Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Love Lounge: What's your place in your family?

Speaking of siblings, the science behind birth order has always fascinated me. A few years ago, I wrote an article on birth order for Pregnancy magazine. As it turns out, birth order is just as much a part of a person as eye or hair color and is most intense at home. Every baby is born with a personality, and the general tone of a person seems to be developed in the womb.

“Birth order is to the personality what the skeleton is to the body,” says Clifford Isaacson, birth order expert, psychotherapist and author of The Birth Order Effect: How to Better Understand Yourself and Others. “What the skeleton does for the body, birth order does for the personality.”

He's mapped out 5 birth order personalities and traits associated with each type...

Only: organizing, feeling, private
First: dreaming, indecisive, researching
Second: perfectionist, logical, sensitive
Third: creative, helpful, spontaneous
Fourth: analytical, unpredictable, reclusive
What I found really fascinating, though, was Isaacson's look at birth order later in life. There are some 20 different combinations of birth order in marriage. “The challenge in marriage is to understand each other. Birth order knowledge will help a great deal,” says Isaacson, who also authored The Birth Order Effect for Couples. Some of his tips for wedded bliss...

*Try thinking like your partner to grasp the birth order differences. This helps with communication.
*Choose to enjoy two or three of your partner's birth order characteristics. These can be a source of humor between the two of you.
*Compensate from your birth order behavior for things lacking in your spouse's birth order behavior. That way, both of you contribute to your relationship.
*Increase your understanding of each other's birth order to do away with anger. What seems unfair may simply be birth order behavior.

Growing up, my younger sister, Janelle, and I each had distinct personalities. As the leader of the pack, I bossed everyone around and dreamed of doing everything from riding a bike to baking my grandmother’s famous almond cookies with my mother. Janelle, on the other hand, was sensitive and somewhat of a loner and would spend hours in her room creating beautiful works of art that she’d enter in the local grocery store’s coloring contest. Our little selves may not have known it then, but we fit the mold perfectly.
Isn't that interesting? Your turn, friends: What "spot" were you born into in your family? Were you the oldest? The youngest? An only child? Did you like where you were, or did you wish you could trade places with someone? Did your personality match the corresponding birth order characteristics? Have the characteristics followed you into adulthood, or have you "outgrown" them? xoxo
[Photos by Charles Gullung]


  1. Very interesting post Melissa. I'm the 2nd (middle child) and I think I fit in to what is said. I sometimes wished I was the youngest because I was ganged up on by the older and the younger one. I think the traits have followed me. What's really interesting is how you relate to your spouse according to birth order. I need to look more into this! Thanks

  2. Not true of me or most of my siblings.

  3. These descriptions are vague enough that they could be almost anyone. Personally, I'm about equally described by every single one of them. This reads less as a 'science' and more like astrology, numerology, palmistry, tarot, etc.

    Not that I don't think that birth order has no shaping whatsoever on people's personalities; clearly it effects both sibling and child-parent relationships, which in turn can shape people's personalities. But the man is overreaching tremendously with his assertions, and his conclusions are not science.

  4. Just out of curiosity, in your own experience, do you think you inhabited the typical 'oldest child' role in your home? I'm just wondering, since I've heard that in most families, when one child has a major disability and/or serious health problems, those roles can be subverted. That the younger siblings are expected to grow up a lot faster than they usually are (sometimes too fast), and can be ignored or overlooked a lot by their parents, who are preoccupied with the child who needs their attention the most. It sounds like you have had a lot of struggles getting your mom to see you as an adult- struggles that your sister hasn't had as much, despite some problems of her own (like the time your mom suggested that Janelle date someone you were interested in without even considering that you might want to yourself). Maybe your early birth-order roles shifted a bit during your 20-something surgeries, when you were busy being taken care of and trying to survive, and the rest of your family (including your sister) were busy worrying and trying to put on a brave face for your benefit and taking care of you. Would be curious to know what your sister has to say about this.

  5. It's funny–I'm the oldest, but most people I met think I'm an only. Ouch?

  6. My husband and I are both the oldest out of four, we read that list and had to laugh because the personalities fit our siblings (and ourselves) to a T.

  7. Hi Anon -- my sister and I have talked a lot about this in the past, actually. Where all my surgeries are considered, yes, there was a bit of a role reversal like you say, but when we were at home, away from everything medical, we were just two normal sister. I was very much her protector growing up and she was always on the shy side.

    It's funny, too, because now that we're adults, our roles have pretty much stayed the same. I'm the typical older, bossy sister and she's the laid-back one. :)

  8. Ha, silver, not sure I'd want to marry another first-born like myself...too bossy!

  9. Darling, this is so interesting. I never heard about this theory. I am the oldest sister, and I certainly relate to some of this characteristics. It is definitely something to take into consideration...XOXO

  10. Oldest siblings are pretty awesome, aren't they, Elsa? Though I'm probably a bit biased haha!

  11. I'm an only child and the character traits for the only child kinda fit me. But I have three cousins who are sisters and I don't think this fits any of them, especially not the oldest.


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