Alfred Adler’s birth order theory is sometimes misunderstood and often miscommunicated. For instance, many believe that personalities are shaped simply because of the order in which a child is born. However, Adler theorizes that it is the treatment the child receives from the parents (nurture) and how the child accepts that role within the family (nature). The result of this combination is what creates the personality traits that determine “who we are”. So, how can the basics of the birth order theory be better explained?
From a parent’s perspective, a relatable analogy can be made with that of an employee. The parent’s behavior, which helps support the birth order theory, can be predictable, but not necessarily intentional. Imagine if you will……
New Hire and Firstborn Favorite
You’ve just started a brand new job and it’s your biggest priority. Although you’ve observed other employees, gone through orientation and training, when you’re left to work on your own it’s completely different. All the responsibilities of the job for which you’ve been hired now rests on your shoulders. You’re much slower with the new tasks and you proceed cautiously. You focus intently on every aspect of your assigned duties fearful of making mistakes. You ask more seasoned employees for help or advice as each new dilemma surfaces. You try not to second guess yourself, but you are quite aware of how much you don’t know.
This is how it may feel for parents raising their firstborn child. They may have observed parents in actions, read about what to expect and even babysat at different times in their lives. However, it’s still not the same as being a full time parent and taking on all the responsibilities of a child. New parents often give quite a bit of attention to each milestone of the firstborn because after all, it’s a milestone for the parents as well. Because of the ongoing attention and careful handling parents give their firstborn, it is not unusual for the child to be called the favorite by his/her siblings.
Seasoned Employee and Middle Child Syndrome
You have been employed in the same position for many years. Your department has changed and grown, but so have your responsibilities and experiences. You’ve already fretted your way through many crises and have discovered most new problems are just a version of issues that have been encountered and dealt with by you in the past. Your experience shows as you quickly “put out fires,” even while you’re busy running to meetings and coordinating projects.
This attitude coincides with the mindset for parents of middle children. They have gained experience and are well acquainted with the normal day to day children’s issues and activities. With multiple children, parents may seem indifferent to middle children simply because they are busy juggling the various needs of the household. In the grand scheme of things, the effort to keep everything on track may reflect a “been there, done that” attitude towards them. However, the middle child notices that the parents’ approach to the oldest and youngest child is different. In light of this, the middle child may feel hurt and neglected.
“Short Timer” and Spoiled Lastborn
Lastly, you are leaving your place of employment and have already given your notice. There will probably be many sentimental moments because you’re leaving the company you’ve been with for years. However, there is also a bit of excitement. Although you’re still accountable in the current job, you’ve become much more relaxed in the remaining weeks. Highly stressful situations no longer make you want to pull your hair out. Your boundaries for enforcing work related policies are stretched and you are much more accommodating in general. You may be criticized for your congenial and laidback behavior, but that’s the trade off when you’re a “short timer” trying to avoid unnecessary anxiety.
This employee scenario emphasizes how birth order may affect the parenting of the youngest child. A type of melancholy can occur with the realization that a particular child is the lastborn and many times the youngest gets “babied” a bit more because of it. Also, with the last born, parents have learned to pick their fights and often look at the big picture rather than stress over every little detail. They can be more accommodating towards the youngest “wants” which does not go unnoticed by the other siblings. Criticism is levied on the parents for spoiling the lastborn with relaxed rules and material offerings. This is especially noticeable when the lastborn is the only child still living at home.
No matter what order of birth the child holds, parenting behavior heavily influences Adler’s theory. However, the child’s innate response to their place in the family is what finalizes the birth order personality traits.