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Is your firstborn a natural leader?

How birth order impacts your family

I have three children. Nicole was born first followed two years later by Travis and then three years later by Samantha. They are all in their early 20's now. If I follow what the experts say about birth order personalities, Nicole should be a leader, Travis should be independent but obstinate and Samantha should be less independent and is more likely to be frivolous.

The concept of birth order personality was developed by an Austrian psychiatrist, Alfred Adler, who theorized that what order you were born affected your personality. That, in turn, determined how you handled your life, love and work, among other things.

It's not as simple as it sounds. "When you look at human behavior and how we become who we are, there are so many potential intervening variables - family, friends, neighborhood, culture, socio-economic strata, etc.," says Dr. Paul Schwartz, professor of psychology and the director of the Center for Adolescent Research and Development at Mount St. Mary's College in Newburgh. "We can go on and on and on about how we become the people we are. The best we can do is generalize."

READ MORE: How to raise a healthy only child

While my family agrees that Nicole is the epitome of the oldest child, Travis and Samantha don't think that they are anything like the description of their birth order personality. Travis isn't obstinate, is very calm and requires very little attention. Samantha is my baby girl but she is not desperate for attention which is typical for the youngest. She is extremely independent and is very cautious, not frivolous.

We discussed what Dr. Schwartz said about the factors that affect a person's personality. For example, I lost my husband when the kids were younger. Travis became very protective of his sisters and never felt competitive with them.

What can birth order predict about personality?

In his book, The Birth Order Book, Dr. Kevin Leman writes, "There are standard birth order rules, and there are also exceptions to those rules. Birth order gives you some important clues about your personality, your relationship with friends, co-workers and loved ones, the kind of job you have and how you handle problem solving."

Filomena Fanelli has two daughters - one is eleven-years-old and one is six-years-old - and she believes that both of her daughters resemble their birth order traits. "Our firstborn is very serious and tends to be more comfortable around adults, while our younger daughter is more social and gregarious and tends to go with the flow more easily," she says. Fanelli insists that her children's differences were apparent from very early on. She says, "The oldest wanted to be a business owner and had the whole concept planned out while my youngest wanted to be a cat."

READ MORE: Prepare your kids for a new sibling

Rosemarie Noto has three children and absolutely believes in birth
order personalities. "My oldest, Allie, is 20 and is structured and
controlling, independent and a peace maker," says the Stormville mom. "When Allie was little, everything was 'mommy do' because she was a perfectionist even at the age of 2. Jacquelyn is 18 and independent and a peace maker, while my 13-year-old son Nick is outgoing, fun-loving and spoiled."  

Interfering factors
Schwartz explains that the firstborn's birth personality is clear. "There is probably more hard data and hard evidence than any other ordinal position. That's an easy one to research, because there's no intervening variables with firstborn," he says. "Firstborn kids usually are much more confident, much more self-assured. Firstborns can sometimes be a little bit more self-centered than other kids, but they're also much more social."

But the second child could be born anywhere from ten months to six years later and the relationship between the kids and their birth order personality is going to be different. "Let's say there's a three year difference," he says. "This firstborn kid has been the apple of his parents' eyes and gotten all the attention, but if the next baby is born right away, the firstborn never has established any position and was never old enough to recognize he received the adulation."

He explains that if they are six years apart, there's no competition. "Now you have a six-year-old who has already established a sense of identity, who he is and his position in the family. He's got friends, he's autonomous," says Schwartz. "He doesn't need the constant parent attention. If anything, now he gets a little bit more independence, and a little bit more freedom because the parents are busy with the baby."

Cathy Monteiro agrees because her older son Matthew is in middle school while her youngest, Jackson, is in second grade. "They are so
far apart in age, they both have only child syndrome," says the Poughkeepsie-based mom.  

READ MORE: 4 ways to know if sibling rivalry has gone too far!

A parent’s impact
My family discussed what Dr. Schwartz said about the factors that affect a person's personality. For example, I lost my husband when the kids were younger. Travis became very protective of his sisters and never felt competitive with them. My daughter Nicole says in reference to her leader qualities, "I think it's because Dad died and I felt like I had to step up and help."

Interestingly, 24 of our presidents were firstborn males.

When it comes to the second born, Schwartz explains that they don't always adhere to authority. "The parents have nine photo albums with the first child and not that many with the second. We over-parent and over-attend to our firstborns. Secondborns get less. We don't have to spend so much time and energy and read books on how to take care of our kid. So, secondborns are more oppositional."

The birth order differences also depend on gender. Noto recalls, "The girls had a set bedtime. Jacquelyn would cry a little and Allie loved structure and wouldn't make a peep. Nick wanted no part of it so he ended up with no bedtime most nights."

The question remains: Should the kids be parented differently based on this?

"Parenting should be individualized to each child, of course," says
Fanelli. "Our eldest daughter, who has a more serious personality often found in firstborn children, prefers to be talked through transitions and bad news. Our youngest daughter is more likely to let things roll off her shoulders. We've adjusted the way we parent as a result because what works for one typically does not work for the other."

In my opinion, I think every parent parents each kid differently. My kids were parented differently because they lost their dad very young.

Birth order is an interesting topic, but ordinal position is only a piece of the parenting puzzle. Just like your child, there are so many facets to their personalities and so many factors that can change it over time. Whether they were born first or last is only part of their life story.  

Lisa Iannucci is a local freelance writer. Her latest book, On Location: A Film & TV Lover's Travel Guide, was released on February 1,