The science of birth order – or pseudo-science, according to its detractors – has always fascinated me. Does your position in your family – oldest, middle child, youngest, or only child – affect your personality, your decision-making, your education, your career and even your marriage?
The topic has been under discussion in one of my email groups recently – seems it’s a subject on which everyone has a view because, well, everyone has a birth order. There are enough people claiming to be “typical” of their birth order to suggest there’s something to it. I’m a big fan of The New Birth Order Book, by Kevin Leman, which delves into the subject in a somewhat self-indulgent way (I write here as a driven, perfectionist oldest child about Dr. Leman, who is a youngest child and therefore typically self-indulgent...though, chances are, that’s not how he would describe himself). Reader-author birth order politics aside, it’s a great book.
I bought it originally to help me understand why what worked in parenting my oldest child didn’t begin to make a dent in the psyches of my middle and youngest children. Of course, I enjoyed it for the thorough self-analysis it allowed, too (yes, that’s self-indulgent, but who can resist?). Then it occurred to me the book had some application to my work.
My novels, and most of the romance novels I could think of, tended to feature heroes who were oldest children, psychological oldest children (meaning, for example, there was a big age gap between them and the next kid up the line) or only children. Because oldest children have a track record of being bossy achievers, to put it succinctly. Perfect hero material.
I found I shook up my writing when I considered other birth orders for my characters, both heroes and heroines. Matching an oldest child with a youngest, trying to pry the secrets out of a middle child, convincing an only child the world won’t fall apart if they let go for a moment – lots of fun! I wrote two trilogies about three-child families (the last book of the trilogies is out this month), and found the stories were richer for the thought I put into birth order and how it affected every relationship in my characters’ lives.
I haven’t yet started considering how to apply birth order psychology in my business dealings, though I’m sure there must be some value in doing so. Take a look at the battle of the CEOs that’s been waging on the publishing front the past few days – Amazon v. Apple for the ebook market, with MacMillan weighing in. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Apple’s Steve Jobs are both visionaries with a history of maverick entrepreneurship that’s seen them turn industries upside down...and they’re both oldest children. I don’t know about John Sargent, boss at publisher MacMillan, but there’s a pretty good chance he’s an oldest child, too. So, the big kids are slugging it out in the boardrooms...it’s a fight that needs to be fought. I’m just wondering how different it would be if a middle child or youngest child entered the fray.
The world would be a different place if it was run by junior siblings. But it’s not...and if you believe Kevin Leman, it never will be.