Family Relationships: Birth Order

“Mom, where’s my photo album?”

Kevin Leman, author of The Birth Order Book, written originally in the 1980s and revised in the 1990s, maintains that our birth order has significant influence in shaping our personality. There is much observable truth in Leman’s claims.

However, there are always, always exceptions. In my own family of origin, the first-born was not the typical “first born;” the second-born was; and the third-born displayed behavior typical of the second born; the “rebel.”

In many, if not most families, the oldest – the first born – tends to absorb the values, the manner, the rules of the parents. First-borns have their parents all to themselves for at least a year, usually longer, and they naturally fall into their parents’ style.

When the second-born arrives, he/she discovers early that the coveted “first place” is taken and explores other ways – sometimes less traditional ways – to find their niche, to be recognized and to win the attention and affection of their parents.

By the time the third or fourth child arrives, they have siblings who contribute quite a bit to the attention and the family way of doing things. The third or fourth child is often called the “middle child” and becomes adept at balancing the interactions of the oldest with the youngest. The middle child is often the negotiator or peace-maker.

For families with only one or two children, there is often time, energy and resources to provide them with much attention; the meticulously maintained baby book, the fashionable new clothes, the shiny red trike. Whereas with larger families, later siblings inherit used toys, perhaps hand-me-down clothes; they also inherit “smarts” from their older siblings. As a child, I experienced a sense of protection from two older siblings who lived at home with me; they kept an eye out for me. I also learned from them social skills; what was the current slang, what was cool in terms of clothes, and that you don’t show up for a party right on the dot! – all the essentials for social survival, which in turn gave me a sense of “being in the know” and fortified my self-confidence.

I recall chatting with a friend whose goal was to purchase a brand new home. I was somewhat intrigued because of the two homes I grew up in, and the two homes I have lived in since – none were brand new. It never, ever crossed my mind to want a brand new home. However, for my friend, who came from a large family with a lot of “hand-me-downs” in the form of clothes, cars and older homes, the experience of having something brand new appealed to him.

We are shaped and influenced by our early lived experience.                                                                                                                                                   

For Your Reflection

What is your birth order? Were you the typical first born; a middle child; the youngest? 

How has your birth order impacted you? 

Are you a twin or a triplet? What was it like to have a twin? 

Were you an only boy with sisters; an only girl with brothers? 

Were you an only child?


For further information on birth order: 

The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are, by Dr. Kevin Leman

Dr. Leman is a New York Times best-selling author who has written over 50 books. The Birth Order Book is among his most popular with over one million copies sold. Visit Dr. Leman’s website, to learn about his books, podcasts and more.

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