Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Birth Order and my Twins

One of the many questions that people often ask is,

"Who was born first?" ... 

This kind of annoys me... For one thing, my husband and I have decided NOT to divulged that information to them, and kind of feel like it really shouldn't MATTER to others.. We chose not to tell the girls till they are much older because we didn't want it to become a point of contention in their relationship. Maybe we'll just slip it in at the reading of our will.. I just wonder does birth order really have any relevance to twins?

I must admit, my curiosity has been peaked, and so, I started doing my homework.  Many agree with a 1998 study that said, "Children's perception of their place in the family constellation influences how they feel about themselves, and how they interact with others." (Kottman & Johnson, 1993 in Nims, 1998) Some studies have theorized that first born children have more self-esteem and higher IQ's while lastborns tend to be more relaxed and irresponsible.

 I found the Adlerian Birth Order Characteristics most interesting...
  • Psychologist Alfred Adler, a contemporary of Sigmund Freud, defined a set of characteristics to describe how a child's position within the family would actualize in his or her personality. The table below presents a simplified version of his theories, adapted from the Adler Institute website.

Adlerian Birth Order Characteristics
Position Family Situation Characteristics
Oldest Dethroned by next child. Has to learn to share. Parent expectations are usually very high. Often given responsibility and expected to set an example. May become authoritarian or strict. Feels power is his right. Can become helpful if encouraged.
Second Has a pacemaker, always someone ahead. Is more competitive, wants to overtake older child. May become a rebel or try to outdo everyone. Competition can deteriorate into rivalry.
Middle Is "sandwiched" in. May feel squeezed out of a position of privilege and significance. Even-tempered, "take it or leave it" attitude. May have trouble finding a place or become a fighter of injustice.
Youngest Has many mothers and fathers in older children. Never dethroned. Wants to be bigger than the others. Can stay the "baby." Frequently spoiled.

So I wondered.... Where do twins fit into the birth order equation? Psychologists agree that birth order characteristics are most often imprinted within the first few years of life. However, with twins, there is usually only a matter of minutes between births, not years. Does any significant event happen in those few minutes that would influence the individual child's perception of his or her position within the family? Not usually.

Birth order for twins isn't necessarily preordained, either. So many things can play a factor as to which twin is born first.. Their position in the womb, which can change throughout pregnancy, how the mother delivers; the order might be switched if the mother had a Cesarean section rather than vaginal delivery, etc..
So how do you explain the manifestation of birth order characteristics in the personalities of individual multiples? Certainly there are many examples of twin sets where the first born twin is a dominant leader and the second born is a subdued follower. Is that because of their birth order or is some other factor at work?

Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of specific research available on this subject. However, many birth order experts agree that twins tend to organize themselves according to their overall place within the family. For example, if they have one older sibling, they will both exhibit characteristics of a second born. If they are the oldest, they will adopt some traits of first firstborns.

 However, Cliff Isaacson, author of The Birth Order Effect as well as the website Birth Order Plus, further believes that birth order traits in twins are also impacted by their status as twins. He explains, "The organization seems to result from one of the twins being dominant, resulting in that one having the older Birth Order. It does not seem to have much relevance to the order in which they were actually born. The Birth Order personalities of twins are often more intense than in normal Birth Order. Because they are the same age and capability, the dominant one has to work harder at being dominant thus reinforcing the Birth Order personalities of both."

When I jokingly refuse to tell some people.. they inevitably try to guess.. . "You must be born first, you are -- fill in the blank here -- taller/have longer hair/are more outgoing than your sister," they say, trying to pinpoint a dominant characteristic. What they don't realize is that by tomorrow, the sisters may have switched these traits! Psychologists agree that twins often exchange dominance throughout their lives, and in that sense may alternate between birth order categories.

Aside from inherent personality traits, I believe the impact of birth order in multiples is more often one of perception rather than reality. Parents of multiples, as well as society, apply behavioral expectations based on traditional birth order characteristics; in reaction, the individual children behave in fulfillment of those expectations.

For example, a mother may reason, "Oh, Twin A was born first. She is always first to do everything. She was the first to crawl, and she'll be the first to walk also!" She expects her firstborn twin daughter to walk before her sister, and spends more time coaching and encouraging this daughter in this skill. In reaction to her self-fulfilling prophecy, Twin A naturally walks first. As the twins grow up, their parents expect their "firstborn" to look out for her "younger" sister, establishing Twin A in the dominant role in the relationship, and galvanizing her personality traits in the mold of an elder child.

Remember the Biblical story of Jacob and Esau? In chapter 25 of Genesis, it clearly states that their father, Isaac, preferred the firstborn Esau, while the mother, Rebekah, loved only Jacob. This created jealousy between the twins, and ultimately Jacob tricked his brother out of his birthright.

I believe that parents of multiples have a vital responsibility to foster their childrens' individual personalities outside of the realm of birth order. To accomplish this, they can:
  • Adopt a consistent, neutral set of expectations that will allow each child to fulfill their inherent personality destiny
  • Avoid birth order stereotypes that are meaningless for twins
  • Downplay the significance of birth order; if necessary, choose not to identify the multiples' birth order
  • Discourage others, including extended family, teachers and curious strangers, from overemphasizing birth order importance
I can tell you for sure... Mine do NOT fit the black and white bill.. lol.. 

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  1. I never thought about not disclosing their birth order, Lisa! This is a really interesting post, gives me lots to ponder! :)

  2. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing! It gives me a lot to think about! By the way, how do you have time for all this! You are awesome!

  3. My google account did not show up on my posting. Wierd. Anyways, I wrote the last posting!


  4. My husband is an identical twin and was born first. They are both now 49, haven't seen each other in person in nearly 15 years apart; but still are nearly identical. When we share pics of them (us wives or the kids) they have the same taste in clothing, haircuts, shoes. Everything. They even had knee surgery the same day, without knowing the other was having it until after.

    Birth order doesn't seem to affect them at all. Except for teasing purposes or to break ties, lol.

  5. @ Sara.. I figured we would before they were even born.. lol.. I ALWAYS played the 'I'm the oldest" card in MY house..... hahaha
    @Hillary... you give me WAY too much credit.. lol.. (I just sedate them)
    @Vixen... That is TOTALLY crazy.. and really neat at the same time.. lol.. Can YOU tell them apart?? I bet you see the differences..

  6. I so love you post. Learned a lot. Thank you for sharing.

    A Mom's Note


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