In the last few posts, we’ve been noticing how sibling position plays an important role in personality development, all things being equal. So far, we’ve looked at common profiles of oldest and youngest children. Today let’s look at middle children, only children and twins.
The middle child tends to have a less distinctive identity, and is more difficult to describe. Middle children are simultaneously younger siblings to the ones who came before and older siblings to the ones who came after. Although there are countless variations in the ages, sexes, and number of other siblings, middle children tend to have more of the characteristics of the birth order position that they are closest to. If they are directly in the middle, they will share more of both youngest and oldest profile characteristics. They lack the authority of the oldest and the spontaneity of the youngest, but they become adept in dealing with all kinds of people.
The way the sexes and ages of the siblings are distributed is most important to the personality development of the middle child. A middle boy with an older sister and younger brother will have a different profile than if he had a younger sister and older brother. If all the children are the same gender, the middle child has the greatest disadvantage, as he or she will receive the least attention and have the most need to compete.
The only child is perpetually the oldest and youngest child and will have the characteristics of both. More than any other sibling position, the only child picks up the characteristics of the same-sex parent’s sibling position. Only children tend to demand a lot from life and are usually successful. However, never having lived with a peer, living with a partner presents unique challenges.
The male only child tends to be more favored than the female only child, and he tends to expect life to favor him. He tends to be a loner, and for a mate, can take or leave just about any woman, expecting her to make life easier for him without giving her much in return. The youngest or middle sister of brothers is his best match, since he would have been an oldest brother had there been other children. Another only child would be the worst match, as both would struggle with the unfamiliarity of a close peer, opposite sex relationship.
The female only child often feels she is special, craving approval and adoration. She is both mature for her age and perpetually childish. The least contentious match for her would be flexible, easy-going and good-natured, able to cope with her capriciousness and her tendency to test his love. An older man is usually best, and his birth order position is irrelevant since the female only child had no sibling peers. Like the male only child, another only child would be the most difficult match for the female only child.
Twins present a unique sibling configuration. If there are no other children in the family, twins will act like two siblings of whatever gender they are, without the age conflict. They’ll have the characteristics of the youngest and oldest of their gender. When other children are present, both will have more characteristics of the birth position they share. They tend to act as a team, and sometimes find it difficult to leave each other to marry, and when they do, they often marry twins.
I’ve used the phrase “all things being equal” several times. Tomorrow we’ll look at some factors that can skew the development of typical birth order profiles.
(For more information about sibling positions and profiles, see Birth Order & You, by Ronald W. Richardson and Lois A. Richardson; and Family Constellation: Its Effect on Personality and Social Behavior, 4th Edition, by Walter Toman.)