“You’re such a firstborn.”
“I can’t help it, I’m the baby in my family.”
“I don’t care where we go; remember, I’m a middle child.”
Most of us are aware of the role of birth order to some degree in our lives. If we have siblings, we attribute some of our personality characteristics, or those of our siblings, to birth order. Even if we are an only child, we attribute certain personality traits or flaws to this as well. We may be unaware of how birth order affects us personally, but love to diagnose it in others. Birth order plays a role in some part in our lives, whether we are aware of it or not. According to the Chicago Tribune, over 80% of Americans have siblings. On this, National Siblings Day, we recognize the part of us that is forever changed and altered by the experience, or even lack thereof, of having siblings.
Alfred Adler, a contemporary of Sigmund Freud, was one of the first to suggest the role of birth order on personality. He suggested that firstborns are “dethroned” by second children, and thus spend the rest of their lives trying to make up for this assault on their position in the family. There are other theorists that attribute IQ, social ability, openness to new situations, and even sexual orientation to birth order and family size. However, most large studies that focused on these theories have shown there to be minimal tangible effect on these traits from birth order. When controlling for other factors, the number of siblings and birth order are found to have a very small role in most of these areas.
Despite research showing that birth order actually plays a very small role in the five major traits of personality, we all know that in our individual families, for a variety of factors, we each have a distinct experience of our own family units. Large literature reviews of studies that examine birth order have shown near zero influence of birth order on personality, yet, it just seems that the baby of the family gets away with a little more than the firstborn. It seems that the firstborn loves to control others more than the middle child. It seems that an only child gets along with adults better than the middle child of a large family. Although research has not come to support claims on the role of birth order, we still love to analyze and compare our experiences with our siblings. “Mom always goes to your house for Thanksgiving since you’re the baby!” “You’ve been getting your way in this family since the day you were born.” “You can’t boss me around; we’re not little kids anymore.” Phrases like these are tossed around like candy in most families.
Whatever influence our siblings have on our personalities, one fact remains. They are the only witnesses to what it’s like to grow up in our family of origin. They are the only other people on the planet that can share and understand what it’s like to have your particular mom and dad as parents. They share life with us, from birth to death. So in honor of National Siblings Day, we take a moment to appreciate that annoying baby brother or that bossy big sister. Life wouldn’t be the same without them.