Thoughts on birth order, or "Why my oldest is screwed".

I am the youngest. In many ways, being the youngest rocks. Your parents finally have money by the time you're old enough to care, you've seen the many pitfalls your older siblings have gone through, but most of all, your parents have seen it all, and so they are usually much more relaxed about which rules to enforce, and which rules simply don't matter. On the other hand, you wish there was someone that you could beat on, you get tired of the hand-me-downs, and occasionally there is an older sibling that goes to a certain city, and gets in major trouble in that city, and then when YOUR senior trip comes around, you are not allowed anywhere NEAR said city, even though you would be going with half of the seminary council, and have never given your parents ANY reason not to trust you at all! Not that I'm bitter or anything. But the setbacks are minor, and the benefits far outweigh the pitfalls. I believe that the oldest child is the "guinea pig" child. For example, it didn't occur to my parents that a teenage girl with an outside door attached to her room, sleeping on the main level, while everyone else was sleeping upstairs, was a problem. The tales of her sneaking out are legendary. My parents had no idea she was spending many of the wee hours of the morning on the beach alone with her boyfriend. I'm guessing they would have been against that. By the time I was dating, my parents bedroom window, when open, could hear everything that ever happened on the doorstep. They wised up. I spent hours working on the ABC's with my oldest. My second knew them without my having taught her anything. Either she absorbed them out of the air, or her sister taught her. My oldest is constantly asking me questions, like "What is war?" while my second proudly shows off her ability to make her own cinnamon toast. I never knew she even knew what the toaster was. My girls play 'school' with the oldest teaching the younger about lowercase letters. Essentially, my oldest is raising her two younger siblings, and doing a wonderful job. So, I am not worried about my younger two nearly as much as I am about my oldest. I don't know yet which rules will save her from eternal damnation, and which ones will cause her to rebel, thereby causing her own eternal damnation. I don't know what's a big deal and what isn't, at least not yet. Mostly, I don't know at which age to introduce which concept, so as not to scar her for life. Basically, I decided, I am not saving for her college education, I am saving for her therapy bills. I guess mostly I just need to teach her about forgiveness, so she can forgive me for all the mistakes I made as she grew toward adulthood. Hopefully my younger ones can forgive me, too, because they're not out of the woods, either.


Blogger annegb said...

Heather, this is the crux of my problems with my "baby girl." She is the youngest, I am an oldest child. We drive each other crazy.

You've nailed the situation, with all its difficulties and rewards. My older kids, with kids of their own, come over and gripe because "baby girl" gets sugared cereal. I get just crazy with her irresponsibility and sense of entitledness. We call her Princess Buttgold.

When I went to college, I got put in those groups where you do projects for the teacher. You could always tell the youngest children in the group.

On the other hand, like you, Heather, she pays for her older siblings and her parents' mistakes. She never got a car (it took three kids to realize this was a mistake)and we are stricter in some areas.

A sad thing, I think she is more lonely, also. She never had to share, the others were all so much older or gone, there was no need, and she doesn't get along with others as well as they did.

Life is just difficult, no matter when you were born.

5/20/2005 12:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Mary said...

This is something I've thought a lot about actually. I majored in Human Development and had a teacher who talked a lot about birth order and how it affects us. I had a roommate who had a family much like mine, with all sisters who were approximately the same ages as my sisters. It was interesting to see how many of their traits and personalities were similar. My roommate and I were both the 4th daughters and got along swimmingly, since we are perfect due to middle-child status ;) Then again, my roommates sisters didn't go through the major rebellions several of my sisters faced, even though they fell into the same birth order. Our parents raised us on the same basic principals and yet some of our sisters' own personalities and choices put them down often very different paths.

My major worry is that I won't be cognizent (sp?) of my children's individual needs as far as rules and limits that need to be set and that I will just enforce arbitrary rules without seeing them as individuals. My parents were great, but like all parents, they often enforced rules (the earring thread is an example of those) with good intent, but sometimes they backfired. I don't have a rebellious gene in me, but several of my sisters do. I was given the same strict rules as they had and often felt I was being punished for things I never was inclined to do in the first place. I have only been a mom 7 months so I am terribly inexperienced, but I have a better understanding and more sympathy for my parents as they tried to figure out what to do with all of us. This parenting seems so tough! I think we just have to try the best we can and pray everyone turns out well with minimal scarring!

5/20/2005 01:26:00 PM  
Blogger annegb said...

Mary, my daughter is in love with a middle child and I am so enjoying him.

Off the subject, but could we make a rule on this blog that spelling is not an issue? I always worry because so many of you guys are college grads and I feel stupid. Could we just let spelling go?

5/20/2005 06:20:00 PM  
Blogger annegb said...

Mary, my daughter is in love with a middle child and I am so enjoying him.

Off the subject, but could we make a rule on this blog that spelling is not an issue? I always worry because so many of you guys are college grads and I feel stupid. Could we just let spelling go?

5/20/2005 06:20:00 PM  
Blogger annegb said...

:)...and could we ignore other mistakes, too?

5/20/2005 06:21:00 PM  
Blogger The Wiz said...

I love to ignore mistakes, Anne. :) I do like to spell correctly, as a former spelling bee champeun.

5/20/2005 10:43:00 PM  
Blogger Tanya Spackman said...

I am the oldest of two. By being the oldest, I did things first, which was both a blessing and a curse. Since I had no one ahead of me to show me the ropes, I become a bit more adventurous and bold (even while being very shy) because I HAD to. It has served me well as I have discovered the joys of independent international travel. At the same time, it was very stressful and scary when I was a kid, because I didn't know what anything would be like.

My sister, two years younger, though a confident, well-adjusted adult, just seems a bit more reticent. When she started jr. high, I was there (9th grade was in the jr high) showing her where the classes were and how the whole thing worked. That's just one example. By high school, when I was a senior and she was a new sophomore, I pulled back and really didn't help her much (not that there was THAT much to do, but still...) because I decided that I was only hurting her by giving her so much guidance, when I had had none. Then I felt really guilty about it. So when she started college, I went back to showing her the way.

Neither of us ever did anything rebellious, so we didn't suffer from the side-effects of the other's actions. With only two of us two years apart, we also didn't really have the spoiled/unspoiled issues, either. Yet, birth order still seems to have played a role in our personalities.

When we do something together, I am the leader and she is the follower. If it is something where I am just tagging along and it really is her thing, it is hard not to fall into that pattern, and often we still do anyway. It doesn't cause conflicts. We've even discussed it while it is happening, commenting on how weird it is, but awareness doesn't seem to change it. It just seems to be the natural way for us to work together.

5/20/2005 11:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Susan M said...

I was the middle child between two boys. Although there were six kids in my family, the oldest three were much older and had moved out by the time I was 5 or so.

I have three kids, with a girl in the middle of two boys. So I can often relate to my daughter. It sucks being in the middle.

5/22/2005 11:49:00 AM  
Blogger annegb said...

I'm sorry it sucks, but I like middle children. They're easier to be around.

5/22/2005 04:43:00 PM  
Blogger lchan said...

I think the family dynamic is far more important than birth order. But, it definitely seems to make a difference.

I was 5th of 6, so I don't know what that says about me. By the time I came around, my parents pretty much just made sure I was fed, clothed, and went to church. The rest was mainly up to me to figure out. But, I think that was a good thing.

As far as my own kids, I completely know what you mean. I have become more relaxed the longer I'm a mom. That's better for my kids and me.

I still have this feeling like my oldest child is the guinea pig. I don't know what it means to have a teenager - by the time my second gets there, I will.

5/23/2005 10:51:00 AM  
Anonymous JKS said...

Pros and cons to each birth order place.
I'm a middle child (3rd of 6). I think I was a typical middle child (but not a rebellios 2nd, my older sis was that). I'm peacemaker, not a leader, etc.
I look at my oldest. She's 7. She may be our guinnea pig but she has so many wonderful oldest child qualities. She may be bossy but she has initiative! She has incredible motivation to excel at everything! She can have all the success she wants to acheive in any area of her life because of being the oldest (type A, overacheivers).....as long as she can handle the pressure she puts on herself.
I swear if she was stranded on a desert island by herself she'd make fire, shelter and have food in 15 minutes. The kid could take care of our entire family if I wasn't around.
My 2nd is a 5 year old boy. That kid isn't motivated to much. He has much less initiative. He can't do much without help. I bet he'll never learn to tie his shoes because it doesn't occur to him (like it did to my daughter at age 3) to try and try and try.
Of course, the flip side is that Connor is sweet. He entertains himself. He spends his time building spaceships and rockets and airplanes out of tinker toys,etc. Less focus and ambition. But he doesn't cause trouble either. Never fights. Never gets defiant. No terrible twos or terrible threes for him.
Our youngest? Yeah, I'm a better parent in some ways now. She's 1. I bet she'll be a youngest. Youngests are social. They understand people. She's got all these older people to watch and observe and have relationships with. I think her language and social development is great. She's a really happy baby. But the flip side of having no oldest kid pressure is that she won't be as focused as my oldest. I bet her SAT scores will be lower. I bet she won't be as goal oriented.

There is no one right way to be. So my oldest gets to be an overacheiver. I'll be proud of her even as her bossiness drives me crazy. My middle child will be so easy to raise, even as his lack of initiative drives me crazy. My youngest is too young to know what bad youngest traits she'll have.
I do TRY to counteract some of the birth order stuff that I see in MY FAMILY DYNAMIC. I tell myself:
1. Don't expect so much of #1. Don't give #1 too much responsibility. Don't ask #1 to help so much.
2. Don't let #1 dominate the younger kids.
3. Expect more of #2 so he can take care of himself. Find ways to motivate him. Find ways for him to excel in his own way so he isn't competing with #1 and end up the rebellious #2.
4. Punish younger for NOT doing things right even though they do it more quietly and we don't notice. Expect the same from ALL kids at the same age.
5. Expect #2 kid to help. I guarentee I was asking #1 to do things at certain ages. But for #2 there is always the older one around who can do it better. Ask #2 to do things. It is hard to do because they just don't seem as capable as your oldest.

I try to balance things and keep things fair, but I can't eradicate the entire family dynamic. So I try to remember that God KNEW which spirt was coming to us in which time. It was OK with him that Alexa is the oldest and gets that environment. ANd that Connor is the middle and gets that. And Kate is supposed to be the youngest (or #3 if there is another). God could have sent them in a different order if he wanted.

5/23/2005 11:50:00 AM  
Blogger MaxiSmeg said...

I won't attempt to demonstrate my ignorance in light of the well-informed comments previous except to add an anecdotal perspective.

Rules get laxer the more kids come along. I have discussed this with my friends and they agree. I do think that my smallest brother could do with some more independence but then I realise that my other two brothers and myself seem to be turning out alright so I just trust my parents.

I'm the eldest soon to be 21. And my other three brothers are 18, 16 and 8 years old.

5/23/2005 12:00:00 PM  
Anonymous The Wiz's sisters said...


I mentioned this post to mom, specifically the part about not going to a certain city. I said how she wouldn't let you NEAR said city. Her response was, "You're darned right I wouldn't let her go. Absolutely not."

Just thought you'd like to know.

5/23/2005 04:06:00 PM  
Blogger Heather O. said...

I'm a twin, and we came last. I am technically older than my twin by 6 minutes, and always tried to lord it over her, often saying, "I'm your older sister, so you have to do what I say!"

She didn't appreciate that.

Of course, she also won't let me share the claim of being the youngest, since I am, again, techincally #5 of 6. So I can't be the older sister, and I can't be the youngest. When I complained about this to my twin sister, she just said, "Well, get some therapy and get over it."

Isn't there some sort of revised birth order paradigm for confused tiwn sisters?

5/23/2005 04:10:00 PM  
Blogger Allison said...

Does it seem like there are an awful lot of middle children here? Of course, if Mormons tend to have more children, I guess that would explain it. My experience:

1- My oldest daughter does have some stereotypical traits: the perfectionism, the comfort around adults, the need for independence. But she's also stayed "young" for her age much more than her little sister, who has always seemed in a hurry to catch up. I can't really tell how the other two are turning out, yet, except that the middle child (girl) is much less social than her sister, and while she isn't exactly shy, doesn't seem to feel a need to have lots of other friends. Her big sister is her best friend and takes care of (most of)her social needs for her. Youngest child (boy) doesn't get nearly the attention the oldest child did as a baby, but seems happy enough.

2- I think the spacing of the children can make a big, big difference to the role they play and how they develop in general. I have almost a 3 year gap between the first two, and a 3 1/2 year gap between the second and third. They both got to be the "baby" for a good while before the next came along. (I'm not saying closer apart or more spread out is better in the long run, but they never had any jealousy issues or behavioral problems when the new baby came, and I do think it helped that they were a little more mature and could understand what was happening at the time. Again, I'm not going to generalize here - but it worked out in this specific instance.)

3- I'm a middle child married to a middle child. We're both mellow, a bit passive, and are motivated by guilt. And we're both enormously appreciative and surprised by positive attention, since we've kind of learned not to expect any.

Anyway. Lots of generalizations, but I think there might be something to the birth order stuff.

5/23/2005 06:53:00 PM  
Anonymous wbpraw said...


5/24/2005 12:02:00 AM  
Anonymous JKS said...

Middle children are motivated by guilt? I didn't realize this. But I was trying to read online about birth order (found a site with birth orders 1-4) and much of it made sense, but some I wasn't sure about. The guilt thing was there for the 3rd, which I am. I wasn't sure about that.
But as I've thought about it it seems perhaps to be true.

5/24/2005 01:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Mary said...

JKS, one of my professors talked about birth order traits often starting over in families with more than 4 kids...i.e. the 5th would have qualities similar to the first, etc. Who knows eh?

5/28/2005 05:59:00 PM  

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