Birth Order: The youngest as nurturer

Birth order. According to child development characteristics, these are the expectations of my youngest child:


  • Feels every one bigger and more capable.
  • Expects others to do things, make decisions, take responsibility.
  • Feels smallest and weakest. May not be taken seriously.
  • Becomes boss of family in getting service and own way.
  • Develops feelings of inferiority or becomes “speeder” and overtakes older siblings.
  • Remains “The Baby.” Places others in service.
  • If youngest of three, often allies with oldest child against middle child.

To a classroom-schooled expert, one would assume the above characteristics make sense. Yet, as I watch this little guy navigate through life as the youngest of four boys, not many of these characteristics are coming to fruition. No one in our household has time to baby him. Nor, does he seem to mind. He rarely gets “his” own way, because his way is usually what his idols’ (his brothers) way is. He can also be somewhat “tough.” He has a fierceness that appears in the presence of bigger kids, as if he believes he’s bigger than he really is. He is so undaunted by anyone larger than himself, that it makes me wonder if his bigger brothers have given him an “invisible force field” that towers over and above him. Or, this could just be him.

One characteristic that is blatantly missing in the expert’s characteristics of the youngest child is that of the “nurturer.” We were sending his bigger brother off to school, late as usual, and I heard this youngest boy echoing words I would say: “Now, don’t forget, I’ve put your raccoon in the back pocket of your backpack… and don’t forget this one.”I looked up at him, and saw his eyes focused intently on his big brother, in much the same way that I look when I’m packing one of his brothers off to school. He sounded just like me; the Mom; the nurturer. Although experts would say this is precisely the exact opposite characteristic of the “baby” in the family.

This is the characteristic of the youngest child the experts failed to include in their analysis. The “real-life” part of parenting that is overlooked, actually not included, in controlled studies. The youngest spends so much time with me, watching me send the big ones off to school, to practice, and to games. Something our oldest son rarely witnessed. The youngest learns how to send someone off into the world; and how to love.

More resources here, on the fascinating topic of birth order.

Love Thursday

10 comments to “Birth Order: The youngest as nurturer”
  1. I think there is much truth to birth order, but the sex of the child also comes into play a lot, I think. I was very aware of all of these studies after I had my first child and it did have something to do with how I planned the second and third.

  2. Imitation is huge for younger siblings. Yes, they can be the “baby,” but they’re automatically going to idolize the older ones, and follow and imitate them. Just as they imitate their parents. Waldorf early childhood principles are all about this impulse to imitate in the young child.

    Sj said: Henitsirk, sometimes that’s not always a GOOD thing — but it’s inevitable.

  3. I think that how the family is in the first place affects how children turn out. If a child is raised with love, that’s what they’ll learn. Your children are very lucky to have you as a mom.

  4. My best friend was the middle child, and in her family the alliance of youngest and oldest against her was very pronounced. I always assumed it had to do with (a) the personality problems of her older brother, and (b) gender: since the youngest was a girl, the brother had a strong motive to ensure that the two girls didn’t band together against him. Fascinating to see how common this dynamic can be.

    SJ said:
    BubandPie, sad, how much of this plays out to be true, with sometimes difficult consequences. As parents, staying aware of what could happen, can at least help us to avert the negatives so that what could be inevitable consequences can be buffered.

  5. That is amazing and such a great viewpoint. I’ve read Kevin Lehman’s Birth Order Book and wow. I’m a classic firstborn-it upset me how textbook I was. I just want to be unpredictable. But that alas, is not in my nature.
    Such a cute pic of your little guy-as always.

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