Does Your Child's Birth Order Matter?

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A new study suggests that your parenting style is more powerful than birth order. But how realistic are it's suggestions for parenting multiple little ones?
A new study suggests that your parenting style is more powerful than birth order. But how realistic are it's suggestions for parenting multiple little ones?

It's already happening. We have three children--ages 4, 2 and 1--and our oldest is a textbook first-born, at least according to research compiled in 2012 from over 200 recent birth order studies:

"First-born children are often highly motivated, Type A personalities who are vulnerable to stress. They are the most conformist and influenced by authority."

Sounds about right. Phoebe's a little helper around the house, my right-hand mini-man. Our arrangement is a win-win because she lives for praise, seeking out approval by doing "the right thing" and listening intently to everyone, from her preschool teacher to the town librarian. If you're an adult, she's all ears. She's also the most prone to meltdowns, a preschooler's basic reaction to stress.

I can relate because I'm also a first-born. Striving, thriving, stressed out. This trio pretty accurately describes my personality for the last 40 years. But there's an upside to being a first-born, even if you're a little on edge. We're people who get things done. We're presidents and astronauts.

Related: Does Birth Order Matter?

But that doesn't mean younger siblings have to be relegated to the role of Mellow Little Sister or Brother. A new study reported on by Yahoo suggests that the reason first-borns are so achievement oriented is simple: because parents are harder on them. Parents expect more and pay closer attention from Day 1. By the time the second kid, third kid and so on come along, parents have lightened up (and become more distracted). And just like that, ambition is zapped before it even starts.

We had two girls then a boy. To be honest, I sort of expected these guys to fall in line with traditional birth order roles. Yes, we doted on our daughter when she was our only child. But she wasn't exactly alone for long. Phoebe became a big sister at 20 months old. And that daughter became a big sister at 14 months. So close in age, I often describe our kids (only half-jokingly) as a pack. They're cute, they're into everything and they're totally stereotypical in their birth order roles. Here's what I mean (from Yahoo):

"Middle children are sociable and least prone to "acting out." They can also exhibit feelings of being an outsider.

Youngest children show the highest degree of sociability and empathy. They are also the most rebellious."

Yes and yes.

I hear what the researchers are saying though. Treat your third like your first, and voila! You'll crush this birth order theory to pieces and your younger children will thrive even more. Sounds great! However, the flaw to this suggestion is glaring: there are two other small children who also need my attention for basic life necessities right now.

I'm not complaining. I love having kids who are close in age because they're growing up together. Built-in friends, someone to talk to, a reassuring presence in a shared bunk bed. Not one of them has any recollection of life without the others. Yes, there are drawbacks for parents, exhaustion being the main one, but still. I'm glad we're in the shape we're in.

But back to parenting younger siblings like your first. I'm not saying it can't be done. That I can't glean a bit of wisdom from this advice, and make a conscious effort to approach the little guys the same way I do our oldest. But trying to pour on the attention, the expectations, the SAME level of worry, praise and concern to all three of them the way we did when there was only one is a pretty tall order. Even for a first-born like me.

- By Charity Curley Mathews

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