LUCY BURDETTE: This topic occurred to me a couple of weeks ago during Hank's post about gratitude. Several of us posted family pictures--and well, we are like a family here too. So I got to wondering, in our families of origin (or even little family groups like JRW), do we follow the traditional lore about how birth order affects personality?
Some of what I've read makes absolute sense. If for example, you are the oldest child of several, you had a different kind of parenting than the kids who followed. Your parents were new to all this, and you were probably the total focus of their attention. And when siblings came along, you lose your throne--unbelievable! But maybe you turn out to be a high achiever, a perfectionist, a leader, maybe even a little bossy?
Middle children may be peacemakers, negotiators, competitive in a less obvious way, and concerned with fairness. Youngest kids can arrive when the parents are worn down, and less concerned with control. You might feel less responsible, and more like the life of the party. And only children are comfortable with adults and used to time alone, so maybe more independent and mature.
I was the second of four, and arrived very close on the heels of my sister. I definitely have some of the peacemaking traits, but I can also be bossy and competitive. Bits of the first and second child, all mixed in together.
How about you Reds? How has your place in your family constellation shaped you?
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oldest child. Of five. And the textbook example. In fact, my mother once told me that when my sister Nina was born, (I was three) she and my dad decided to pay MORE attention to me than ever, because they worried I would be upset.
AND RIGHT THEY WERE!
Um, anyway. So Nina turned out to be charming, funny, adorable, popular, athletic, marginally interested in school..
I was bookish, difficult, bossy, organized, demanding, loner, entitled, grade-and-praise hungry. An "A" was never good enough.
Here we, are I remember this perfectly, "holding feet."
Then when poor middle child (but at that time youngest) Nancy was born, Nina and I ganged up on her. We actually would play with her, but then make up rules for games so she would always lose.
"Oh," we'd say, putting down Scrabble tiles, making a fake word like halamakea, "You can use Hawaiian words, that's fair."
"How do you know Hawaiian?" she'd ask.
"Because we're OLDER," we'd say.
Nancy LOVED when she got married, and got to make all the rules. Including the choice of "angel-choir-attendant" bridesmaid dress for me. But we are still dear pals.
There was just an article that debunked the whole birth order thing. I am shaking my head. Pish-tush. It's all true. Because I said so, and I'm the oldest.
HALLIE EPHRON: I'm a middle child. Yup, check all boxes. I don't like to compete head to head, I hang back, grew into the comfort and confidence that I have now in myself. Took forever to try my hand at writing because I didn't want to be compared. And my oldest sister was #1 in spades.
What they can't factor in is how the family changes so that each kid, especially when they're as far apart in years as I was from my sisters with 11 years between oldest and youngest. My oldest sister grew up in a happy family; my youngest sister in an unhappy one. I saw the change. I think all of us were more affected by the way the family changed than by our birth order.
RHYS: My brother was almost seven years younger than me so I was really like an only child who suddenly found herself faced with an annoying pet. He drooled over my homework, knocked over my favorite china doll and spied on me and my friends. I'd grown up surrounded by relatives, the center of attention until my brother arrived. I was the classic first born or only child. Highly competitive, high achiever, supreme worrier. Then he was sent to boarding school at ten and so really we never got to know each other at all. In later years we have become close and I found out what a difficult time he had being my younger sibling. Everyone reminded him how clever and talented and high achieving I was, so naturally he gave up trying. He joined the RAF. Then he became a hippie. Finally he got his act together and became a high-tech whizkid with the gold Mercedes and the house on the lake, before winding up as an Anglican priest. What a journey!.
LUCY: And Rhys, that reminds me of another fact in my family. I was definitely supposed to be a boy—Roberta, named after my dad. He was so thrilled when my brother came along. He could do all the boy things—coaching and Boy Scouts and tossing a ball in the back yard and home repair. No question, he loved all of us. But I was definitely shaped by not being exactly what he expected...
DEBORAH CROMBIE: My brother is nine and a half years older than me. In a way, we both grew up as only children, but there are definitely birth order traits. My big brother Steve is the classic type-A, over-achieving, self-motivating genius. The list of his accomplishments is mind-boggling. I was the slow-poke, not very good at school, horrible in math, always wanting to please everyone. There are some cute photos of my brother playing with me when I was a toddler, but by the time I was three and he was thirteen (ages in the portrait) our lives didn't intersect much. He went off to Rice University when he was seventeen.It's been so interesting as adults to get to know each other better. I adore him, and I think he's quite proud of me. We have a great time when we get together. Unfortunately, that's not often. He and my sister-in-law are sailors, and are at the moment in, um... New Caledonia? Thank goodness for email... (The later photo is the two of us with our late mom a few years ago.)
Funny, that we both had only daughters, isn't it?
|Look at those cute cheeks!|
|Pat: still ridiculously cute. Barb mostly sulked between|
the ages of 14 and 17.
|The turkey-headed photobomber is Barb's youngest.|
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Only child here. Pretty much a textbook example—creative, introverted (mostly), perfectionist. And then I married an only child, and we have only one child ourselves.... Wow, it it something in the water?
I've had to create my own family and a family of friends out of necessity, but I do admit to feeling lonely sometimes. The relationship among brothers and sisters seems mysterious. Scary, but also pretty wonderful. I wish I'd had more of a family growing up, and now, as well. But it's not in the cards for everyone, so we march to our own drummer.
LUCY: The good news, Susan, is that you and Noel are experts at creating your own families from your friends! And sometimes that's easier than getting along with the family you came into the world with. Reds, how about you? Where did you fall in your families, and can you see the ways that order has played out?