I’m onto you, it read. I know you have just skipped the first eight chapters and started right here. I set the book down, a little creeped out. How did the author know?
It wasn’t some sort of magical, mind-reading book. It was The Birth Order Book by Dr. Kevin Leman, and I was a middle-schooler seeking to understand myself and my family. It may have been the book that sparked my interest in personality psychology.
First born, only, middle, baby. Your birth order has an impact on your personality. When it comes to the classic nature versus nurture debate, birth order captures the nurture side of things. It’s all about the environment you found yourself in as a child.
Let’s start at the top, that reigning kid — the firstborn. See, when this kid was born, he was the center of his parents’ world. They read books about how to raise him, fretted over an earache, took a thousand pictures to chronicle his growth. All of his parents’ hopes and dreams were invested in this child from his birth. And when the next kid came along, the firstborn became the helper, the built-in babysitter. So it’s no wonder the firstborn is usually responsible, ambitious, a perfectionist. And unlike the other birth orders, this one will never change. The firstborn can never be usurped. His power is assured. An only child becomes a concentrated version of a firstborn. You think the firstborn deals with a lot of pressure and expectations? Try being the only child! So he becomes incredibly driven, confident, and focused.
Then there’s the middle child. He was the youngest one for a couple years before being ousted from that position. Now he gets lost in the shuffle. He’s got the older sibling telling him what to do, and his parents begging him to help with the younger one. So he becomes the diplomat, the peacemaker. He’s great at flying under the radar, keeps his thoughts to himself, and often makes lots of friends. Who wouldn’t want to be friends with the kid who’s an expert at getting along?
Last but not least, there’s the baby. He will always be the youngest one. From the moment he was born, he was being compared to his siblings, but his parents are much more laid back now. An earache is no big deal. His siblings have the perfectionist and diplomat roles down, so what does that leave for the baby? Entertainer. The baby knows he will never be able to measure up to his older siblings who will always be older and have more experience with life, so he learns to make people laugh. He may not be the most responsible (who needs to be with the firstborn steering the ship?) but he’s fun and he knows how to charm people.
Does everyone fit those descriptions? No. There are interesting cases of role reversals (for example, the younger sibling sizes up the older and realizes he can best him at academics. The firstborn, frustrated by not being the best, gives up on academics and becomes the fun one). There’s the case of the two-kid family, and the gender of the kids matters too. If there are six kids, the oldest boy and the oldest girl will likely both function as firstborns. And a five-year gap between kids can start the birth order all over again.
Where do I fit in this whole big mess? An excellent question with a complicated answer. (You’re not surprised by that, are you?) I’m the second child of two. One older brother. So technically, I’m a baby. Which is why I flipped to the chapter about the baby of the family and was shocked that the author predicted my actions. My brother has always been better at school, but gosh darn, was I good at performing. I started public speaking when I was 6, acting when I was 8. I’ve never been afraid of the spotlight.
But because I’m the only girl, I have perfectionist, firstborn tendencies. I feel compelled to become one of the best at whatever I attempt. It makes me a great editor and a fantastic student. I’ve never missed a deadline, never submitted a paper with wrinkled corners. I love making lists. And being the second child has given me middle born characteristics. I hate arguing. I can see both sides to most disagreements. I’ll bend over backward to help someone else. Overall, I guess you could say I have identity issues.
My husband is a middle child, number 4 of 6. He’s conflicted. He wants to get along, but he wants to be heard. When we first got married, he often repeated himself. In his big family, that was required to be heard. I had to reassure him that I heard him the first time. It took a little while for him to get used to that. He doesn’t like making decisions. (Neither do I, to be honest, but my perfectionist side forces me to make a decision since I can’t let them go unmade!) Sometimes he conceals his true opinion in order to get along. I have to coax it out of him. He’s easy-going, which allows me to be as quirky as I want. Last night he found me having a conversation with myself. No judgement from the middle born. He understands when I have a creative hurricane and have to burrow out a path so he can make it to the bed. Not a problem.
It’s fascinating stuff, birth order. It explains a lot about who we are and why. What do you think? What’s your birth order, and how has it affected your life?