The Mystery of Multiples and Birth Order

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Categories Parenting

This past week I was reminded of the phenomenon known as “birth order.” Many people believe that your position in a family largely determines your personality, who you will marry and what character traits you will exhibit. For example:

Birth Order Typical Characteristics

Only Child

  • Pampered and spoiled.
  • Feels incompetent because adults are more capable.
  • Is center of attention; often enjoys position. May feel special.
  • Self-centered.
  • Relies on service from others rather than own efforts
  • Feels unfairly treated when doesn’t get own way.
  • May refuse to cooperate.
  • Plays “divide and conquer” to get own way.

First Child

  • Is only child for period of time; used to being center
    of attention.
  • Believes must gain and hold superiority over other children.
  • Being right, controlling often important.
  • May respond to birth of second child by feeling unloved and neglected.
  • Strives to keep or regain parents’ attention through conformity.  If this failed, chooses to misbehave.
  • May develop competent, responsible behavior or become very discouraged.
  • Sometime strives to protect and help others.
  • Strives to please.

Second Child

  • Never has parents’ undivided attention.
  • Always has sibling ahead who’s more advanced.
  • Acts as if in race, trying to catch up or overtake first child. If first child is “good,” second may become “bad.” Develops abilities first child doesn’t exhibit. If first child successful, may feel uncertain of self and abilities.
  • May be rebel.
  • Often doesn’t like position.
  • Feels “squeezed” if third child is born.
  • May push down other siblings.

Middle Child of Three

  • Has neither rights of oldest nor privileges of youngest.
  • Feels life is unfair.
  • Feels unloved, left out, “squeezed.”
  • Feels doesn’t have place in family.
  • Becomes discouraged and “problem child” or elevates self by pushing down other siblings.
  • Is adaptable.
  • Learns to deal with both oldest and youngest sibling.

Youngest Child

  • Behaves like only child.
  • Feels every one bigger and more capable.
  • Expects others to do things, make decisions, take responsibility.
  • Feels smallest and weakest. May not be taken seriously.
  • Becomes boss of family in getting service and own way.
  • Develops feelings of inferiority or becomes “speeder” and overtakes older siblings.
  • Remains “The Baby.” Places others in service.
  • If youngest of three, often allies with oldest child against middle child.

As a middle child, I am not sure I like what this says about we “Middles!” This quiz is a fun one to take regarding birth order. Although, it did say I was “Likely an only child.”

Seems like everyone is chiming in on the subject of Birth Order:

Of all the things that shape who we are, few seem more arbitrary than the sequence in which we and our siblings pop out of the womb. Maybe it’s your genes that make you a gifted athlete, your training that makes you an accomplished actress, an accident of brain chemistry that makes you a drunk instead of a President. But in family after family, case study after case study, the simple roll of the birth-date dice has an odd and arbitrary power all its own.   -Time Magazine

Pamela Fierro at wrote an excellent article on birth order and multiples HERE. Check out her article for some thought provoking ideas and insight into the role we parent play in “assigning” birth order characteristics.

My son was born one minute before his sister, and was one pound larger. He is currently 3 inches and 4 pounds bigger than her. Strangers always seem so relieved that he is the “bigger/older” brother that will be able to protect his “little sister.” And I have to admit, having been raised with a protective older brother (and younger sister), that I liked the idea of our son being born first. What my rational is, I am not sure. To me, it just seemed “right.”

I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject, and your observations of the family hierarchy in your home. I am sure the parents that had one or more children in the home pre-multiples have a different perspective than those of us with multiples first (and/or only.)

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7 thoughts on “The Mystery of Multiples and Birth Order”

  1. I find this whole birth-order thing fascinating. I’m an only child, myself.

    Maddie was born one whole minute before Riley (via C-section, so who knows what the time difference would have been if they’d been born vaginally.) She outweighed him by 6 oz., although they were the same length. Now, at the age of 2.25, she is an inch taller and 3 pounds heavier! She is the big sister.

    Personality-wise, Maddie also tends to be the leader, interestingly enough. She is a real caretaker, of both her brother and other kids. She has always been slightly more advanced verbally and physically than Riley, hitting all of her milestones first.

    Is all of this because she’s the “oldest”? I doubt it highly. But it’s interesting that for the most part, M&R fit the mold of oldest/youngest children despite being almost exactly the same age.

  2. Hi! I’ve been blog-surfing and found you.
    My husband and I have 8 children (all adults, now) including two sets of twins. We started out with three singleton daughters, had twin boys, then a girl-boy set of twins, finally a singleton son. With our twin boys, we noticed that dominance changed back and forth every few months, almost as if they were each trying it on. They got along extremely well as children, but experienced a little more friction as teens. They settled that by developing individual interests. Now that they are both adults (31 years old this summer) they are very close again, and neither seems bothered by needing to be dominant.
    Our daughter was born 3 minutes before her twin brother. We always told her he was being a gentleman and letting her go first! She was more verbal, earlier, and this allowed her to be more “bossy” but as they grew older and he grew taller that didn’t seem to matter as much.
    Interesting question!

  3. I’m a big believer in the effect of birth order, at least with singletons. Both my parents are “middle children,” and roll their eyes at my husband and I when we both exhibit our first-born traits. My brother is a sweet, wonderful, easy going middle. My sister bonded with me and is a classic youngest, mostly for the best.

    One of the funniest examples of the effect of birth order was shopping for a camping trip with my boyfriend (now husband) and his new step-brother. The three of us are all oldest children, and all naturally tried to herd the other two around the store. We went in three totally different directions and turned around, confused to see that the others weren’t following. It’s taken some working out, but I think we three understand each other well because of it.

    How it works for twins is a mystery for me, but I do get asked who came first. I like the idea of keeping that a secret.

    But I believe enough in birth order that, as much as I want another baby (the twins are my first), I’m not sure I will. If I have a singleton, they will be a youngest after twins. In my mind that’s a tough, odd man out position. If I try to even it out and go crazy with two more pregnancies, either might be another set of twins. In the blink of an eye I could be the mother of 5! I’d love it, but can’t really manage.

    See those are some first born neurotic ruminations . . .

  4. I have a younger sister and am a stereotypical first child.

    My twinsies are only two months old, but if I had to hazard a guess NOW, I’d say my second (by a whole minute) is more like a firstborn and my first (again, by a whole sixty seconds) is more like a youngest.

    But we shall see.

    We plan on more babies (crazy, I know), so goodness knows how it will all pan out.,

    Interesting to think about, though,


  5. Thanks for linking to my article! This is one of my huge pet peeves. People are constantly asking my twins which of them is older and trying to make a guess based on how they behave. It’s an exercise in futility and only serves to annoy them.
    I am the oldest of three and am SUCH a first child. (especially the competent, responsible part! Loved that one!) !I don’t deny that birth order does effect people’s personalities. But it just doesn’t hold true for multiples unless it is imposed on them, IMHO.

  6. Well, the list is totally out of order for our family. My middle girl is like “first” and my oldest acts more like the “youngest”.

    If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that with typical birth order roles you need to treat multiples as one within the family. Like my mom says, she might be the oldest, but C never spent time one-on-one with us so she isn’t a typical oldest.

  7. I am the mother of an 18 year old boy and 13 year old triplet girls.
    My son is without question the typical first born. Responsible, parent pleaser with a very strong parental feeling towards his sisters. It could ne the age difference, it could be the fact that he’s a boy and they are girls,it could be that dad is a work-a-holic and my son was my helper and extra pair of hands when they were younger. I have no doubt that much of it comes from me relying on him for help and therefore transforming his realtionship from one of sibling to one more likened to parent. he is an exceptional young man regardless.
    The girls are a different story. Delivered c-section they are only one minute apart. The first born is sort of my middle of the road child. She pretends to be tough but is a marshmellow on the inside. She doesn’t like to show fear yet will not speak up to bullies when faced with one.
    Second born is the true leader of the pack! At 18 months none of them could talk ,yet she somehow managed to get her sisters to follow her to the kitchen and lie on top of each other so she could stand on their backs to reach the cookies! She is always telling them what to do and how to do it. Everything from chores to baking!
    My last born fits somewhat into the “mold” of last born. She is a bit of a rebel in the way she thinks and dresses. This could also be because of her exceptional IQ as well. She has a unique way of looking at the world which is true of genius IQ persons. She is somewhat quiet and tends to be a bit of a bookworm (I have no problem with that!)
    What ever the effects of birth order, all children are unique and should be encouraged to develop into what they what to be. My kids are healthy, happy, smart, sweet, kind, generous, and fun. What else could I possibly want?

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