Monday, January 4, 2010

just another way I might be screwing up my kids

The Power of Birth Order

I’ve spent a lot of time with my two girls since school has been out for the holidays. A LOT of time.  And I’ve thought a lot as I’ve watched them play (together, finally!) about birth order and how we as parents shape our children and their personalities.  I’ve always been really sensitive about labeling my girls – even though it would be so easy to do. Lucy is the artist, she’s sensitive and thoughtful and creative and imaginative and has a wonderful sense of humor. She’s funnier at four years old than most people are in a lifetime. Zoe is a sparkler, she is energetic and creative and affectionate and has more personality at two than most people do in a lifetime.  I had a conversation over the holidays with a dear friend, also the youngest in a family of two girls, and we were talking about all the things that go along with birth order – how so many people think it shapes who we are, even the jobs we have and the friends and partners we choose.  She and I had talked in the past about our experiences growing up in our respective families but I had never really though how my being the youngest in my family shaped who I have become. She had recently come across the article I linked above and was describing for me what research says about birth order and personality – read it if you get a chance, I think it has some really interesting information on the subject.
When you have your first child, the experience is overwhelming.  It is something that mere words can’t easily describe. For me, the combination of it all: pregnancy and childbirth and having a new person who was entirely dependent on me, was the most amazing thing ever.  If I think hard enough about it, it’s probably the scariest time in my life, too – hello? They send you home from the hospital with another human being – a tiny, little bitty person – and NO instruction manual. I think about going through that with Lucy and I must have seemed nearly insane to my friends.  I’m sure they were like, “Uhhh. Ok, weirdo. It’s a baby…” But it was more than just that, it was experiencing all the firsts.  And I was so enamored with her that I was all, “Hey! Let’s do that again!” And then, when I was about six months pregnant and the reality hit me that I was going to have two children under the age of TWO, I flipped the hell out.  I was terrified. TERRIFED – that I would never have the room in my heart to love another child as much as I loved Lucy.  I worried and worried that we were doing the wrong thing, and because my pregnancy with Zoe happened so quickly, Lucy wouldn’t get enough one on one time with us and we’d scar her in some way.  (Little did we know that one day she would never remember life before her little sister came along…) And then I had Zoe and I’m going to be honest, I didn’t bond with her instantly like I did with Lucy. I think I had worried myself SO much that I didn’t allow myself to fully let go of those feelings for a few weeks.  But when I did…when I let go, I knew it would all be fine.  And I was so happy I cried – happy because I wasn’t nuts and there really was room in my heart for two beautiful girls.
As it turns out, it’s very true that you can love two children equally and differently all at the same time.  But how will the order of their birth have any affect on my girls’ future? Will Lucy fit the description of the first-born, the way I feel like my older sister does? Lisen is smart, cautious with her feelings and her finances, hard working and reliable, to name only a few of her qualities.  Will Zoe fit the description of the younger sibling (much like I do) and be a risk taker, sensitive and attention seeking? Hmmm. I think anyone, regardless of birth order, can have these characteristics – I consider myself to be both hard working and reliable, but those are probably not the first words you would use to describe me. And if my children do fall into these “categories” what did Steve and I do to help put them there? Do we as parents shape who our children are because we’re a society that finds the need to make everyone fit into some tidy little box? 
I had to laugh at the part in the article that talked about how the first born typically has more photos in the albums – something I have been hypersensitive about with our girls.  One afternoon when I was maybe 14, I found a cellophane wrapped book in our home and asked my mom what it was. Turns out it was my baby book – the baby book that she bought and then never opened. Yup. There are pictures of me as a baby, but I have no written record of when I took my first steps or said my first words – and those are the minute details that parents forget about over the years and years of more “firsts”.  I don’t hold any anger about that incident now, but I do remember at the time feeling like it was unfair and I vowed right there that I would make sure all my children had baby books!  And, because my father is probably going to read this, I would like to state for the record that by her second birthday I had finally put together somewhat of a presentable baby book for Zoe.  No one tells you before you have a second kid that you will somehow lose 16 of each 24 hours in the day doing God knows what. I’m going to chalk my baby book experience up to tired parents and not because I’m not the first born. 
I guess my point is that you all give your children different experiences because of who you are as a family and the dynamic you share together.  I never felt like I was loved any less because I was the youngest in my family – even though I may have been treated or handled differently than my older sister. I imagine most of that could be chalked up to my being a risk taking, attention seeker! I hope that when my girls are grown, they will be able to look back and say that their father and I did the best we could; and that while we might share different experiences with each of them individually, we almost never thought of trading them in for beachfront property. Almost never.

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