I am fascinated by birth order studies. As many of you know from many of my previous posts, I am one of two girls. The oldest in a set of Irish twins; we are a whopping 11 MONTHS apart in age. So, as you can imagine, that made for some interesting dynamics in our family as I was growing up. I’ve read several birth order articles and know that many of those dynamics played out in our house growing up. I have seen them play out with my own girls. Often, one of the key findings of birth orders studies is that the first born tends to demonstrate more leadership qualities. Well, DUH. I can agree with that one completely. Perfectionism, controlling, BOSSY. Check, check, check. But then there’s those characteristics of the last-born personality that are also key ingredients of who I am – social, self-centered, FUN. Growing up, my sister tended to be more responsible, reliable and conscientious while I flew by the seat of my pants a lot. Probably a lot more than mom and dad were comfortable with. My sister remains the responsible one to this day; she’s a great mom, and grandma; completely dependable. My girls know I am drunk when I say things like “it’s all good in the hood.” Balance, people. Balance.
Don’t know about some of the studies done on birth order theory? There’s this place you can learn more; I should not have to tell you. It starts with a G and ends with an E and in the middle it sounds like “oogl.” Hint, it’s not Encyclopedia Britannica, even though they probably have an online site. (Bounces over to another browser tab to be only mildly shocked that they do in fact have a web presence. Good for them! Way to stay in the information game EB, I salute your tenacity!)
In an effort to set the record straight, and to get to a more accurate picture of how I see things (because, really, that’s the point people; the point to ALL of this), I would offer up to you my alternate theory. This theory is espoused by many of my family and friends and we find that it’s pretty accurate. Though, to be fair, we have not scientifically validated it; it just seems to ring true a lot of the time. Here it is…you ready?
Every family has a RULE-BREAKER and a PEOPLE-PLEASER.
Now, in a lot of cases, the people-pleaser may very well be the first born. Sometimes, like in my case, that’s not true. So rather than trying to align these labels with birth order, let’s just all agree that sometimes, due to the hands of fate and whatever else, nature does indeed overcome nurture and you get some very different kids. It’s been my experience that those kids fall into my two convenient buckets.
Now before you start clutching your pearls on me, thinking I’m trying to “label” your kids in some way, remember that this is simply my theory. MY THEORY. It’s not science; it’s purely observational and frankly for your reading pleasure and nothing more. So relax, Karen, I’m not trying to label or pigeon-hole your kids in any way. You should probably know that I may have shown your people-pleasing husband what a rule-breaker was all about back in the day and utterly rocked his world. He probably remembers; you should ask.
The people-pleaser tends to be the kid who other parents compliment moms and dads on. The rule-breaker may be the one that other parents shake their heads about. Parents refer to the people-pleaser as helpful and considerate. They refer to the rule-breaker with an eyeroll and a sigh.
Rule-breakers sneak out of the house to meet boys and drink. Rule-breakers may call home at midnight to say they are spending the night at their friend’s house when they are actually going to an after party with people they just met that night. Rule-breakers smuggle booze into a high school dance in a hair spray bottle (Rave non-aerosol firm hold for the WIN). Rule-breakers travel with their college bestie in the middle of the night with random rugby players to another college two hours away, because, why not? Rule-breakers get told to find a new place to live after graduating from college and coming home. It was not as harsh as being kicked out, but the message was clear. People-pleaser’s moms cry when they leave the nest at 25.
Rule-breakers may buy cars that their parents never even know about and joyride around town at the tender age of 15. For the record, this was not me; this was my dear friend Stephanie’s* brother and the story cracks me up like nothing else. That’s BALLS OUT. That guy is my hero. My friend was clearly the people-pleaser in the family and she owns it. Her parents did not get more grey hairs because of her. Her brother is another matter altogether.
Growing up, my mom’s best friend also had two daughters. They were about 10 years younger, so it was often like having a set of much younger sisters around. Even early on, we all knew who was the people-pleaser and who was the rule-breaker. Amy* was the clear people-pleaser while Sophia* was very much the rule-breaker. Years later, when my sister and Amy drifted at different times into what might have been some “rule-breaking” territory, they were shipped off to stay with another one of our mom’s friends in Boston. A trip to “find themselves” and “get back on track.” Let me tell you, Sophia and I are still waiting for our damn trip. What the absolute fuck? This is your life when you’re a rule-breaker; you don’t get a fun trip to go and find out how to not be a rule-breaker.
Trouble does tend to find the rule-breaker more easily. I don’t think my sister ever had to wake my parents up at 3AM to ask them where the tow-truck driver should put the car. The principal never called to inform them that she and all her friends needed to be picked up from the school dance because one of them was passed out in the bathroom.
I have seen this trend in my own two daughters. Though they are both amazing and fun and smart and above all, kind, my oldest is definitely the people-pleaser. She’s considerate and can be counted on to do the right thing, always. Like my sister back in the day, she’s a much more patient babysitter to the kids next door. While my youngest is the kind of kid that’s going to fly by the seat of her pants. Both my girls are incredibly smart, but the risk-taker is clearly the younger of the two.
My sister, the people-pleaser, has two boys and they are also examples of this phenomenon. The oldest is the rule-breaker (taking some cues from his aunt? Perhaps…perhaps) and the younger is the people-pleaser. While there was much hand wringing about the older son as he barreled (to put it mildly) through his teens, the younger son is steady and helpful. You seriously know you’re never going to have to worry about him, ever.
So take a good hard look in the mirror, are you the family’s rule-breaker or the people-pleaser? If you think you were the people-pleaser but snuck out of the house on more than one occasion, or had a long discussion with the mom of one of your best friends while you were more than a little tipsy and she had not a clue that you had all been drinking, or rolled into the house after a night out with the girls after your dad had left for work, you may have to reconsider. I might recommend asking your family their opinion; they KNOW.
If you’re the people-pleaser, take a cue from your rule-breaking sibling and take a chance and be bad; it can be exhilarating. And if you’re the rule-breaker, take some time to reflect on your actions before jumping. Sometimes caution is not the most terrible thing on the planet.
But at the end of the day, embrace who you are and live that shit OUT LOUD.
*Names changed to protect the innocent and the not-so-innocent. You know who you are; this is for your own good in case you decide to run for public office or something some day. You’re WELCOME.