Oh, the memories we have as a certain number child! How fun is it to muse at our birth order. Maybe we were the responsible first child, the trouble-making middle child, or the babied third child. Our whole life’s identity revolves around this place we were thrust into, without our implied consent. If we were the first, we took an active role in cleaning the house, getting the younger ones ready. The oldest is running around the house as we depart for school yelling, “Jakie, where’s your hat?!?” The middle child causes a ruckus at dinner because he never feels seen. He looks up through his lashes with mischief in his eyes to see if there was a witness to his purposeful spilling of the ketchup. The baby of the family drops her things throughout the house after school, because, well it always gets picked up anyways. We unconsciously accept this position as some kind of contract that we must adhere to in future relationships with lovers, friends, and co-workers. So deep are we into these roles, that most people can guess what position you were in your family within minutes of meeting you. “Oh, you must be an only child!”
What if we allowed our children to be the placeholder they want to be at the moment they need it? What if we allow them to use whatever role they could identify with in that moment to help them with whatever challenge they are working on? We could potentially cut out years of self-help “Covey” and “Seven Habits” work by allowing them to really get into another role, using that role as a place to problem solve from. In corporate America we have a sort of second high school where we learn how to play well in the sandbox with others, how to share (ideas) and how to “use our nice words.”
This week, we have in our family, Lukas the oldest, playing the youngest. Kolton, the middle child playing a middle child, Josie, the only girl, playing the oldest (sorry!), and Jake, the youngest, playing the parent. Somehow, they decide a pecking order and if mom doesn’t interfere, the roles play out to their natural conclusion. The order determined within their pack is both given and chosen based on each child’s current needs and source of reserve. The tired child will have a more immature, emotional need; the well-rested, fed child will have the ability to step back and provide help or space.
And then sometimes there is a big shift in dynamics. My oldest was very sick this past fall, home from school for several weeks. After he convalesced from that illness, his development grew leaps and bounds. Most of his sensory issues had waned. No more hand flapping, no more screeching (thank God!), not more eating with his hands. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw how still and calm and strong he was standing there. He had definitely stepped in to the eldest role, and his siblings quietly relinquished their positions. For this moment.
The idea of a birth order is one of the biggest self-proposed cages we put ourselves into. In our society, we spend so much time, effort, and “education of us elders” that we must not lock a child firmly to their birth order. This is theirs to figure out. Birth order has a role in childhood, and it should be an opportunity for gaining different perspectives, but needs to be left behind with the teddy bear.