Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Birth Order Blues

My in-laws spent the night last night. This morning, while enjoying a few minutes on the porch, we got to talking about their first-born son, my husband. J, my father-in-law, was telling my girls about how their dad paid for most of his college education, something we all agreed would be impossible to do today.

The girls sat spellbound as their grandpa practically burst his buttons telling them about how hard their dad had worked all his life. He even took his first job—a paper route—at age 8. He has since held jobs as a butcher shop cleaner, a grocery bagger, a park district worker, and then into banking. We regaled stories from college when, during our senior year, B worked 40 hours a week while also taking a full load of classes.

He’s such a first-born.

Now, my in-laws have every reason to be proud of their son. My husband. B works hard. He’s always worked hard for everything he has. I’m proud of him too.

But as they talked, Abby and I caught glances between us and smiled. We’re both middle children and, according to all the “birth order” stuff that’s out there, we’re not quite as industrious as those first-borns ahead of us. We like to take things as they come, which makes us more flexible and easy-going. It also makes us more independent (which, I have to add, my darling Abby most certainly is, and I would guess my mother would say the same about me). But would we choose to work when we could play? Ah, probably not.

Eventually the conversation turned to my own first-born, Kate. We quickly realized that she has held jobs for a good portion of her life thus far. She babysits, she’s scooped ice cream, and now she shelves books in the library. All before her 18th birthday.

She’s such a first-born.

This trait in my daughter became even more glaring to me this afternoon. As I sat with my computer, she said, “Hey, Mom. Why don’t you sign me up for the ACT test in September while you’re sitting there?”

Huh? She’s already taken the ACT test, and she did very well. So I asked her, “Why are you taking it again? You did fine.”

But “fine” wasn’t good enough. She wanted to see if she could do better. The middle child in me could no more comprehend wanting to take that test a second time than I could imagine flying to the moon. Why on earth would she put herself through that to get one or two points higher?

I’m such a middle child.

So I registered her for the test. But during the registration process the student has to answer all kinds of questions, so, of course, I had to ask her the questions.

“How far away would you like to go for college?” Less than 10 miles. (Just kidding! That’s my personal bias coming out, but we did have a good laugh about that one.)

“What field of study would you like to take?” What else? Literature.

“What’s the highest level of academic degree you would like to achieve?” I wonder if she saw my jaw drop to the floor when she said, “I’d like to get a Ph.D.”

Such a first-born.

How about you? Where are you in the birth order? I'd love to hear your stories.


  1. I'm a first-born and I defy all the theories. I am so NOT an over achiever. I did not make straight A's. I have no desire to get any more education (I have a 4 year B.S. degree from a Liberal Arts college, and I was lucky to get that.) I do work hard, but only because I WANT to. My house is rarely immaculate (only the day the cleaning lady comes) and I would never DREAM of taking the ACT test twice. I don't think I took it at all, actually. I guess I just took SATs.

    Anyway, it's an interesting theory, but I'm not so sure it's 100% accurate. ;-)

  2. I agree, MoH--not entirely accurate. My mom might tell you that my older sister and I switched somewhere along the line, but I still have many middle child traits.

    Interesting, though, huh?

  3. First-born here and really not the over achiever. That would go to my sister the "middle child", although she was the "baby" for 12 years. Me pretty laid back, really not a perfectionist although I'd like to be, just really don't want to put that much time into it :) So although I have some first-born traits, I really don't fit the theories much either :)

  4. I'm the last child, and I'm a total mess. :)-

  5. Shelly and Jodi - Keep it up! As the Mum it's been interesting to watch your positions in the family change with your sister over the years. One thing is certain: No one has remained in the same spot. I love you all for who you are!
    Now can anyone tell me what my position is in my family? That's a humdinger!

  6. Lanette, I do think things switch around a bit, as my mom says later.

    Jodi, you said it, not me!! :)

  7. My husband and I are both youngest children and we're both pretty laid back. We tend not to worry about things and have found that most parents worry a lot more than we do. We definitely play before work and have had to learn the hard way how much work it takes to keep our household running. I'm so interested to see how our oldest son will show "oldest child" traits as he gets older. We'll know that those things definitely come more from nature than nurture from us.

  8. I had 4 older sisters. I wore all
    the hand me downs. I do not care for second hand stores! I loved my
    sisters (most of the time) but I
    did not like it when the teachers and sometimes Mom would call me every name but my own. I did have 2 younger brothers that followed me
    but they were BOYS! My oldest sister said she had to do everything. She was and is an over achiever. When we all gather she does take over and we all love it! Just tell me when to show up and what you want me to do! I enjoy letting people know I am the youngest sister!

  9. Ah...but I caught you thinking it. I was only joking!

  10. Great comments, everyone. I find the whole birth order thing so interesting, especially as I watch my own kids grow up.

  11. I'm the 3rd of 4, and I look at my oldest daughter like she is crazy when she wants to do her homework over to get it just right, or if I just want to skip over a math problem with her and get on to the next one. It's funny being a middle-born mom, isn't it? :)