order. For example, giving a middle-born some special treatment “just because”, or by making a big deal out of the first time your last-born rides a bike might not only help them to feel pride in themselves (which leads to a healthy confidence and leadership skills) but it might also help a firstborn struggling with perfectionism develop a better sense of humor to share some of that spotlight.
Another way this information benefits us is so we can realize that OUR birth order matters, too. We may likely over-identify with our same-birth-order child and either have higher expectations, or be too permissive. For example, two successful firstborn parents tend to set impossibly high standards for their firstborn child instead of allowing them to make their own mistakes gracefully.
Ultimately, Dr. Leman stresses that as parents we should not treat our children exactly the same. Rather, we should strive to recognize their differences and treat them accordingly.
How does this apply to Christians?
The Bible states on several occasions the special treatment a firstborn (in particular, a son) receives. Firstborn sons have inherited their father’s wealth until only recently in history, but the good news is that as Christians, we are all “firstborns” in God’s eyes. “ You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven.” (Hebrews 12:22-23) The NCV translates this verse,”You have come to the meeting of God’s firstborn children whose names are written in heaven” so all of us, male and female, middle, only, last, first and everything in between in our natural families are firstborns in God’ family when we believe, and we receive the heavenly inheritance when we become a child of God and doubly so (I Corinthian 2:9).
What about you?
Chime In! Where do you fall in your family’s placement? Do any of these characteristics ring a bell for you? Do you see these yet in your children?
Chelsea Daniels is a firstborn female, middle child of 7, and last-born for 9 years. She identifies with some of all three main birth order characteristics! (Probably the most with last-born, though.)
Missed the meeting? Watch what you missed here!
CedarCreek MOMentum exists to connect mothers in all seasons by encouraging and supporting them, while guiding their hearts toward Christ.
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