When I was in college, I learned in my psychology classes how birth order affects your personality, but I always thought of it in terms of myself and my siblings. When I had my first child, I just parented him as well as I could, but I didn’t really think about him being the oldest and how that would affect him. It wasn’t until I had my second son that I started to be aware of how his relationship with his sibling, and the changes in how we related to each of them, were affecting him.
I could see how becoming an older sibling was shaping who he was becoming, and as my younger son grew, I could see how being the younger sibling was affecting him. When I stop and think about it, it can be almost paralyzing realizing how much the actions we take affect our children. Most of the time I go on about my day, doing the best that I can, but in the times when I pause and reflect, I wonder how different each child would be if they had been born in a different order. My oldest is very particular and I wonder if he would be less like that if he was not the oldest, because we might have had less time to keep things just how he liked them when he was younger. My middle child gets SO excited about a game of teasing him and tickling him, and even though I enjoy watching him giggle, part of me is usually wondering if he is enjoying it so much because he doesn’t usually get as much attention. He is 3, but doesn’t really talk yet, so between my oldest telling stories and wanting to know how to spell words constantly, and the needs of the baby, he can get kind of lost in the shuffle. I try to find times to pay attention to each child individually, but it doesn’t happen as often as I would like. My youngest watches her siblings eat and now refuses to try pureed foods, so I worry that she is not getting the healthy foods to eat that her brothers did as babies. It is a lot easier to puree batches of healthy foods than to cook them each day.
There is no way to avoid having your child shaped by the consequences of their birth order. They have to be something- oldest, middle, youngest, only. The only thing we can control is how much we change each child’s treatment based on their birth order. As the oldest myself, I am more sensitive to the injustices such as privileges that I had to beg for that were automatically given to younger siblings, and allowing the youngest to not have to help around the house because they are “too young”. My husband is more aware of the neglect and lack of attention that can happen to a middle child. The best we can do though, is to try to give each of our children what they seem to need. Equal is not the best way to go, since each child’s needs are different. It is harder to make the effort to notice what each child needs, and what will make them feel noticed and special, but I have to continue to try because my children deserve nothing less than to feel like they are always loved by their parents.
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