What you need to know about birth order

Most people know the usual birth-order relationship combinations but there’s a lot more to it than we thought.

Do you know your birth order plays a part in developing your personality? Ever notice how only children and firstborns are usually controlling? What about how middle children are more often than not the peacemakers who get along with almost anybody? And how about those lastborns who are usually funny and carefree?

Studies suggest that the best relationship matches happen between an only child and a youngest child, a firstborn and a youngest, and a middle child and a youngest child. Of course, these are generalizations and there is a lot more to birth order, most of which you can find on the WWW.

The worst combination 

Melissa Pizaña-Cruz, certified life coach and head of the parenting cluster of the Center for Family Ministries (CEFAM) of the Ateneo de Manila University, says, “The worst mix is an eldest and eldest, or an only child and only child. A firstborn married to another firstborn will cause high friction because both are usually controllers, both bosses.”

An example she gives is the situation in China where, because of the only child policy, the divorce rate is very high. “You have only children who are married to only children,” she says. “And they’re not used to giving in, which is what you need in a marriage—a give and take relationship.” However, she adds that “wrong” or “bad” birth order combinations “can work in certain circumstances.” What are these circumstances?

Emotional birth order

It’s possible for you to be of a certain birth order but to emotionally belong to another, explains Pizaña-Cruz. “We have what we call an emotional eldest or emotional youngest,” she says. You could emotionally be of another birth order if for example, “you are an eldest child but do not function as the eldest in the family.”

In her family, Pizaña-Cruz is the youngest, but was born six years after her three older sisters who are two years apart from each other. “So even if I’m the youngest, I’m an emotional only child or eldest because of that gap,” she shares. “That can happen. Or let’s say for one reason or another, one of the middle children takes on more responsibility for the family, that can drive them up the emotional family tree and make them an emotional eldest.”

Parent modeling

According to Herald Cruz, Pizaña-Cruz’s husband of 18 years, certified life coach and co-head of the parenting cluster of the Center for Family Ministries (CEFAM) of the Ateneo de Manila University, what has more importance over birth order is who holds the power in the family of origin. “Parenting is 80% modeling,” he says. So if in your family, it is your father who holds the power—calls the shots and makes the decisions—you will most likely expect your husband to do the same thing. So, “if the woman has the power and she marries a man who has the power too, it can also be a source of conflict,” he adds.

Problems with birth order

Because more importance lies in who has the power in a marriage, you shouldn’t necessarily rely on birth order to check your compatibility. Pizaña-Cruz says it’s important not to put people in a box just because they belong to a certain birth order. They may emotionally be of another birth order.

At the same time, she adds that you can change throughout the years. If you realize along the way that both you and your spouse make a bad birth-order combination, Pizaña-Cruz says, “You can change the dynamics of your relationship if both of you are willing to change. There’s always hope.”

Olivia Yao has been writing ever since she can remember. She has written for health, teen, parenting, and children's magazines. Her latest endeavor is being a mom to her three-year-old daughter—her toughest assignment yet. Swap stories with her at threeolivias@yahoo.com.

For counseling and other inquiries, contact: Center for Family Ministries (CeFaM) Spiritual Pastoral Center. Ateneo de Manila University Campus, Loyola Heights, Quezon City. Telefax: 426-4285. Telephone: 426-4289 up to 92. E-mail: cefam@admu.edu.ph