The birth order dilemma

April 15, 2017
Zara Maqbool

By: Zara Maqbool

Many years ago I wrote an article on the middle child syndrome and how middle children share many similar traits. I did not highlight how being the first-born and last one in the family also deeply impacts on who we are in this world. I believe that the birth order plays a significant role in shaping our personalities and how we relate to others.

I have three children and their birth order and how I connected to them as a parent has highly influenced their behavior and identity. All the trial and error and need to be a perfect mom has turned my first born as someone who always feels she needs to try harder to get a sense of achievement. I always have the highest expectations from her and my saying ‘try harder’ gives her performance anxiety every now and then. Also after the second one came along she became closer to my husband and communicates with him better than to me. The middle one is the peacemaker of the home and a people pleaser competing for the parents attention in every way and the third one born after nine years of the first one is the ‘spoilt brat’ typical youngest one in the family. Care free, pampered by all and already developing some narcissistic traits where she refers to herself in the third person.

Many of us as parents where we love our children equally tend do parent them differently according to the order they came in this world. It is also a fact that we keep changing our parenting attitude as we grow older and so let’s not judge ourselves harshly on that.

Alan Stewart, an American psychologist differentiated between the ‘actual’ birth order into which you are born in your family and the ‘self-perceived’ position that you determine yourself in the family. My second one had a bad case of childhood asthma for the first few years of his life and got the most attention by the virtue of his health issue. To date unknowingly I worry more about him than the others and he does display entitlement behavior patterns at times. So even though he is the middle child, his getting more attention has played a role in who he is as a person.

Most ‘first borns’ do have leadership qualities and are high achievers. They might be a little insecure too because of their exclusive position getting shared as a sibling comes along. Parents have spent the maximum time with them focusing on their physical and mental development and many first borns are more successful in life than others.

The ‘middle child’ can either be a compromising socially successful child as he continues to be understanding of others while making his place in the family. Or he might be an angry young man as he continues to try getting the parents attention. He is most likely to act as a negotiator too which he gets used to being as he plays that role between the first and the last one.

The youngest one,used to being pampered and over protected might take longer to be independent and might act like a ‘king baby’ for a long time and enjoy this privileged position as an adult too. Parents go much easier and relaxed when it comes to the last one, which turns him in a free child, and having a greater appetite for taking risks in life.

My friend Mahrukh Akram says, “I am the youngest of three and have always been pampered by my older siblings. There are certain personality traits that I believe are the consequence of this birth order like being more friendly, more confident, a good listener, more flexible…. the list goes on! ”

Sahar Saleemi on the other hand says, “I’m the eldest and apparently more responsible, compromising and show leadership qualities which younger siblings call being bossy’ instead.”

We don’t choose our birth order but as parents we can be more aware of how we are with our own children. We can keep a sharp eye on our tendency to be more strict with the first eye and looking away when it comes to the last one and at times not noticing what the middle one is up to. Maybe the birth order is an overrated concept but most likely it does influence our personality and behavior.