Recently there has been a lot of research published on the significance that the birth order of children, the number of children, and the sex of the siblings have on forming who we and our children turn out to be. Is it really that predetermined?
Stereotypically, the oldest child is likely to be more academic, less of a risk taker, a perfectionist, more driven, and emotionally intense. Middle children are the 'lost souls' and are more flexible, act as a mediator, are more in-tune with fairness and equality, and more peer-focused. The youngest, or "baby" is most likely to be highly social, creative, independent, funny, charming, and not play by the rules. This is mostly theory and there are of course many influencers in our lives, so it may or may not exactly describe the children in your family, but I do find that it does loosely fit my own four children.
Take a typical evening at our house:
Me: Dinner! It's a new recipe for chicken I thought I'd try.
Oldest: Looks disgusting. How come you can't make the same mushroom chicken you always make? Is this part burnt? And why are we eating so late? I have homework you know.
Middle Child "A": Do I have to eat this in order to get to hockey tonight? What if I eat half? Why do I have more than her? At Craig's house they get to eat peanut butter sandwiches if they don't like the dinner. Why can't we?
Middle Child "B": Mom this looks great -- I love your cooking. Guess what Scotty said today. Alex, I'll eat yours if you don't want it - want to trade the corn?
Youngest: Is this chicken dead? Can I eat in the family room? What if Michael Bublé was my real dad? This part looks like poo.
The comments above are typical of the reaction I get when the kids are faced with a "new" situation (if a previously untried chicken recipe can truly qualify as "new"). The oldest wanting the same thing again and again and worried about schedules being upset, the middle children looking for fairness, peer experiences and some mediation, and the youngest, well just plain being the youngest. They seem to fill their prescribed roles quite nicely.
Some of the studies I've read have also indicated that not only is birth order important in shaping a personality, but also whether you have brothers and sisters, and whether they are older or younger than you. The good news is that even though that brother is constantly teasing his sisters, he will actually be able to relate better to women than his sister-less compatriots. And conversely, women will respond better to him as a result. Kind of twisted to think about your sister helping you score with women, but it is what it is. My son has a massive crush on a girl whom he says reminds him of his older sister, and there is a striking similarity. Again, maybe a little disturbing, but interesting just the same.
In all of these studies, however, I think they may have overlooked some more basic learnings that brothers and sisters, older and younger, can take away from each other. These might include:
• Negotiation skills: "If you don't tell Mom I jaywalked on the way home from school, I can easily forget about the lunch time detention situation."
• Manipulation: "Dad said it would be good for you to practice airing out hockey equipment with my stuff, for when you play as well."
• Hypothesis building: "Wanna see what happens when we throw a water balloon down the basement stairs?"
• Teamwork: "But Nicholas you're the baby -- Mom always gives you what you want. Now say it again for us? That's right, L-A-R-G-E S-C-R-E-E-N T-V."
But how long does the effect of birth order last? I'm a middle child, so that should mean that my parenting style is being open to negotiation, fairness, and emulating how my friends manage similar situations. Hmm. Let me think about what I said to the kids this morning:
"Because I'm your mother that's why. End of story."
"Your brother can do that because he's only five"
"Just because Michael's mom does it this way doesn't mean that's the way we do things around here, buster."
As with most parenting theories, this one implodes on actual application. Guess I'll skip reading the article on "Briefs or boxers? What you might be doing to your son."