Birth Order Fruit Basket Upset

Traditional birth order roles can be altered in adoptive families

admin April 24, 2014
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My title sounds like I just randomly threw some words on the screen! I think a lot about birth order, and around here, birth order is more like “fruit basket upset” than “order.” Our oldest, “Pepper,” is 14-1/2. She came to us at 3-1/2 weeks of age. She is a typical “oldest” in some ways: bossy, responsible, and mature. As a toddler, she talked like a 6-year old. As a teen, she seems already grown up. In her birth family, however, she was the youngest of six (five living). I do think a part of her craves that “baby” role.

Enter the “Littles.” The oldest of the trio, whom I affectionately refer to as “The Captain,” came to our house as the leader of the pack. He wasn’t yet 3-years-old, but that did not stop him from butting heads with our other oldest, “Pepper.” It was clear that he saw her as competition. And yet, ironically, he is not actually an “oldest,” either. He was the third in his birth family, second now living. He has an older sister we hope to one day meet. Since The Captain had a mild attachment disorder when he arrived, he was very independent and wanted to do everything for himself and his siblings. Now that he is firmly attached to us, he does seem more like a “middle” than an oldest.

Most of the traits traditionally tied to birth order are the result of studies on traditional families with biological ties. It looks like these traits are more socially developed than innate. Yet it begs the question– is there something in us that just “knows” where we belonged in the pecking order when we were born? Youngest children are traditionally thought to be the most creative and also willing to manipulate to get their way; that certainly describes my oldest (her birth mother’s youngest). Yet she is also confident and directive, no doubt part and parcel of growing up as the leader around here.

The Captain, now a “middle,” is definitely and archetypically longing for affection and attention, but also shows “oldest” traits where his younger sibs are concerned. Pepper knows about her birth siblings and seems to relish that “baby” role she never got to play, whereas at only 4, The Captain has not yet learned of his other sister. I am watching to see what happens to the “fruit basket” as the children mature. Will it eventually get righted? Stay tuned.

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