A simple walk through the Swanson household would make for an easy object lesson in birth-order. You start in the front of the house with Luke and Levi’s bedroom. There are clothes on the floor, towels on the floor, and…well, everything on the floor. There is a backpack with yesterday’s lunch still in it, and then a few lego-figures, special rocks, and a few dollars wadded up and tucked under the bed from the last time I
threatened a little life gave a stern warning if the room didn’t get cleaned up. Immediately.
Then, make your way to the back of the house to the shared room of Josiah and Jonah. It is freshly vacuumed and dusted. There is jazz music playing, and books lined neatly on the desk. White lights add a nice ambience to the room, and the window is open allowing a fresh breeze to blow through. There isn’t a thing on the floor. Now, Jonah (the second born) gets a bit of credit (he did shove his clothes in the drawer after older brother folded them and brought them in,) but let’s be honest:
It’s the firstborn who loves a clean room, and he’d just as soon do it all himself than have anyone else do it less than perfectly.
Birth order is So fascinating.
I have totally enjoyed reading all of the comments that came in after I wrote the post about What middle children need most from their parents. Since then, I’ve been looking forward to touching on the other positions in the birth order lineup.
So how about those firstborns?
Let me make a wild guess…Would you describe your firstborn as having any of these characteristics?
(Maybe all of the above?)
Though I have done a lot of reading on birth order, my favorite resource is The Birth Order Book, by Kevin Leman. It has shed a bit of light on my own boys and why they are the way they are. (Leman also has a book specifically about firstborns: Firstborn Advantage: Making Your Birth Order Work for You.)
Here are a few firstborn traits that the experts all seem to agree on:
First borns are pleasers, and often prefer to hang out with adults than their peers. This can often make them seem like a sort-of mini-grown-up. Firstborns put a lot of pressure on themselves, and crave their parents’ approval.
First-borns are natural leaders. A great number of positions of leadership are held by reliable firstborns. Newscasters and TV talk show hosts tend to be firstborn children. Examples include: Walter Cronkite, Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, Ted Koppel, Oprah, Donahue, Geraldo, Arsenio Hall and Rush Limbaugh.
Over half of U.S presidents were firstborns.
Other famous firstborns include Zac Efron, Beyoncé Knowles, Dakota Fanning, Harrison Ford, Matthew Parry, Jennifer Aniston, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Chuck Norris, Sylvester Stallone, Reese Witherspoon, and Ben Affleck.
Also: Firstborns tend to score higher on IQ tests and typically get more education than their brothers and sisters. (factoid found here.)
Keep in mind: When there is a five to six-year gap between children, experts say that the next child starts a “new” family and “new” birth order.
Also note: Only children–according to Kevin Leman, are firstborns in triplicate. (Wow.)
Parenting Firstborns: In general, firstborns are easy for parents to love because they usually make parenting…easy. Self directed and compliant, they are nice to have around. And the uber-clean bedroom? Oh yes.
But look out: I’ll be the first to admit that I have taken advantage of my sweet, hardworking firstborn. I’ve piled jobs on him, placed expectations on him, and way too often happily assigned him to be the built-in baby sitter.
All of which are on Dr. Kevin Leman’s list of what NOT-TO do to your firstborn.
A few more things I have gathered from birth order experts, and my own experience:
FIVE THINGS FIRSTBORNS NEED MOST FROM THEIR PARENTS:
1. To be noticed and appreciated. It’s so easy to take for granted all that our firstborns do and then keep asking for more…(guilty as charged.) Firstborns thrive on your approval, so give them plenty.
**As I type this my firstborn just did the deepest cleaning job our front porch/lanai has ever seen. It took a long time, and it was all his idea. I told him how great it looked and he said, “When Dad gets home I want him to give me a high five.” (If my younger sons did that job they would have been asking for fifty bucks, and complaining the whole time that someone should be helping them. 🙂 )
2. To be trusted to self-correct. (Try NOT to be an “improver.”) Your firstborn already feels the need to be perfect, so when we nit-pick at their efforts, it can really crush their spirit. Trust that they are already working on self-improvement, constantly, so you don’t have to.
3. Some alone time with Mom and Dad. They may be independent, but firstborns still need you focused attention. Even better If mom and dad can make time to spend together with the firstborn! Give them that special time that the younger siblings seem to come by more naturally.
4. To get a little break. (Don’t pile too much on your firstborn.) Like I mentioned above, your firstborn wants to please, so they often have trouble saying no. Expecting them to do too much, to always be the built-in babysitter, and fill in for where the younger, less responsible sibling slack off, is just not fair. Sometimes firstborns are under more pressure than they want us to know.
5. Some help understanding the pro’s and cons of their unique personalities. If your firstborn tends to be a perfectionist (and most of them are,) they are likely going to face some personal hurdles in the future: Relationships can be challenging as a firstborn perfectionist often expects others to be as perfect as they try to be. They are likely going to be picky choosing a spouse, good friends, and everything else. Jobs can be difficult when a perfectionist tries to do everything, rather than allowing someone else to do it possibly (!) less than perfect.
One way to help a perfectionist firstborn is steering them towards seeking Excellence, instead of Perfection. Doing your best should be the goal, rather than being perfect. Help them gain perspective.
As with all birth order traits, there will be variation among firstborns. I know a couple of families whose first and second kids have, for whatever reason, reversed roles. That’s ok too. Also, as you parent each of your kids, it is helpful to take note of which birth order you and your spouse are in your own family of origin. This can help you understand why you relate better to one child than another, or–if you are a firstborn–why it drives you so crazy that everyone else isn’t…Perfect. 🙂
I would absolutely love to hear about YOUR firstborn child. Do they fit the classic personalities traits listed here? Are either you or your spouse a firstborn? Share in comments!–the conversation makes it all the more fun!
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PS 2 Post-publish notes:
1 Since some comments have come in from parents who reportedly have firstborns who are not clean-freaks, I thought I should mention: That is not uncommon! In fact, Kevin Leman explains how some perfectionists actually keep messy desks, bedrooms, etc., and it has something to do with how they manage their perfectionism…They keep an organized chaos, or perhaps if they cannot keep it perfect, they let it be messy…? It’s too much to go into here, but it’s not totally unusual. (I think my husband falls into that category!)
2. A few people have commented that I state here that “Over half of the US Presidents were firstborns” and in my Middle Child Post I wrote something similar. There was not a mistake. 🙂 (Both posts quoted from the same source!) I am assuming that the reason for this is because many of the early Presidents were from big families…So for example, some of them may have been the fourth child out of nine children, with a large gap between #3 and #4…In this case Leman might classify them as both a middle child (for obvious reasons,) and also a “firstborn” because of the age gap…I will look into this further, but that is my best guess!
PPS This is a really cute book for the little firstborns in your family: My Firstborn, There’s No One Like You