12 October 2010

switch 'em around?

There are all sorts of studies on birth order - some claiming it absolutely has a very large effect on our personalities, and others claiming it is merely pop culture silliness - is actually not affecting anything at all.

Come to my house. I'm a believer.

See the above picture. This is one of 800 some odd Christmas Card tries from last year. Do you see the eldest child? Holding a perfect smile and maintaining eye contact with the camera. You kind of want to tickle her. Do you see the second child? Swinging his body around the chair, sticking out his tongue, and completely forgotten about the camera altogether. Do you see the baby child? Tortured and uncomplaining. One day, he'll resent this, and so we'll let him get away with murder...

Paul and I are both first children.

And we, especially Paul, are both typical first children. Paul is academic, driven, energy filled, conscientious, hard working, self-disciplined, a natural leader - and on the less flattering side - rigid, bossy, patronizing, and thinks he should probably just take over most things.

[And yes, sometimes he thinks he should take over things from me - which leads to all sorts of lovely conversations - "Paul, I think I've got the pasta boiling under control....."]

I also have most of these traits, but I'm not very self-disciplined or rigid. Wonder what happened with that?

What is it about being born first that leads to these? Paul and I are not the only ones. I have a list a mile long in my head of only children, eldest children, middle children, baby children who all typify their birth order roles. And yes, there are people who don't - baby children who are neither sweet nor spoiled, eldest children who are weak and easy going, middle children who are perfectly conventional and shy, only children who are considerate and insecure. But, by and large, this birth order thing does seem to mean something.

Birth order affects when women first have babies:
Graph showing average age at maternity in Canada over the last 60 years - as it relates to birth order. We first children - we gotta quit having all these babies so early.

And in this Time article, all sorts of things are linked to birth order - IQ, size, tendency to be in congress, tendency to be willingly arrested, etc. etc. etc.

So, what happens to make us this way. It's not as though our genetic personalities are affected by birth order (right?). It's all nurture, circumstance, experience.
An eldest child acts like an eldest child as an adult because of her experience in her household growing up (although some experts say it continues throughout life - basically, I am still being formed into an eldest personality - a theory, in my particular family, I tend to buy).

Anyway, Sunday afternoon, we asked Six Year Old First Child (bee) and Three Year Old Second Child (eas) to go clean their room.

Conflict abounds! The same conflict. Each and every time we send the two of them to complete a task. Every single time. Go get ready for church. Go clean your room. Set the table. Peel the garlic. Take a shower.

Bee starts to clean. Eas starts to dance around the room, build a beautiful block tower, 'read' a book. Which super duper pisses off Bee (excuse my french). So, she starts to complain. And all this moaning, and her sense of equity, keeps her from her duty to clean.

So, we go back there to check on things. Eas is perfectly pleased as punch - disobeying, but a dancing, happy soul. Bee is irate. This is ridiculously unfair.

We've wanted to control circumstances in my household so that birth order wouldn't affect personality. I've contemplated ways to switch 'em around a bit.... I know I know - how would that possibly work? (me... a first child.....wanting to control....shocker....)

Paul and I were first children. We had younger siblings. The exact same 'I'm cleaning while you're futzing around' conflict occurred at our houses. And, I'd bet, houses all over the world. We remember the frustration.

We enter the room to hear, "Eas - if you'd just start picking up legos, we could be finished, but you won't, and rrraaahhhhhhh"

We have to discipline Eas for not cleaning. But we cannot let Bee off the hook from cleaning just because her brother is not doing what he's supposed to do. She wants equity - he's not cleaning, so why should she?

Well, because the room has to be clean before they can watch the second half of The Incredibles. And she wants to watch The Incredibles (who doesnt?!) So.... Fine. She'll just do it. Dammit. (She doesn't really say dammit - clearly not - but it's written all over her face).

It's not fair, but she'll just do it or it's never going to get done.

that's what happens....

that's how these first children are made...

Exactly what happens. That's Paul Forster in a nutshell. And me. We both remember this exact conflict being ever present in our lives growing up.

And my wise old owl conclusion (ha) after being this eldest child, marrying an eldest child, and now having my eldest child turn into a motivated, bossy, driven, people pleasing, academic, nurturing, control nut?

Nothin' we can do.

Just do what's right. Discipline all sin. Encourage and praise all the amazing gifts God gave our children. And laugh as the first one bosses the second one who is always kind of goofy and tons of fun, and they both tend to resent how much that sweet baby one (seems to) always get his way.

It's funny. It's interesting. Sometimes it's annoying. But, it's not tragic.

We need bossy ones, goofy ones, and sweet ones.

This birth order thing - just another spice of life.


  1. I'm an eldest child. I completely believe in this birth order thing, and I have for years.

  2. And this is why I love reading your blog. Can totally relate...again. Oh, the burdens of the elder child!