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Such the Middle Child

Io9 recently had a post about birth order and how it influences your personality, taking into account children without siblings as well.  I don’t know why I have such an aversion to the term “only children.”  Maybe because “only” is one of those words like “just” as in “just adopt,” where it feels as if the term negates the noun or verb that follows.  Anyway, the post looks at our personalities through the very hazy lens of birth order.

Middle children are supposed to excel at team sports.  I not only don’t excel at team sports due to my lack of coordination and desire to exercise, but I am not a team player in any sense of the word.  I was the student who begged my teachers to allow me to work alone rather than in a group, and when I was forced to work in a group, I offered to do all the work just so I wouldn’t have to get together with the other kids in the group.  The only time I ever broke that personal rule was when I had the second highest grade in my quantum physics and relativity class in college, and we could either work alone or in pairs for the final take home exam.  I chose to work with the boy who had the top grade in the class.  And by “work together,” I really mean that we worked alone and then compared work so we could become a super-power.

But all other times, I opt for games one plays alone (Candy Crush!  Uh… solitaire) or solitary sports and activities such as running or yoga.

Middle children are supposed to be sociable.  If the above paragraph hasn’t convinced you, please recall that in six years of BlogHers, I have yet to attend a party (except for the time I promised Lori I would go inside, and I stayed for a full ten minutes).  I am not a shmoozy person.  I bring a book with me when I have to go into social situations.

I do relate well to older and younger people.  I love hanging out with children, and I used to do volunteer work at a nursing home.  I am not only completely faithful in monogamous relationships, but I am loyal to brands and businesses long after I’ve stopped benefiting from the relationship in any way.  And yeah, I am very sensitive to feeling that I don’t belong, but really, who isn’t?

The point of the post is also how difficult it is to match birth order with traits since so many elements go into influencing who we become.  But still, I love reductive lists like this and seeing where I do or don’t match up.

Check out your birth order characteristics (youngest, middle, oldest, no siblings) in the chart in the middle.  How do you measure up with the traits in your category?

17 comments

1 Bionic { 08.20.13 at 8:54 am }

I’m an only child — not my favorite phrase, either, but I don’t have a better one; the oldest, the youngest, and the one in the middle, my parents sometimes said — and I get very antsy when birth order comes up. A sizable contingent stands always at the ready with a host of insults about us when I say so. Maybe I am selfish and maybe I’m not, but if you haven’t noticed it prior to discovering my lack of siblings, it’s absurd to suddenly tell me that only children are selfish (or narcissistic or spoiled or neurotic or whatever; somehow independent and articulate never make the list). I am married to an only child (just like the article predicts), and I do find it interesting the ways we have responded similarly and differently to that situation — she really needs alone time, while I have a greater need for some company, at long last — but possibly these are essential differences that I am interpreting through the birth order lens. I do think only children do tend to feel the weight of parental expectation very strongly (since there’s no one to help carry the load), which is certainly true of both of us.

When it gets right down to it, though, I think being raised by a chronically ill parent has had a much bigger effect on my personality than my not having siblings. I suppose it’s typical only child thinking to discount the importance of sisters and brothers ;)

2 Persnickety { 08.20.13 at 9:25 am }

I am the eldest of three, I can see the validity of some characteristics, but others are rather funny. I am the most artistic of the three, while my left handed younger sister, the youngest, is an engineer. She is also much more extroverted than I. My parents are both oldest children, and I wonder how much that influenced decisions as well. I know I had fewer rules and restrictions growing up than either my brother or sister, and had a lot more independence and lack of guidance in late high school and college years ( not deliberate, but circumstance).
I do think there are some differences that come from birth order ( or lack thereof) there are other characteristics that are innate. I am quite introverted, I don’t think that is necessarily from birth order.

I like team sports, but group projects, not my cup of tea.

3 Peg { 08.20.13 at 10:07 am }

I’m a middle child with two older and two younger siblings. I like and do well at team sports. I’m pretty social and can strike up a conversation with anyone, but at the end of the day value my private time. We’ve all been pretty high achievers so I’m not sure how that plays out with birth order. Looking at my own kids now I see some characteristics mentioned in the article but not others. Our littlest at this point is certainly not spoiled and is just as bright as the others. In fact our middle son is the highest achiever academically at this point. Our niece Emma (our eldest now) defnitely fits a lot of the oldest traits (high achieving, needs approval of others, type A, a bit self centered) but our oldest son, is none of those.

Not sure if I buy into putting people in categories in general. I think family dynamics are much more complicated.

4 a { 08.20.13 at 11:26 am }

Of the 15 things on the list of youngest children items, maybe 2 apply to me. I have high self-esteem and sometimes think I’m probably most disturbed by losing my parents. But I haven’t really gathered a whole lot of evidence on that last one – it’s just a theory.

I do find it amusing that I’m supposed to be less scientific (guess that degree in biochemistry was a waste!) and more social (um, not at all). I’m married to a first-born, though, and he has a lot of those characteristics…

5 It Is What It Is { 08.20.13 at 12:32 pm }

I am a hybrid in that by order I am a middle child (having had both an older brother and younger sister for the first 11 years of my life) who became the oldest when my brother died. As with many things, I don’t fit.

6 Mali { 08.20.13 at 3:13 pm }

Another middle child here, with an older sister and younger sister. I was great at team sports! (Mind you, I was good at individual sports too.)

And I share a lot of the middle child characteristics. But not all. I am however slightly put out that the list of middle child characteristics is so much shorter than the lists for the oldest and youngest child.

My older sister though was six years older, and seven and a half years ahead in school (because of the time of her birthday and being advanced a year), so I almost always felt the oldest of two (my younger sister and I), and I have a lot of older child characteristics too. But then, it is all mixed up, because I don’t particularly see my youngest sister in the younger child list, and I certainly don’t see my oldest sister (rebellious, non-conformist etc) in the oldest child list.

So I am suspicious of these lists. Especially when I see an older child can both have the highest self-esteem, but be dependent on others’ approval.

7 Another Dreamer { 08.20.13 at 5:06 pm }

I don’t really know where I fall in sibling order, to be honest. I’m both the youngest, and the middle, child. For ten years I was both parent’s youngest, then when I was ten my father had my little brother. I guess I identify most with being the youngest, since I had the most experience with it in my youth.

I don’t know, looking at the youngest it doesn’t seem to really fit. I’m definitely not social (I have social anxiety), and I have never ever been popular. I was often perceived as “spoiled,” but only by my older brothers. And I can attest that I wasn’t spoiled, lol. I did not have high self-esteem, and I don’t think I have a low IQ lol.

Honestly, I think there’s are a lot of other factors that play a much bigger role in development as a child. Besides natural and inherited traits, there is so much more. Class, home environment, regional area, etc… I’m pretty sure my experiences in poverty and an abusive household had a much higher impact than which order I was born in.

8 Mrs. Gamgee { 08.20.13 at 6:25 pm }

Birth order has always been a bit of quandary for me. In my biological family, I am the eldest. During both of my bio-parents’ remarriages (blended families), I landed in the middle. For many years, I lived with my bio-mom as an only child (bio-dad had custody of my younger sibs). In my pseudo-adoptive family, I am technically the oldest, but that never really fit either as my sister and I are only four months apart in our ages.

When reading about birth order, and when I had to study it a bit in college sociology and family systems, I found that I identified with some of all of the positions. It depended on which part of my family I was with most recently. Now that I have been apart from my bio family for so long, I think I resonate a bit more with the oldest child again.

I did find the article you linked to interesting, in particular the part about how oldest children generally won’t end up in long term romantic relationships with other oldest children. My Beloved is the youngest of five. I also found the health issues associated with birth order intriguing as well.

9 GeekChic { 08.20.13 at 10:58 pm }

I’m an only child (the term doesn’t bother me) and I had honestly never heard of the negative stereotypes about only children until I started reading ALI blogs – whether I fit any of them is something only others can say. ;)

Anyway, from the post you linked to I have quite a bit in common with the traits listed though I am not a good judge of my own selfishness or likeability. I’m also not entirely sure what a strong “gender identity” actual is… I’m female because I have 2 X chromosomes *shrug*.

I am definitely not cooperative or trusting however (though that may be due to my history of parental abuse).

10 Jack Gibson { 08.20.13 at 11:10 pm }

I just stumbled onto your blog after starting one of my own. And boy was that a mistake. I already wasn’t sure if a blog was the proper channel to try to accomplish what I’m trying to do and now I’m even more confused. Yours is awesome and it seems perfect for someone with your sense of humor and point of view. Do you have any suggestions on figuring out whether a blog is the right avenue?
Thanks!

11 Shelby { 08.21.13 at 12:06 am }

Here’s a complication in this formula: I was my Mom’s only and my Dad’s 8th (yes, I did not inherit his fertility). However, I suppose for the purposes of this I can say I was raised as an only child and treated as such, so I’ll identify with that birth order. (although, for my Dad, I could do no wrong, and that seemed my biggest treatment of being the ‘youngest’)
I guess you could say a small handful of the ‘only child’ traits apply to me (I’m a bit selfish, I’ll admit), but then again, I think (as with horoscopes) that given any random member of the population you could say the same. There’s enough in the descriptions to make anyone wonder.
I guess my question is, when it says ‘most need for achievement’ or ‘most likely to go to college’, I have to ask, compared to who? There are no siblings to compare these traits against for an only child. If it is compared to the general population, well, that’s a pretty broad pool. I don’t know. I’ve never put a lot of weight on birth order. I think it factors in, but more so than a number of other characteristics, like socioeconomic status, geography, mental health, parental education, resiliency? No. Perhaps in controlling for all of those elements, then sure, I’ll believe it to an extent. Or maybe I’m just hard-headed because in general I don’t like what people (both researchers and common thinking) have to say about my only-child peeps.

12 Stupid Stork { 08.21.13 at 12:18 am }

Oh man…

On the one hand, I was raised the youngest of two… My description was fairly accurate I suppose until I got to the ‘highest self esteem’ (not really) lowest IQ (I like to think not!) and ‘most disturbed by losing a parent’ (disturbed yes, but my older sister definitely more screwed up by it).

On the ottttther hand, I’m adopted, have two younger half-siblings and was aware that they existed/had contact fairly young… Definitely aware I was the ‘first’ for both my birthfather and birthmother, and in my relationship with each of my siblings now I’m definitely in the big-sister role…

So I wonder where that puts me? Because technically I’m the youngest and the oldest.

13 Tiara { 08.21.13 at 8:24 am }

I am the younger sister to an older brother…I’m pretty sure that’s a factor in things too, whether you’re younger sister to older sister, younger brother to older brother, younger brother to older sister, etc & vice versa…I wonder if that has been studied.

Anyway, as to this list, the only that apply to me are empathic, artistic, perceived as spoiled…I’m not sure what they mean by “cognitively specific”, maybe that’s because I have a lower IQ? And why couldn’t I get the high self esteem quality?!!?

14 loribeth { 08.21.13 at 9:01 am }

I am the oldest of two; my sister is not quite two years younger than me. I do have a lot of the older child characteristics, although I am not a dominant personality, nor do I have a great deal of self-esteem. My sister is most certainly the more rebellious/nonconformist of the two of us — but I am far more sociable than she is, and she always got better math & science marks (although she always did come up with the best plots for the stories I wrote…!).

Dh is also the oldest of two. We’ve both noticed that our younger siblings can say & do outrageous things & everyone laughs & thinks they are hilarious… and we know that if we tried to do the same things, we’d get a much different reaction. Siblings!! ;)

15 Lisa { 08.22.13 at 7:03 am }

I was raised the middle child of three girls, with 6 year and 18 month gaps between us. Both my sisters left home when I was 12. My older sister to be independent and my younger sister to live with our Dad.

I only really relate to ‘fewest acting out problems’ from the middle child list – I gained attention from our parents by being good. I am surprised how many of the first-born characteristics apply to me ~14. Because I was essentially an only child from 12 – 17 I thought I would have more of those characteristics. Maybe because of the large gap between my older sister and myself I was more like the eldest of two.

I think the characteristics for the youngest child definitely reflect my little sister.

16 Lori Lavender Luz { 08.22.13 at 4:40 pm }

It meant a lot to me that you came in for 10 minutes.

It seems I’ve gotten less “oldest” as I get older. I am less competitive, less achievement-oriented, less fearful, less Type A.

My two younger sisters are equally intelligent and, I would say, more likeable (because I was so bookish yet Type A)

However, I did get the food allergies.

17 Jackie { 08.22.13 at 6:22 pm }

Hi from ICLW!
I am not into general stereotypes but I am a middle child and pretty social, then again, so is our first born! I def never exceled in sports! Is this trait based on first, second, middle, last or personality? I say personality rather than birth order.

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