Perfectionism and Birth Order

Look at this mess I created.

I recently finished Have a New Kid by Friday (Dr. Kevin Leman), and will post a review soon. (Hint: you probably shouldn't buy it.) But at least one part in particular hit close to home.

You've probably heard about birth order theory -- which states that the rank and order of children affects their personalities. And you may have read my own Birth Due Date Theory, which may be completely subjective.

Here is what Dr. Leman writes (p. 221):
"In many families, the firstborns are the achievers -- the ones who are born to fly high in their adult life. They're the adults who always hit the home runs and become airplane pilots, civic leaders, surgeons, etc.
But let's say that the firstborn has an overly perfectionistic parent. Then the firstborn will become a procrastinator. There's a role reversal that happens as the firstborn takes the initial emotional hit from a perfectionistic parent."
This is exactly what we see in our family. Hannah, our oldest, is a procrastinator and not very organized. And Dr. Leman is probably correct here -- that this was caused, at least in part, by Joanna and I. Hannah has TWO perfectionistic parents. Poor girl -- she had no chance!

He continues:
 "Then it's the secondborn who becomes the superachiever -- the self-motivated, mature, in-control-of-life person who proceeds through life with great skill and ability -- while the firstborn flounders in expectations. This phenomenon plays itself out in life, especially when there are 3 years or less between the firstborn and the secondborn."

And this is what we see with Elijah. He is orgnized, self-motivated, academically gifted, and in-control (probably too much so). And Hannah and Elijah are only 26 months apart, so they fit within Dr. Leman's 3-year timeframe.

A final word of caution and encouragement:
"If your child thinks he can't measure up to your standards, he won't try. Or he'll try only so far and won't get to the finish line. . . . If you're a perfectionistic parent, your child knows he can jump higher and higher for you . . . and never win your praise."
That's the final, and deepest, cut. As we demand more and more perfection out of our children, we are building a wall around their hearts and souls.

We can't rewind the clock, but we can ask God to help us be more grace-filled as we go forward. It's never too late.

Do you see this in your family? Do you have a high-achiever firstborn? Or, like us, do you have a procrastinator firstborn and high-achieving secondborn? Would love to hear from you in the comments.

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  1. oh man, i could read about this topic exhaustively, it is fascinating to me. our firstborn is our "high-achiever" in that she is self directed, but not necessarily self motivated or competitive. our second born's room looks like the photo above...sometimes i think she does it on purpose to make me so angry. but to her, she truly does not see it, doesn't even think it's a mess. she is surrounded by things that make her happy and are comforting to her; she does not see disorder. disorder to her shows up in relationships and pain; she has a strong sense of "if i have to obey the rules, you do too." our second born is self motivated, but only to the point that it's her choice. she is extremely competitive, but only if she knows she'll win and only if it really matters to her - we cannot demand her to care. i have to remember to praise our 2nd born for the things that matter, and that speak to her heart. a clean room matters to me, not to her. and i have looked under the bed of our first born perfectionist - it's a nightmare.

    anxious to hear your review on Leman's book. i had it from the library, but read 2 others by Cynthia Tobias instead. it's hard for me to want to read a book that makes a promise of having a new kid in 5 days - i don't want a new kid. i want the kid we already have , redeemed!

  2. Thanks for your feedback, Molly. And I appreciate your wisdom in reminding me to praise my daughter for the things that matter. Great point.

    Yes, the title was a put-off for me for a long time. I hope to have a review this month. Or next.