Michelle Mann

I look at new school photos of my two Texas grandchildren and marvel.

Just a look at their beautiful dark eyes tells which is the eldest and which is the baby.

Whoever said, “The eyes are the window to the soul,” should have added “…and birth order, too”.

It is pretty much a person’s eyes that almost always give it away for me almost every time. Look at any family photo and see what I mean.

As the eldest in a family of six children, I describe the eldest as “an organized overachiever,” mostly held responsible for the behavior of other siblings. Not a doubt my younger siblings call those same traits “bossy and controlling.”

From the moment a sibling enters the world, the eldest goes from the center of attention to the “helper” of those caring for the usurper.

Eldest children get “in trouble” if younger siblings have done something wrong that they, as the eldest should have stopped. And if the eldest wasn’t present when the younger siblings did something wrong, they get “in trouble” for not having been there to stop it.

In the interest of veracity, I note that eldest children mostly define “getting in trouble” as really just hearing the words, “I am so disappointed in you” spoken sternly with a touch of sadness on the part of the speaker. Youngest children will not understand the impact of that previous sentence. Middle children won’t care.

Are you an achiever, or a peacemaker or the life of the party? Birth order does affect our personality.

The eldest child is, generally, expected to strive for excellence and achievement. The middle child is raised to be understanding and conciliatory. The baby learns to shine as the center of attention.

Children are different, even with the same set of parents. We are different parents with each child that we have.

Look at photos of siblings. The eldest usually looks directly at the camera, composed and maybe even faking a smile because the instruction has been “smile.” The middle one usually has a genuine smile. The youngest is usually clowning around or barely concealing an impish look—if they are standing still.

Allowing for profiling, stereotyping and generalizing, here are some thoughts from social science experts:

Firstborns tend to be reliable, conscientious, structured, cautious, controlling and achievers. Middle children tend to be people-pleasers, peacemakers, somewhat rebellious, thriving on friendships and who have large social circles.

The baby of the family tends to be outgoing, attention seeking, fun loving, and manipulative—in a good way.

Just by virtue of being first, a firstborn has parents who are more inexperienced, by the book, overly concerned about minutia and extremely attentive. This might cause a first born to act like mini-adults, more diligent or striving for perfection.

More experienced, busier parents less inclined to dial 911 every time the baby doesn’t smile, will raise a second-born. This might cause the second-born to be less of a perfectionist but more of a people-pleaser because he or she has to compete for attention with an older sibling.

If the second child is also the middle child, they may feel left out. They are too little to hang out with the eldest and too old to hang out with the youngest.

A youngest child tends to be the most free-spirited because their parents have a more relaxed attitude towards parenting. They are also the children most likely to be raised with the strong influence of their older siblings.

And then there is the only child. Without any siblings to compete with, the only child is the center of his or her parents’ attention, not just for a while like a firstborn, but forever.

Expert opinions aside, my pretty much tried and true thought is this: Ask a person if they think that they were “spoiled” as a child. Their first response will reveal their birth order.

Michelle Mann is a staff writer for The Southeast Sun and Daleville Sun-Courier. The opinions of this writer are her own and not the opinion of the paper. She can be reached at (334) 393-2969 or by email at mmann@southeastsun.com.

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