Read an Excerpt
The New Birth Order BookWhy You Are the Way You Are
By Kevin Leman
Fleming H. RevellCopyright © 1998 Kevin Leman
All right reserved.
I'm glad you asked. As North America's "pop" birth order psychologist, I get that question a lot. I'd really rather be called "one of North America's leading authorities on birth order, who makes a lot of sense." But, as a baby of the family with a strong drive to be entertaining and a little outrageous, I guess I can understand and put up with the "pop" label. After all, as I've crisscrossed the talk-show circuit countless times over the last twenty years, I often have to answer the question, Does birth order make any sense? My first response usually runs along the lines of "Does a bear go potty in the woods?"
Yes, birth order makes sense most of the time for a vast majority of people. The first thing that makes it intriguing is wrestling with the question: How can three or four or even eight little cubs be so different and yet come from the very same den? Yes, there are exceptions to the standard birth order rules but the exceptions are explainable when you understand how birth order works. Even the exceptions develop because of when you were born into your family. I call it your "branch on the family tree" and that branch has had a great deal to do with why you are the way you are today.
Nonetheless, as I give seminars or conduct counseling sessions, I still hear: "Birth order-isn't that like astrology? I'm a Sagittarius myself and my husband is a Libra-is that why he's driving me crazy?"
I smile and resist the strong temptation to say, "Astrology is really not my thing-I'm into pork bellies on the short term." Instead I reply kindly, "Birth order has no connection to astrology but it can give you some important clues about your personality, your spouse, your children, the kind of job you have, and even how well you get along with your Maker if you happen to believe you have one."
"Okay, okay," my questioner might reply, "so what is birth order then, and why should I be interested?"
I then explain that birth order is the science of understanding your place in the family line. Were you born first? second? third? or even farther down that line? Wherever you landed, it has affected your life in countless ways. Throughout my career as a psychologist, I've used the theory of birth order on a daily basis to help people understand themselves and solve their problems.
Which Traits Fit You Best?
To introduce my clients to birth order, I often give them a little quiz: Which of the following sets of personality traits fits you the best? (Anyone taking this quiz must understand that he or she doesn't have to be everything in a certain list of traits. Just pick the list that has the most items that seem to describe you and your way of operating in life.)
A. perfectionist, reliable, conscientious, list maker, well organized, hard driving, natural leader, critical, serious, scholarly, logical, doesn't like surprises, loves computers
B. mediator, compromising, diplomatic, avoids conflict, independent, loyal to peers, many friends, a maverick, secretive, unspoiled
C. manipulative, charming, blames others, attention seeker, tenacious, people person, natural salesperson, precocious, engaging, affectionate, loves surprises
D. little adult by age seven; very thorough; deliberate; high achiever; self-motivated; fearful; cautious; voracious reader; black and white thinker; uses "very," "extremely," "exactly," a lot; can't bear to fail; has very high expectations for self; more comfortable with people who are older or younger
If you noted that this test seemed rather easy because A, B, and C listed traits of the oldest right on down to the youngest in the family, you're right. If you picked list A, it's a very good bet you are a first born in your family. If you chose list B, chances are you are a middle child (second born of three children, or possibly third born of four). If list C seemed to relate best to who you are, it's likely you are the baby in the family and are not at all happy that this book has no pictures. (Just kidding-I like to have a little fun with last borns because I'm one myself, but more on that later.)
But what about list D? It describes the only child, and I threw it in because in recent years I have been getting more and more questions from only children who know they are "first borns" but want to know how they are different from people who have siblings. Well, one way they are different is that the only child is a super or extreme version of a first born. They have many of the same characteristics of first borns, but in many ways they're in a class by themselves. More on that in chapter 7.
Notice, regarding each major birth order, I always qualify the characteristics by saying "good bet" or "chances are." Not all characteristics fit each person in that birth order. In fact a first born may have baby characteristics, a last born can sometimes act like a first born in certain areas, and middle children may seem to be first borns. I've seen onlies who you would swear were youngest children. There are reasons for these inconsistencies, which I will explain as we go along.
What Do Presidents and Pastors Have in Common?
Birth order continues to be revealing when you look at who is in what occupation. For example, statistics show that first borns often fill positions of high authority or achievement. Who's Who in America or American Men and Women in Science both contain a high percentage of first borns. You will also find them more than well represented among Rhodes scholars and university professors.
As for presidents and pastors, you guessed it, a great number of them are first borns. The way I define a first born, twenty-three out of forty-one U.S. presidents (56 percent) have been first borns or functional first borns. I will explain what I mean by "functional" more completely in chapter 2. A number of our presidents were born later than number one in their families. In some cases, they were born last, but in all cases they were the first-born males in the family. That tells me they had excellent chances of developing first-born traits and functioning as first borns, which undoubtedly helped them be effective in their role of president and leader. (For a complete list of U.S. presidents and their birth orders, see appendix A.)
Of course, many of our presidents have been middle children, and a few have been last borns, including Ronald Reagan, the actor who made good in Washington. The big three of birth order-first born, middle child, and baby-was vividly represented during the 1992 presidential campaign when incumbent George Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot squared off in a televised debate. Clinton, the first born, was suave, confident, loaded with answers, and projected strong leadership abilities. Bush, the middle child, used a mediating negotiating style, even while in debate. Perot, the last born, was an outrageous baby and then some-hard hitting, outspoken, asked lots of embarrassing questions of his opponents, and often had the audience in stitches.
In regard to pastors, I was speaking to a group of fifty ministers and commented in passing, "Pastors, you know, are predominantly first borns." The skeptical looks on their faces told me that I might have wandered dangerously close to some kind of heresy, so I decided to poll the entire group and see if I was right. It turned out that forty-three out of the fifty were first-born sons or only children.
Research bears out that first borns are more highly motivated to achieve than later borns. A much greater proportion of first borns wind up in professions such as science, medicine, or law. You also find them in greater numbers among accountants, bookkeepers, executive secretaries, engineers, and computer specialists. And, oh yes, of the first twenty-three American astronauts sent into outer space, twenty-one were first borns and the other two were only children. All seven astronauts in the original Mercury program were first borns.
Even Christa McAuliff, the teacher who died in the ill-fated Challenger space shuttle crash in 1986, was a first born who had four siblings.
Research bears out that first borns are more highly motivated to achieve than later horns.
The point is, more often than not you will find first borns in professions that take precision, strong powers of concentration, and dogged mental discipline. In the 1970s I served for several years as assistant dean of students at the University of Arizona while also earning a doctorate. I always enjoyed testing the birth order theories I was learning and I once asked a faculty member of the College of Architecture if he had ever noticed where the college's faculty members came from as far as birth order was concerned. He gave me a blank stare and muttered, "Kevin, I really have to run."
A good six months later he stopped me on campus one day and said, "Do you remember that crazy question you asked me about the birth order of our architectural faculty? Well, I finally decided to take an informal poll. It turns out almost everyone of our faculty is either a first born or the only child in the family."
My friend was quite impressed, but I was only gratified to know that a basic birth order principle had proven out again. People who like structure and order tend to enter professions that are exacting. Architecture is one of those professions.
How Birth Order Plays Out in Hollywood
At the other end of the birth order scale, you will find a lot of later borns who are comedians. Babies of the family who are known and loved by millions of movie and TV fans include Eddie Murphy, Goldie Hawn, Billy Crystal, Joan Rivers, Leslie Nielsen, Danny DeVito, Drew Carey, Jim Carey, Steve Martin, and Chevy Chase. Other babies of the family who kept us in stitches include the late comics John Candy and Charlie Chaplin.
It should be noted, however, that not all comics are pure last borns. While Steve Martin is the baby of his family, he had an older sister, which made him the first-born son. And while Jay Leno, star of the Tonight Show is a baby, two other late-night stars are not-Johnny Carson and David Letterman. They are both middle children, born second of three.
Bill Cosby, one of the great comedians of all time, is a first born. Cosby, who holds a doctorate degree, is a perfectionist. He named all of his children with names beginning with "E"-to remind them to always seek excellence.
Other first-born entertainers and actors include Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Clint Eastwood, Henry Fonda, Chuck Norris, Sylvester Stallone, and the late Humphrey Bogart. They all tend to be macho leading men.
Only children who are well known for their dramatic, and sometimes comedic, roles include Robert DeNiro, Laurence Fishburne, Anthony Hopkins, James Earl Jones, Tommy Lee Jones, Roger Moore, Gregory Peck, Tony Randall, William Shatner, and Robin Williams.
Newscasters and talk-show hosts on television are often first borns and only children. While on a tour of thirty-one cities, I did a little survey and learned that out of ninety-two talk-show hosts, only five were not first borns or onlies. Just a few of the more well-known first-born talk-show personalities are Phil Donahue, Oprah Winfrey, Sonia Friedman, Geraldo Rivera, Arsenio Hall, Sally Jessy Raphael, and the spokesman for excellence in broadcasting himself, Rush Limbaugh.
Rosie O'Donnell is not a true first born but she is the oldest daugher with two older brothers. An avid doll collector who shows the classic characteristics of a first born, she can pick out a flaw at fifty paces! "If you take one [doll] and put it in the wrong spot, she can pick it out in a second," Maureen O'Donnell says of sister Rosie.
As for newscasters, there is Walter Cronkhite, only child; Peter Jennings, first born of two; Ted Koppel, an only child; and Dan Rather, first born of three.
The Leman Tribe and How We Grew
In many families the three birth order positions-first born, middle child, and last born-are played out in more or less classic style. To give you one example that is close to home to me, I will introduce you to the family I grew up in. (You'll meet my own family, wife Sande, daughters Holly and Krissy, son Kevin II, and two latecomers-Hannah and Lauren-a little later.) My parents had three children:
Sally-first born John Jr. (Jack)-middle child (first-born son), born three years later Kevin (Cub)-baby of the family born five years after Jack
Sally, eight years my senior, is a classic first born who lives in a small town in western New York. Because we have our own summer place on a lake nearby, we all get to drop in at her immaculate home from time to time every summer vacation. The first thing we notice when we come through Sally's front door is the clear vinyl runner leading to every room in the house. We get the message: "Thou shalt not walk on the blue carpet, except where absolutely necessary."
To say Sally is neat as a pin doesn't quite begin to tell the story. I suspect that from time to time she irons her welcome mat! Perhaps you use those garbage bags that have drawstrings? Sally does, too, and she ties bows on hers.
In short, whatever Sally does, she does it classy and she does it right. All her life she has been confident, scholarly, well liked (a cheerleader in high school)-a National Honor Society type all the way. In fact Sally, who is on the pastoral staff of her church and serves as director of children's ministries, has two books to her credit: Making God Real to Your Children and Mommy Appleseed, which deals with planting Scripture in a child's life in a natural way.
Sally can even class up a camping trip. No one in the Leman clan can forget the time we all went camping high in the Sierra Nevadas. After a terrific day in the great out-of-doors, we were all ready to hop into our sleeping bags. Because at eight or nine thousand feet it gets rather nippy at night, even in the summer, most of us planned to sleep in our clothes.
Not Sally. She came out of her tent to say good night, attired in nighty and negligee and seemed puzzled when we all dissolved in laughter. But why not sleep in your negligee on a camping trip when you are a former home ec teacher turned preschool director? Why not add a little class to the campsite when you are creative, artistic, and neat in everything you do?
Sally has butterflies at least two days before giving a small dinner party. Bigger dinner parties cause butterflies for a week or ten days.
Excerpted from The New Birth Order Book by Kevin Leman Copyright © 1998 by Kevin Leman. Excerpted by permission.
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