Observing Birth Order

I remember the first time I discovered a book on birth order. It was in 1992 in the ‘library’ where I was house-sitting on a gulf island. This opened up a whole new way of understanding myself and others in the context of family system and beyond.

  Fifteen years later, as radio host, I had the opportunity to explore a plethora of ideas with Dirk Becker, including the influence of birth order from his first-born perspective.

  “Birth order is the ancient study of noticing how different children can behave within their respective birth order. To focus on the rules rather than the exception, because people will always say ‘oh I was a first/middle child and I wasn’t at all like that’. All I need to do generally to get people to say ‘oh yes, I know someone like that’ is to make reference to the quintessential lost last child who has trouble with relationships, money, alcohol, tends to be the black sheep that everyone else is concerned about, they end up being cut out of the will, but before that they make sure they get a sailboat, or a bunch of money out of a dying parent, and it just goes on. Last children can be amazing (for those last children out there who are feeling defensive), last children can be the most lovely and playful people on the planet. Going to the other end of the spectrum there is the quintessential first-born child like myself, who tend to be pleasers or over-achievers, both Lynn and I are first children, as she points to herself, giggling, and I’m definitely a pleaser and an over-achiever, and I’m sure Lynn is also both. 

  “The reason birth order is so fascinating is that it can give us another window into relationships with each other in general. Nicole, my partner, is a first child also. In the books, they say in terms of being in a partnership or marriage with another first child: ‘good luck’. It is very difficult because we both butt heads positively and negatively. Even with things like ‘your shoulder is sore, let me massage it’, ‘oh no, yours is much sorer than mine, you worked so hard, let me massage yours’, ‘no, I’ll massage yours first’. There are times when Nicole and I are going into a restaurant and we actually bump off one another as we’re both entering ‘first’ – it’s hilarious. In making decisions, both of us are in the lead and in charge and are right and no one can tell us anything, and we both get so reactive and defensive. Because I’ve dated a number of women in my life and I started watching birth order as a teenager, I would observe that middle children often say ‘oh, I don’t know’ and make their shoulders go up by their ears and wouldn’t want to make decisions. They just want everyone to get along. When they came with me to political meetings, they would get all upset because I’m so forceful, aggressive, angry and reactive. They’d say ‘what’s the big deal, why can’t we all get along?’ And then the last children I dated would say things like ‘oh what’s the big deal anyway, let’s go play, let’s go for an ice-cream cone, who cares, just let them kill one another’. The first children I’d get together with would say, ‘Yes, we need to change this, we need to write our government’. 

  “One of the best ways to watch birth order is to go to a turkey dinner and watch the people who say ‘this is the way we do it, no breast up, breast down, this is the way you do the turkey, no the cranberries aren’t put out first, no the table’s setting is done this way. My Norwegian friend, when we go there, we fight about, ‘oh no the potatoes should not be peeled, oh they should be cut up small, no they should be cut up big, they should go in now, the meatballs have to be in’, oh my God, it’s just horrible. So I just had a birthday dinner for myself, and I basically did almost the whole thing. I cooked almost the entire meal. I let people help a little bit, but I was in charge, and it turned out the way I wanted, we had a sit-down birthday dinner.”

  Can we change the influence of birth order? A sense of humour along with curiousity and awareness can help as we observe ourselves and others, in family and in all our relations.   


Lynn Thompson is the host and producer of “Living on Purpose”. She resides on Vancouver Island, BC. Her website is www.LivingOnPurposeLynn.com