Parenting by the Numbers
Oh Happy Day! I finally have time to sort through the boxes of photographs I have collected over the past 35+ years. What a job. But what a blessing too. I am looking back over my life, reminiscing and thanking God for His faithfulness! And laughing a good bit. I am amazed at how young Jody and I look. I am disgusted by much of my 70s and 80s styling. I have to remind myself that everyone dressed that way- we were all trapped in some sort of polyester nightmare! And why did I ever PERM my hair- ugh! Big hair was in, I know, but I looked like a poodle 😊!
As I study the pictures of my children though, I am shocked at every foreshadowing of their adult self and can’t help but see the effects of birth order. Our first-born son and daughter have always been very mature for their ages and look like little adults in so many pictures. I found one picture where they are playing a board game with my husband and I – both children under the age of 3. Woah! I am sure not many kids played board games at this young age, but ours did. And I am sure I was the only one who cheated to ensure a victory. Then there is our baby, “Precious,” who is hamming it up in almost every picture I’ve found. Ruining many good family shots, I might add. As I look through a series of “posed” pictures, it is obvious Michael does or says something crazy as he is gesturing, then the next few pictures his older siblings are laughing and he is looking mighty proud of himself. One thing is for sure - he is well loved by our whole family and that he was reinforced for making us all laugh.
Today I’d like to share a little more about the birth order theory and how it may relate to what is going on under your roof. If you have more than one child, I believe you will be able to relate and hopefully will benefit from this post. I wish Dr. Leman’s book, The Birth Order Book: Why You are the Way You Are had been written back when my kids were small, but I was not so lucky. It was published in 2004 and, by that time, my youngest was already 12 years old. Too late. All behavior patterns had been well established by the first time I read this book. But as I look into the rear-view mirror, I see God’s hand at work, even in our ignorance. I am thankful for His grace and mercy for often our approach lined up pretty well with his recommended approach to raising children through the lens of birth order.
Keep reading as I give you the condensed version of his 335 page book in about 1000 words. See what applies, and disregard what doesn’t. I hope it is helpful!
A Few Underlying Facts About Birth Order:
Dr Leman suggests that by the age of three or four, the patterns of behavior based on birth order are well established in each child.
Dr Leman also makes it clear that parenting style (permissive, authoritarian, and authoritative) are large contributors to the adjustment of each child as well. If looking at your children you find they are all behaving in one type of behaviors, it may be because of your parenting.
Every time a child is born, the entire family dynamics are changed. How parents interact with each child determines the child’s destiny.
The parent of the opposite sex of the child is the one who will influence that child the greatest.
The more complicated family units, such as blended families, are not being discussed today in this post. But they are discussed in detail in Leman’s book. If you find yourself in this category, please take the time and read this book. I believe it will be an excellent resource for you as you parent through tough days.
Review of Parenting Styles:
Permissive Parent: this is where the parent is a slave to the child and the child’s wishes. The parent child relationship is primo and the child is assisted with any/all tasks regardless if he/she can do them independently. Sounds exhausting, and not good for any marriage, either. Children cannot be the center of the universe. I cannot think of any scenario where this is helpful with the exception of in a blended family, for a limited period of time. Sometimes a child that has been neglected or has heard “no” too often, the child may need a dose of “spoiling” to establish a bond with the new parent. I cannot imagine many first-born children that would appreciate this parenting style for long. One of my grandsons, a first-born, was visiting last week and had a meltdown because I opened his snack. “Don’t treat me like a baby, Sweet Mama!” was his plea! I apologized. I once again was reminded of the role birth order plays in all of us. As a grandparent, I am more permissive than I was as a parent. If I am only spending 3 hours with a grandchild, he or she literally is the “center of my universe.” This works great in the short run, but cannot be sustained. This past winter when I kept my oldest grandson for over a week, I had to morph back into Mommy mode, or we wouldn’t have survived. 😊
Authoritarian Parent: Makes all the decisions for the children. Rules with a “my way or the highway” type of control. Authoritarian parenting assumes the parent is better than the child and relies on a heavily classed system approach. This militant approach with children is often used out of fear. Now certainly it has its place in dangerous situations: you must wear a safety belt, no questions asked. But sometimes this parent is trying to correct for mistakes in their past and is overboard in their control or is simply the only parenting style they knew growing up. This authoritarian approach is the forerunner for HELICOPTER parenting. This approach is most frustrating to middle and last-born children. I often worry that this approach was what Paul warned us about in his letter to the Ephesians - that Fathers should be careful not to frustrate their children (Ephesians 6:4). If you would like to push your children into rebellious behavior, then rule with an iron fist. But realize you may deflate their spirit and end up with overly dependent children later. This approach may sound good over the short run, but over time this will be very detrimental to little junior. No one wants their 30-year-old to live upstairs….forever, right? The goal of parenting should be to develop capable, independent, and God fearing children. This approach makes that task more difficult.
Authoritative Parent: is when rules are discussed, agreed upon and consequences are natural and consistently metered out. This approach to parenting makes the most sense to me, but I must admit that I have been all three types at some point along the long road of parenting. This authoritative approach requires a great deal of patience and discipline on the part of the parent. But the end result is a child who has learned to work within a set of rules and has higher self-esteem because they have been successful in pleasing themselves, their parents, and their teachers. Given the number of rules your family operates under it can also be a good memory exercise for Mom and Dad. I have learned the hard way with my grandkids that if the deal is “2 more episodes of Super Wings, then brush teeth and go to bed” I might have to write it down😊 so that I am consistent and remember what we agreed upon. This authoritative, or responsible parenting, goes hand in glove with Dr. Leman’s disciplinary strategy: Reality based discipline. This is where the punishment is logical and happens in real time.
Good parenting may include a bit of all of the above styles depending on the season of parenting. But the following should always be present- loving behavior by both parents, consistency in rules /order and a sprinkling of forgiveness each and every day. Parenting children well is a full-time job for both parents. It is paramount the children have a relationship with their parent in order for any parenting style to be successful. For example, a Dad may like to opt out of playing with the child after a long day at work, but then want to correct a bad behaviors during bedtime rituals. He is probably going to frustrate his child and himself. We cannot parent strangers, so get “all in” parents. The time you invest during the first 18 years will pay off the last 60! I’ve never met a child who felt they received too much of their parent’s time and approval, but I have met many who felt neglected or marginalized.
If you find that you and your spouse have differing parenting styles, keep reading. That post is coming in a few weeks. Been there, done that. Got the t-shirt.
Tips for Parenting each Birth Order Classification: To review characteristics go back and re-read last week’s post: Making the Numbers Work (https://wordwashedwife.com/blog/2018/4/3/making-the-numbers-work)
First-born children: Are typically cautious, high achieving, in charge, and determined little people. They are still children and enjoy play, but their play may be less spontaneous and have strict adherence to the rules of the game. First born children will be aggravated by changing of rules mid-stream, so the successful parent of a first born will make a plan, set the rules and stick with them. For example, Dr Leman recommends oldest children get a later bed time, even if only 15 or 30 minutes later. This will be appreciated by the first born as he/she has to adjust to changes with additional siblings. It is logical and is seen as a treat. But this is only successful if parents are vigilant at putting younger brothers and sisters to bed on time. Do not let them encroach on the first-born privilege. First-borns often feel dethroned when younger siblings arrive, so make sure you include them as much as possible in the care of younger siblings. Give them a BIG BROTHER or BIG SISTER job and watch them beam as they complete it. Also make sure that they are given a benefit of the doubt in sibling squabbles and that you don’t always assume “because they are the oldest they should know better.” Undoubtedly you will find the wrong child guilty at some point and the first-born, with their inflated sense of justice, will have a difficult time dealing with this situation. Don’t referee every squabble, allow the kids to handle it. First borns also benefit from seeing a parent make a mistake and apologize for something. Since first born children often model their behavior after their parents they are often found to be lacking and then pale by comparison. Parents with ultra-intense perfectionist children should allow their children to see them make mistakes or make a point to tell them about them after the fact. This helps give a much-needed life lesson- no one is perfect!
Middle-born children: are social, people pleasing, loyal, diplomatic, independent thinkers, and are known for charting their own course instead of following the older sibling’s path. If older brother or sister excels in school, they will often look for other avenues of success. The challenge for parents of these children is how to shepherd this child’s heart in a positive direction and not leave them to their own devices. In my family growing up, I already had two first-borns ahead of me with an older brother and sister less than 2 years apart, who were both very smart. What was left for me, little Suzy Q? I could have become a problem child, but my parents always bragged how “I never met a stranger” and how friendly I was, they were “sure the teacher loved having me in their classroom.” So, I loved school and felt wanted in each class I attended. I was a good student too, but I didn’t have to be the best, I had already won … Miss Congeniality! One more tip, middle born children are the “squeezed” children. They are not the first or the last to do anything special. So make extra time for this child. The first born had the parents to themselves, and last born will eventually have their parents to themselves too after everyone else has flown the coop. Middles never get that special feeling, unless a parent is sensitive to it and schedules it in! Take the middle child out for a special lunch each month. My Dad and I played tennis together ever since I was old enough to hold a racket. I still love this game, but what I associate most with tennis is that my Dad loves me. Figure out what works for your middle-born, I think you will be well rewarded for this investment of time and energy.
Last-born children: are fun loving, charming, manipulative, outgoing, attention seeking, and often self-centered. Last born children almost always have a PET name that they never outgrow! In our family, my baby sister, Sandy, was called “Bubbles” and she will always be that to me. My children even call her Aunt Bubbles. It is term of endearment! These last-borns are well loved by parents and siblings and often expect and crave attention. If not carefully monitored, negative attention will be just fine too, so make sure they feel secure in the home. These children often see the parents the least. Schedule quality time with this smallest member of your family, do not allow a majority of care to fall to older siblings, both children will resent this in the long run. Last born children often need additional rules and external motivational systems. They will do great with a behavior or chore chart. Last born children have every one ready to help, so they must be forced to develop some independence. Assign them specific jobs and hold them accountable for the completion. Once they have mastered a job, no more helping! Also praise them when they speak up for themselves and make their voice heard, especially when they are not being silly. Last born children need to feel accepted for who they are and what they bring to the family- we each have a gift to bring. Great parents take the time to help each child discover what their gift is. 😊
In the case of our family, my two first born children, JP and Maddy, born 11 months apart, loved and appreciated Michael for his contribution to our family of 5! All three children are Engineers, with JP and Maddy working best independently and Michael (aka Precious) enjoying more people interactions with his career path! Since we didn’t have a middle child, and I was comfortable in the role of PEACEMAKER. I often played this role with the kids. My motto was and still is “love each other.” I made sure they each saw their sibling’s strengths and were proud of them. We spent time at dinner each night bragging on each other’s accomplishments, not just our own. I made their relationship a priority in our home and they are all still good friends to this day.
If I’ve peaked your curiosity- read Leman’s book. I pray the last two weeks have been helpful! Stay washed in the Word friends! I’ve loved our time together!
Humility is the fear of the Lord;
its wages are riches and honor and life.
In the paths of the wicked are snares and pitfalls,
but those who would preserve their life stay far from them.
Start children off on the way they should go,
and even when they are old they will not turn from it.