Birth Order Bingo

We’ve all heard the rumor that first children are more successful. Well, it’s not a rumor. More recently, I heard it supported by scientific evidence. First-borns get more alone time with their parents, an uninterrupted infancy, mom’s more likely to breastfeed before there are multiple kids to juggle, dad’s got more time to listen to Focus on the Family (ok, i made that one up because i always get lots of hits when i tag j.d…)

In any case, you’ve probably heard all this. It’s not a new idea that older sibs sometimes out-perform kids from further down in the ranks. This, of course, coming from me–whose baby brother is, as we speak, in South Africa being a global rockstar. So there’s that…

As a mother of two myself now, I have my own theories about why a first-born child MIGHT tend to function at higher levels of achievement later in life. I say MIGHT, because i know many talented and acclaimed second, third, and seventh-born children, so while i’m not a scientist, i account for countless variables here. But IF first-borns out-perform, it comes down to the simple truth of toys.

Toys for babies and small children are designed to stimulate and intrigue. They are designed to draw the eye and engage multiple senses. But above all, they are designed (if they are good toys) to be figured out. And if you’ve got a big sister sitting right there who has already figured it out for you, then you can be lazy at play.

If your sister already knows how to take all the animals in and out of the Fisher Price Little People Barn, how to make it play music and navigate all the different animal sounds, then what fun is that? (OK, it’s still super fun. i like playing with it more than they do). But still, the need for innovation is gone. The sharp edge of curiosity becomes dulled by those who have gone before. If your big sister already knows how to climb out the dog door, you don’t have to figure that out either. If she can climb the shelves in the pantry and get the cookies down, then you get cookies AND she is still the one getting in trouble. Do the math. The little ones have it made. Why try?

I’m sure this truth bleeds on into other stages of development. If your older brother can show you how to sneak out at night without tripping the alarm or the motion lights, then you can get to all the forbidden places that will stop your mother’s heart, without ever having to PLAN anything. You benefit from those who’ve gone before, even though it might hurt you in the long run. (the sneaking out, or the not knowing how to climb back into the dog door if you wind up someplace you don’t want to be…)

Already I’ve witnessed my ten-month-old deciding it’s not worth it. When his sister takes a toy away from him, he looks at her for just a moment…It’s not a hurt or angry look. He’s just deeply impressed. As if to say, wow… i hope i can be so strong, so powerful, so in-charge someday…. It has not yet occured to him that “someday,” for him, will always include her.

For now, I just watch. I make sure he gets time to figure stuff out for himself when she’s napping or otherwise engaged. I’m trying to breastfeed him as long as i did her. I try to listen to just as much James Dobson as i ever did (which, if you know me, is exactly NONE).

Don’t get me wrong.. the ‘roll with it’ attitude has it’s own blessings (ask my spouse, who is a second born…of 7!) and will get you far in many, many situations. The boy will be popular. He will have friends. He might be a great politician [mom shudder]. But I’m learning alot about myself, and the world, watching this whole dynamic unfold between the two of them. There’s love there. Camaraderie.  A sense of responsibility and leadership emanating from my not-quite-3-year-old in ways that make me tear up sometimes.

There’s also a clear message behind it all; “I’m the boss of you, baby brother, and it shall always be so.”

Meanwhile, I’m taking this lesson to other areas of my life. The ease of following those who have gone before; the simple comfort of going the road more travelled and nicely paved; the need for innovation that sometimes escapes us;. the sharp edge of curiousity, dulled by someone else’s experience…sound like anybody we know, Church?

For those of us committed to transforming the ways that we worship, serve and share with our neighbors, it might be time to take a lesson from our rock star little brothers and carve out another path for ourselves. With all the big sister bossiness we can muster, of course, but with some second-sib wandering thrown in for good measure. We are all children of God, and we are neither the first nor the last… the life of faith is ours to claim, for our own time and for those to come.

About Erin Wathen

Rev. Erin Wathen is the Senior Pastor of Saint Andrew Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Olathe, KS (www.sacchome.org). She's a Kentucky native, a long-time desert dweller, and she writes about the sacred thread that runs through pretty much everything. For more info, click the 'about' tab above...

  • http://Saltandnectar.com Sarah

    Now I could be wrong but I think it might be personality too. Only because Amos is NOT laid back and I’m pretty sure as soon as he can walk he’ll defend his territory with passion. ;)

    But my husband fits this mode exactly!

    • http://www.azfoothillscc.org irreverins

      personality, gender, age difference…all kinds of variables! kids are all so different. so far, one of my greatest parenting joys is watching the relationship unfold between the 2 kids, and i’m sure that will always be so…

  • http://www.facebook.com/james.m.sr Jim Gawne

    As a second born, I can state that there are many, many occasions for “breaking new ground,” especially in the area of getting in trouble (there were seven that followed after me)

    Birth order is a good indicator of general tendencies — Dr. Kevin Lehman has made this his life’s work. However, there will be a time — in the distant future most likely — when Harper and Silas will come together again as adults and automatically fall back into their birth order roles.

    As an example of this, I shared a hotel room with my older brother last week in North Carolina. I have not shared a room with my brother since he left home in 1972, but it was the best night’s sleep that I have had in a hotel room [without my spouse being present] in a very long time.

  • Linda Miller

    I love the things you are observing in Harper and Silas, Erin. I do think these early childhood characteristics remain part of our fabric throughout life, and shape how we gravitate to or avoid patterns in others. Every child that’s born into a family enters a different world than the one into which all the others were born, even if they live in the same house, with the same parents. Usually the first one enjoys an absence of competition, is the center of attention, and is highly motivated to please the parents. Seeing those bases covered, the next child will go another way.

    I like your segue, Erin – we are niether the first nor the last. There will always be another comling along behind us doing things a different way.


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