“First job:Be older sister
Second job:Cope with first job
Third job:Get annoyed with jobs.”
Since I wrote about first borns, I could not get the picture I used in that story out of my mind. This picture is such a great example of our three personalities. My sister, Beth, the middle child, is the curly haired pixie on the left. My sister, Sue, the youngest, is the wide-eyed cutie on the right.
According to Natalle Lorenzi in the online Parents magazine article, How Birth Order Shapes Personality, the middle child is the opposite of the first born which happens because that role is already filled. The middle child will find another way to distinguish themselves. The traits the middle child develops is in direct response to the next oldest in the family. This makes the personalities of middle children difficult to pinpoint. Ingela Ratledge in a Real Simple article on birth order and personality traits, describes the middle child as a social butterfly, a peacekeeper, and fairness obsessed.
In our family, this describes Beth very well. She was by far the happiest kid around. Regardless of what was going on she found ways to roll with the flow. Her light heartedness enabled her to diffuse some of the heated arguments between the oldest, me, and the baby, Sue. She was all about being fair and was an expert when it came to compromise. Her ability to stay neutral carried into our adult lives and is certainly sorely missed.
For many reasons, my youngest sister, Sue, had a childhood with fewer rules, which is typical for the youngest child. Due to family issues, as Sue grew older our home rules became much more lenient if there were rules at all. This freedom definitely opened the world to Sue and allowed her to be a more care free person. When it came to risk taking, she was the winner, hands down.
There are several things that can throw off birth order. According to Dr. Frank Salloway, PhD., genetics affects personality development but half of our personality it due to the temperament we are born with–where we fall in the family order. The first born is expected to excel at whatever it is the family prizes. If the first born does not assume that role, it goes up for grabs.
Gender is also important in family role assignments. Dr. Alan E. Stewart gives the example of the first born being male and assuming the typical first born role. The second born is a girl. She does not need to create a new niche like a second born boy would which creates the possibility of two first borns. In large families with a lone girl or boy the “exotic” role enables that child to escape the position they were born into and move into the position of choice.
Physicality plays a role in role assignment. Dr. Kevin Leman, Birth Order Book, tells us that age and size often go together. Older kids boss around younger kids except when there is a very small oldest child or a very outgoing middle or youngest child. In those cases the dynamic can flip-flop.
When one child is “special” a change in the typical dynamic can change. That star figure skater or violin prodigy gets the prime treatment and pressure usually assigned to the first born. For that chosen one, according to Dr. Leman, being special will negate birth order and the other children will adjust their roles.
If children are close in age there will be more competition. One to two years age difference in the same gender children will create more conflict meaning more stress for the parents. In this case, the second child may overtake the first born role by being stronger and faster. A three or four year separation is called the sweet spot. These children are close in age but far enough apart they can establish their own identity. An age span of five years or more is like hitting the reset button–the roles already established do not change. A second child born ten years after the first born will take on the first born role or the only child role–a role described as a “super first born” personality. For large families, family counselor, Shai Lagarde, tells us birth order recycles after the fourth child.
What about the only child? Dr. Lehman states that only children are “super first borns.” They are confident, well spoken, pay attention to detail and do well in school. They act like little adults. Because they only have adults as role models, they are even more susceptible to perfectionism.
The few articles I found gave me some great insight into my family, friends, and co-workers. It was fun to read the people who were also first born–Barack Obama, Oprah, Hillary Clinton, Penelope Cruz, and Kate Middleton. For you middle children, the list of other middles include–Martin Luther King, Princess Diana, and Bill Gates. Interesting, Donald Trump is a middle child. His older brother did not fulfill the role of fist born so Mr. Trump is an excellent example of a middle child rising to the first born position and personality type. You babies of the family, other youngest children include–Rosie O’Donnell, Paula Abdul, and Cameron Diaz. Finally, for you only children, other “super first borns” are–Natalie Portman, Tiger Woods, Alicia Keys, and Jada Pinkett Smith.
Isn’t it something–how we all come from such different backgrounds but we are all so much alike?
I’m thinking there’s a lesson here.
“Nobody could hold the same place in your heart as your sister. Love or hate her, she was the only person who grew up exactly like you, who knew the secrets of your household—the laughter that only the walls of your house contained or the screaming at a level low enough the neighbors couldn’t hear, the passive aggressive compliments or the little put-downs. Only your sister could know how it felt to grow up in the house that made you you.”
― Jessica Taylor, A Map for Wrecked Girls