The influence of birth order

The influence of birth order

18 Apr

*This newsletter is intended to offer information only and recognizes that individual issues may differ from those broad guidelines. Personal issues should be addressed within a therapeutic context with a professional familiar with the details of the problem. Copyright 2018 Simmonds Publications: 550 La Jolla Blvd., 306, La Jolla, CA 92037

Birth order affects our behavior and relationships.

If brothers and sisters are raised by the same parents, how do they end up so different? How is it that one sibling grows up to be successful, academically and professionally but with few friends, while another becomes the athlete with loads of friends? To the degree that one of the siblings is a responsible person, another will be attention seeking or rebellious. One follows the ways of the parents, and another looks outside the family for support. The strategies we learned in childhood for dealing with her parents and siblings have a long lasting influence on her behavior, afternoon ways, we barely recognize.

The world of the firstborn child differs markedly from that of the second born, and if the third comes along, he, or she will carve out territory within the family system. The difference from the first two. This is not to say that these patterns are carved in stone, there are always exceptions to the rules, and if the third child comes along much later, the last form may have characteristics resembling the first born. The gender of the children and physical differences can also make for deviations from the general patterns, as well as the birth order of the parents and the nature of the relationship between the parents. And, of course, two families who come together through the remarriage of the parents (the blended family) can create all sorts of interesting combinations. Researchers have been interested in birth order for nearly a century now, but learned only within the past few decades about the influence of birth order, and our behavior, and the nature of relationships with our partners. Consider two parents, possibly newly married, who have their first child. Determined to be the best parents in the world, they dote on the child, give the child an abundance of attention, and try to show just how responsible they are. They want to be perfect parents, they want the child to be perfect, and it’s a lesson. The child learns well. Firstborns often grow up with perfectionistic tendencies, and they strive for approval and success in the adult world. The second child usually doesn’t get nearly the attention received by the older sibling, and deviating from the pattern already established by the first born, the second child will often go outside of the family constellation as they grow up. The support of their friends becomes more important than the approval of the parents. By the time the last born child comes along, the parents have loosened up considerably in their child rearing practices and tend to indulge this child, so the baby in the family, having learned of his or her special status, may grow up to be attention seeking, perhaps manipulative, people oriented, and a charmer.

Birth order has a significant influence on our behavior in adulthood. The tactics we developed in childhood to deal with other members of the family remain with us and can cause conflict in our relations with other people later in life. Others may appear ambitious, selfish, withdrawn, irresponsible, or opinionated, and we may wonder why others would even see these attributes as a problem! One of the major goals of therapy is to understand how our development has affected our personalities as adults and see how these influences have slanted our ways of dealing with other people. Despite the heavy impact birth order has on us, we can learn to change some of these behaviors, and if change is not indicated, at least to use our special attributes to their best advantage. The first step in this process is awareness, this leads to understanding, which in turn can lead to intentional change.

How does this all affect our choice of a partner? The best bet when deciding on a partner is to choose someone with a birth order unlike our own, so that we can benefit from the strength of someone who has learned a different set of strategies for dealing with life.

So, which birth order makes the ideal partner? It depends on you. There are no hard and fast rules. Some people say their firstborn with the last one provides for a good mixture of responsibility and playfulness. Others say the first or only born with a few friends can benefit from a relationship with a socially oriented, middle child. Tempered with a good dose of common sense, the answer lives in your heart.