7/29/08

Birth Order

A busy brain = too much posting. Forgive me. But I have to do this or my brain actually stops working all-together due to over-crowding. You just never know what might get kicked out with all the over-load. And I need a lot of the information that's in there now. Like what year it is.

I've been thinking a lot lately about birth order. I guess I always have thought a lot about it. There are just the two of us in my family, my older sister and I. It always seemed to me that our birth order was a really big deal. It was talked about a lot. I was called "the baby." My sister took on a more responsible, rule-following, mature existence. I did not. I liked to goof off (still do) and be with my friends. I hated being home, was easily bored. As a child, I was more laid back than I am now.

I'm thinking about this more because of having these two boys. I don't yet know if they will take on the typical roles of their birth order. Some things can now be seen, like Miles' resilience and tendency to easily follow the rules. He's a bit timid in new situations, but warms up and sooner or later ends up in more of a leader role. I wonder what Asher will be like? More like me as a child? It'll be interesting.

But what I've really been thinking about is this question: Who has it harder? Or is it a tie? (If a tie is at all possible in anything?)

I mean, my sister has said things that let me know it was hard for her to be the first-born. And I can remember feeling like I had crashed her party in our childhood. Naturally, a first-born often resents the baby of the family, who they see as someone who is getting all of the attention.

I was thinking out loud (worrying) about this one day, talking it over with a friend who also has two kids. I said something about how Asher will grow up and start to be able to meet more of his own needs. I said that hopefully, when Asher isn't as dependent as he is now, Miles won't seem so frustrated by him. My friend said that the truth is that Asher will always be a step behind, needing more direction, simply by default. I suppose that's true. When Miles already has his license, he'll have to watch and take part in Asher coming along and learning the thing that is already old hat to him. Or even earlier in life, Asher will have his first day of school and everyone will make a big deal about it, even though it's something Miles will have been doing for quite some time, seemingly unnoticed. The oldest is also often told to set a good example. Too much is asked of them sometimes, taking from their chance to just be a kid. Many a first-born has told me they felt as if they needed to be perfect.

Then there's the perspective of the baby. Since I am one, I suppose this one is more clear to me. In some ways I agree that it's easier. But then there's another part of me that resents that idea. Maybe simply because a person can't help when their born. I always felt like my existence was an irritation to my sister. Maybe that was simply my perception. Or maybe most first-borns do feel this way. It's not the same kind of hard to be the last person in the family. But it has it's downfalls as well. Like never getting to do things first. Feeling like it's going to be forever until you're living the things you watch your older sibling(s) do first. But for me, the hardest part was that I felt like I was annoying. Just for being. Some younger siblings often feel they are in the shadows, especially as many first-borns are so driven and accomplished. Many babies of the family feel like they could never measure up.

There's so much more to this, but I don't want to get carried away. My questions about this now are for my boys. Because I don't want them to resent each other throughout life, which happens all too often. I understand that some rivalry is completely normal and even healthy. We learn from feelings that are hard to deal with and hopefully gain the ability to see from another's perspective.

What was it like for you as a child? How does birth order play into the dynamics with your children? It's all so fascinating to me. Nature or nurture? Do first-borns turn into type A folks, perfectionists, valedictorians and CEO's because of how they are treated or are they born that way? Do babies of the family become care-takers, sometimes push-overs, and more laid back because of the way we are treated in a family? Or are we just born this way? Or both?

Maybe it's as simple as making sure to talk with your kids about how their feeling, validate them and gently help them to see how they might look on the bright side. Just like anything else I suppose. Obviously I'm thinking out loud about this (shocking). Thoughts?

10 clicked right here to comment:

Becky said...

I had a roommate in college who told me that all the things that were "wrong" with me (my compulsive neatness, shyness, and over-cautiousness, to name a few) stemmed from me being a middle child. And it's weird, but as a middle kid, I crave attention, maybe because I felt like I didn't get enough when I was younger. But more often than not, when I get that attention, it makes me uncomfortable. So, yeah, I think birth order plays at least some role in how we turn out. Anyway, I've got two kids as well, and it's interesting to watch them together. My oldest is quite the people person, while my youngest reserves her judgment until after she's been around someone for a while. Who knows? It's fun to think about, though.

Sabrina said...

The reason i get up and go to work when i don't have to is because I am the oldest. :)

Truthfully, I am the oldest (caretaker, worrier, responsible) but with my brother having DS, I was also the clown, the silly one, immature. My friends used to say that I could def. act that the oldest, but often i acted like i was the baby or the only child. Maybe so?
Sometimes I felt like i could fall into every category. I'm a special case. But you knew that.

heather of the EO said...

"special cases" are the best!

MommyTime said...

*waves* I'm a new commenter now too! Hi Heather!

This is a great topic. I wonder about it a lot. There are three in my family, and my middle sister has always said that she would NEVER have three children because the middle one has it so hard. It's seriously given me pause to think about that when I contemplate having a third. But what you've articulated so nicely is that whatever one's spot in the birth order, there are pressures and difficulties. I think they key, maybe, is in trying to parent our children so that our expectations and demands match their personalities rather than pegging them to their birth order. I resented like crazy being told (in so many words) that it was my job to "set a good example" for my little sisters. I know they resented being compared to my successes and felt they could never measure up. I want to avoid that with my two. But honestly, I think the best thing you can do for your boys is recognize their strengths (and weaknesses) as individuals rather than explicitly as older and younger brothers, and that should help a lot.

My two cents, for whatever it's worth.

Thanks for your comments at my place. I look forward to getting to know you better.

Janera said...

There were four of us kids, and I have four myself. I think it's the perfect number, except when it comes to college funding. ;-)

I was the second, but the oldest girl. So I was a little sister and a big sister; I got a taste of both worlds.

I do think there are benefits and drawbacks to both, but it can balance out when the parents do a good job of raising all of the kids.

I've taught for 24 years and seen lots of kids come through my classroom. I've definitely seen birth order issues at work. If parents do the work, any birth order can make the child feel special.

I actually think the parents' job is harder when there are only two children. In that situation, birth order issues can be more pronounced, because each child is an anomaly.

The most common thing I notice in families with only two children: it seems that parents sometimes fall into the trap of giving the oldest almost all of the responsibility and the youngest not enough.

In those cases, I think you can end up with a resentful older sibling and an irresponsible younger one.

Even though it's easier to send the oldest to fetch things or to do a chore because he/she will do it and knows how, it's important to take the time and energy to bring up the youngest, too.

Many parents are still overprotecting the baby of the family and making excuses for them, even by the time they are in high school and college.

Good post.

charrette said...

My husband and I are fascinated by birth order. We bought a couple of books about it when we were first married. We are both first-borns, and classic over-achievers. Still have occasional power struggles. And we both SWORE we wouldn't create such a painful growing-up experience for our oldest. We understood.

And yet he suffers with some of the same demands for added responsibility, high expectations, etc. It's like there's no way to prevent it. Now that he's 16, he has responded by becoming a giant UNDERachiever. Now our goal is to get him to PASS all his classes! (I can't even relate to this mentality!) I think it is his not-so-subtle rebellion against being raised by two such highly-driven-often-critical parents.

Ah, so much to learn.

I HAVE noticed, almost without exception, that the BABY of the family usually gets whatever quantity of extra looks, brains, talent and charm that heaven sees fit to throw in the caboose. They rock the house. With fewer complexes.

Abra said...

While I'm not a first born, I'm neither the last one. I'm the second oldest. I don't think it necessarily has anything to do with birth order so much as personality. I was handed a lot of extra duties that naturally would befall a first born simply because my parents trusted me more than my older sister at the time. I think my sister Nancy, who is eight years younger than me had just as much if not more responsibility than I because by the time she was old enough, I had moved out and while there was a brother in between us, she had the responsibility of managing the siblings. (There's six of us btw) Do I think my youngest sister had the luck of the draw? Yes and no. She gets off easier but I think it's because my mom has learned to pick her battles. Something I'm still learning :)
I don't think that a younger child has it easier, I just think that parents learn to relax and roll with the punches a little easier.
I still remember telling my two and one year old to clean their toys up by themselves. Now with my youngest at 5, I find myself explaining that he's still just little.
I don't think I was right now expecting so much of such young kids - I just didn't know any better. To me, compared to the baby, they were old enough!
How dumb I think now!

heather of the EO said...

Abra,
I so agree with a big part of this being that parents lighten up after the first child. Or after a gap. I already know that my ability to focus so much on the details with the first is completely GONE.

heather of the EO said...

Oh! And mommytime,
I love what you said. So key.
To focus on individual strengths, rather than order.
And shouldn't we validate the parts that are hard for each? (yes, it stinks to always set an example, or yeah, it's hard to live up to your sibling's example...") Not only that, but pointing out the positives of each role, rather than just not talking about it...
See? I could go on and on...

Givinya De Elba said...

There's not much way you can avoid having a first-born and a last-born, so I am hoping that loving them all as much as I can will make them the best they can be!

Thanks for dropping by my blog and leaving a comment. It gave me a chance to hop on over here and read your blog! Thanks!

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