Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Family Zoo

We are reading The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are for my book group this month. It was a fun read.. I was glad that the book began by stating that of course there are individual differences and not every point applies to every family situation, but statistically, the data is hugely in support of birth order theory. It gave some good tools to analyze relationships and influences within families. So, I've taken the book's philosophies and analyzed my family growing up for fun...

Darlene fits pretty much perfectly into the mold of an oldest child. Even though Randy really came first, his frequent absence meant that she was pretty much raised a first child, plus she was the first born female, and therefore picked up most of the high expectations that parents have for first children. She is ambitious, scholarly, conscientious, high-achieving and organized. Oldest children are usually defeated perfectionists who can't rise to the challenge and totally rebel or they are very successful people-pleasers. This is soooo true of Darlene, she is apologetic to a fault and tries not to make waves. Oldest children tend to receive more discipline, which may contribute towards Darlene's compliant nature; but oldest children are also very loyal and conservative, so Darlene is willing to do what is right stand up for things that matter. Oldest children sometimes play the role of second-mom to their younger sibling, especially the youngest sibling. Sound familiar? Darlene totally mothered Paco, especially after the divorce when half the time she was the mother.

Generally, middle children are hard to pin and may be a box of contradictions. They are often peace-seekers, because they mediate between older and younger children. Too bad I missed out on that one. They deal with the feeling of being the fifth wheel by seeking attention and approval from peers, and thus develop strong social skills. When first and second children are close in age and the same gender, they tend to be competitive with one another, the second child eager to get the attention that the first child got. Some second siblings compete to dethrone the first, which is more or less successful, depending upon individual abilities and personalities. I never fully dethroned Darlene, but I do feel that I still received a lot of first-child pressures and developed many first-child traits. One possible reason is that my father gave us each equal one-on-one attention (opposite-sex parent's attention being pivotal in children's development) and he also always told me that I was smarter that Darlene, so I had no excuse not to do just as well in school. Also, second children usually strive to be unique from the first child, to walk their own path and differentiate themselves from the first child, a phenomenon called "branching out". This resulted in my being a high achiever but to focus on social and creative areas, since Darlene was already the intellect and the athlete (think soccer, Tai Bo). Also, gave me a rebellious streak. Both of our parents were middle children and they probably favored me and liked me best, even if I was less deserving of it. Middle children tend to be the most well-adjusted and prepared to deal with the heavy responsibilities and challenges of life because feeling the middle-child squeeze toughens them up. I think that this is true for me to a degree- I am more accepting of difficult situations and have a "suck it up" attitude that drives Micah crazy. Middle children are also very sensitive, though they don't wear it on their sleeves like first and last borns might.

Poor Paco, with his older sisters dressing him in girls' clothes and stealing all of the attention and energy from parents! Paco was quiet, unlike most youngest children who use charm and impetuousness to get attention. He did have the humor that most youngest children, especially if they are boys, employ. He did annoy his older siblings for attention, but Darlene adopted him in a "mascot" role, so instead of turning out to be just a pestering little brother, he was an endearing little cub. He was quite an expert at setting me up as a kid- he would pester me to the breaking point and then, when I retaliated, run to mom and dad (or more commonly, Darlene) to dole out the punishment. Youngest children usually struggle the most to adjust to the real world because they have sometimes been overprotected, given fewer rules and responsibilities and not pushed enough as children.

Then, we come to the blending of our families. Blake and Gabby joined the picture when we were 16, 14 and 12. They were 11 and 5, I think?

In this type of blended family, the one who stood to struggle the most would be Blake. He went from being the first born and only male, to becoming a middle child and gaining a brother very close in age, which usually leads to competition as I mentioned. Fortunately, I don't remember there being that much competition between them. Possibly because LeAnn is an oldest child and therefore indulged Blake more than another parent might. Also, he then became the youngest male of the family, so he gained the outlet of being the youngest-son funny guy and the pesterer. He didn't pester that much, but he definitely became the funny little brother. I'm so lucky- I got TWO funny little brothers in my family! So Blake got the attention and affirmation that he needed to smoothly transition and I think is very well-adjusted. Success.

Now Gabby is the classic youngest daughter, what the book refereed to as the "baby princess". The age gap between she and Blake accentuated Gabby's unique position, but also meant that she got a lot of the attention, expectations and characteristics of an only child because she was not as socially involved with the rest of the children; she played by herself, had separate interests and friends, etc. So, she got both the pampered treatment of being the baby and the isolation of being an only child (first born in new set of children, no kids beneath her), or a "lonely only" as the book calls it. Only children usually have trouble relating to their peers and can get along with older kids with more maturity or younger kids who they can teach and be a role model to. So don't be surprised if Gabby turns up next week with a 25-year-old boyfriend or tutoring Freshman. Youngest children are fawned over and indulged, so they can have a rocky transition into adult independence. This can take the form of cynicism and disillusionment.

Of course Blake and Gabby are also influenced by their other set of siblings, but these are the influences that I interpret from their order withing my family.

I've also thought about LeAnn a lot as I've read this book. LeAnn works hard because she's a driven, independant first born. A last-born LeAnn would be content to leave lots of responsibilities to others and wouldn't feel the need to do such a good job all the time.

Alright, family- what do YOU think? Where has my assessment been off and what has rung true? What influences from our birth order have I ignored?

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