How birth order affects our personality

As I sit here in my daughter’s hospital room for the 18th hour, awaiting the birth of my 13th grandchild, I can’t help but think about the impact this new little guy will have on his serene little family of 4.  As a grandmother, I am better able to fully see how the family unit changes—and every member within it—when a new member comes along.

The baby of the family becomes a big brother today.  He, just like his brother before him, will stop the majority of his “look at me, aren’t I the most adorable human on the earth” antics and instead become a nurturer of one younger than himself.  It is really quite beautiful to observe; it is as if we are all born to nurture, initially at least.

All of these warm fuzzy feelings are during the ‘halo’ phase of having a new family member, of course, and sometimes things go awry after that…sometimes for a brief period and sometimes forever it seems.

In my own family, I was number 9 of 10 kids.  I was born quite late in life–my mom was 39–and even though the original 8 had all come in fairly quick sequence, it had been 8 years since a baby was born.  Nobody was especially happy to have a new baby in the house, especially my dad who only began drinking after my birth.   I can’t even begin to imagine how devastated my poor mother was.  She finally had all of her kids in school and had to start over again (my family was old school Catholic and did not believe in birth control).  However, three and a half years later when my sister came along, everybody was happy to have her and rejoiced in her being, because they had gotten used to having a baby again and actually missed it.  Timing and birth order: powerful things.

The eyes through which my siblings and I view our lives are vastly different.  At times, it is hard to believe we are speaking of the same parents.  I often feel a great deal of resentment both coming my way and going towards them, when I talk about my drunken father.  He was not that father to the older group.  Apparently, he and my mother liked each other before me and had friends with whom they bowled and went out dancing.  I cannot fathom my parents being those people.  It feels like a lie to me.  My parents were ‘All in the Family‘ times 20.

I watch my children as they have children and how their parenting (and marriage) changes slightly with each one.  Their core values and ideals remain the same, however, the way they approach each new birth changes.  First children are the only ones who get to be ‘only’ children for a period of time, and that fact grows with the child in their natural assumption that they are in charge.  Second children understand from day one that their older sibling is the one in charge and look to them for behaviors and love, and so on.

As parents, we love each of our children equally, and because we see our children’s personalities emerging as they grow, learn to love each for who they are.  When our children become adults, their differences sometimes cause dissension amongst themselves, often because they fight against their birth order assignments.  But at their core, the hierarchy remains solid.  If the second has a crisis, they trust their older sibling to solve it before the parents.  If the first has a crisis, they trust the second to still love them.  It when they finally give in to these assignments that harmony exists.


It often takes a crisis for us to recognize the significance of our familial lineup.  Think about it; if you found out today that you had six months to live, who would you turn to?  And what if, instead, you found out your sibling had six months to live?  What would you do?  Anything differently?

Even though I was number 9, I was also the oldest of my ‘group’.  I have often thought about how much more I may have accomplished in life with this headstrong personality God gave me had I not been born number 9, but rather only as the oldest.  But, we don’t get to choose our birth order…and perhaps many of us spend our lives fighting against it.

The daughter who I am sitting with this morning, Courteny, was number 3 of my 4 children.  However, she (like me), was also the oldest of her ‘group.’  As I look back on her life (as you do when your child is having children of her own) I see so many similar traits between the two of us that it leaves no doubt to the birth order theories.  She is baby sister to the two older; but she is also most definitely the oldest sister of her little sister, Ali.

This little guy coming today, Bentley Keith, will be the third son born to Courteny and Keith.  Everything involving little boys has already been figured out in their household.  Where will his personality fit in?  If you are a third child, of the same sex household, you are nodding your head.  You know what he will experience.

Regardless of birth order and emerging personalities, the greatest gift in a family remains the unconditional love and acceptance that only family can give.  Always be prepared to forgive and forget when it comes to family.   And if you aren’t certain if you’ve already given or forgiven too much, err on the side of ‘too much.’  What a mother goes through to bring life into this world–giving up an entire year of her life between pre natal and post natal–should show you exactly how you need to sacrifice for your family.  Our mother, like the original Mother, taught us all about love simply by our existence in the world.


So this is what number three looks like.  I can’t wait until he reveals who he is!  Why not call your sister or brother today…and just say “I love you,” no matter where your relationship currently stands.


***I apologize if my thoughts are a bit discombobulated in this piece….haven’t slept much in days!***


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