Your personality can usually be determined by knitting together a series of defining traits. Where you grew up is definitely a vital thread, as is—if you believe in this sort of stuff—what star you were born under. But as any family with multiple children knows, few defining characteristics are so vital to How Someone Is as birth order, what place they fall among their siblings.
Let me break down the traditional birth order roles for all the only children out there.
- The eldest child is commonly the leader, and sometimes the tough guy. Eldest children make the rules because they do everything first (and they’re bigger), and therefore often act as both mentors and manipulators of younger siblings. Oftentimes, this includes a sense of entitlement and anal retentiveness—they want everything their way. However, their burden to bear is that they also receive parental pressure to be the best of their siblings, and will try to live according to lofty standards to which no one else holds them. They will buy you presents that they will borrow from you.
- The middle child is typically the outcast and provocateur. Because they do not fall on either pole of the age spectrum, middle children can be overlooked, thus prompting the concept of the “invisible middle child.” Accordingly, they will act out to get noticed, wearing outrageous clothes or getting in trouble with authority. However, that lack of attention comes with a lack of scrutiny, and as such middle children can be left alone to develop interests that only they understand, and become thoughtful and independent in ways their siblings are not. They order ridiculous food and drinks that they don’t really like, but that have symbolic meaning.
- The youngest child is, simply put, the baby. Youngest children are doted on constantly by their parents, and will be treated childishly for their entire adult lives. But this means that their endeavors aren’t always taken seriously, and so they have to fight to be seen as more than cute. This can inspire an intelligent scrappiness in them, an understanding that only by working hard can they be seen as more than a child. That said, the baby can often shine through, especially when they’re not treated fairly. They will quit board games midway through if they are losing.
Obviously, none of this is in stone. I am the middle of three siblings, with an older brother and younger sister, so it’s not as though I write this in a vacuum after years of psychological research. More so, the number of siblings in a family can cause these roles to manifest in strange ways. Sometimes, it comes in waves—a family of six kids may break down into two sets of eldest-middle-youngest, or there might pairs, with two eldest followed by two middle and two youngest.
Families with two children can go in a lot of different directions, but from my own observations it seems that the middle child role gets split. Both siblings have a little bit of each trait—the neediness, the independence, the provocative behavior. This can act as a cement that binds the two siblings, allowing them to connect even though they may be very different over all.
What all of this teaches birth order kids is how people work. We learn these archetypal characters ourselves, and find ways to work around, agitate, and yes, even love them. The more we struggle against such preconceptions, the more we end up fulfilling our role within the order. This is one of the many ways in which families are like quicksand.
That said, you can use your birth order like a superpower if only you choose to accept it. Each one lends you certain traits that excel under specific conditions. Eldest children do well as team leaders, middle children are outside-the-box self-motivators, and youngest children are driven survivors who hate taking no for an answer. Together, these three personality types make a great team, so long as they use their abilities for good. When one of them rebels against the gift of scheduling handed to them by the Powers That Be, they can throw the whole world into chaos.
But life is a buffet of deep-fried choices, with an ample selection of dipping gels. How you embody your birth order is up to you. Will you use your birth order as a means to an end and apply yourself to the fields that best suit a person of your Place In Line? Or will you squander your position through envy and anger at the others who came before or after you (Middle Children, I know your pain, but that rage is petty baggage at best). Only you can decide.
Have thoughts about birth order? Funny stories about birth order? Think I’m full of dogshit? Let me know below.