Tuesday, 25 August 2009
The Jacob and Esau effect?
"Which twin was born first?" is something i have often been asked since becoming a mum of multiples and i recently stumbled across a post titled just that over at http://twinparenthood.com/ which has got me thinking, does it actually matter?
Being a mum of two singletons prior to my set of twins has left me in no doubt that the order in which your children are born does affect their own perceptions as to what their role is within the family unit. However it seems absurd to suggest that the same can be said about twins given that only a few minutes not years are all that separates them. There is nothing significant that can take place during such a short amount of time that can seriously influence the individual child's perception of his or her position within the family.
Taking this into consideration the only explanation can be that we as parents and as a society subconsciously impose our own beliefs about the importance of birth order onto the children, thus creating a self fulfilling prophecy. Often i have heard "she is so much bigger than the other twin she must be the oldest" or "you can tell she's the oldest one as she is definitely the boss". I myself am even guilty of falling into this trap, when trying to encourage my twins speech along i immediately concentrated more on Eva's (who is the oldest by 12 minutes)speech as opposed to Isabella's. I wrongly assumed that because Eva was the oldest and most assertive at the time she would be quicker to grasp the concept. I was proved wrong by Isabella almost immediately who started rambling away a whole two months before Eva, i soon learned to stop pigeon holing them.
Birth order definitely creates a competitive streak amongst siblings, my eldest daughter has inevitably take on the role as leader, boss of the playroom and she sees herself as the authority figure amongst all her sisters. My second daughter has become the "naughty little sister" - causing havoc and mischief to get attention, whilst trying to assert herself as her older sisters equal yet at the same time looking to her for guidance in many things like, reading, singing and manipulating mummy and daddy. This for me definitely cements the "middle child syndrome" theory and gives credence to the popular line of thinking that birth order reflects lifelong personality traits.
Having said all this i am still at odds with the notion that this can apply to twins. Eva and Isabella are both as bad as one another, sure they are polar opposites in every way, they are individuals, Eva is the thinker full of mischief and wonderment whilst Belle is the doer the first to crawl, walk talk yet a little clingy too, and they both fall in and out of the role of "the more dominant one". It will be interesting to see how they progress and if in fact the issue of who was the "first born" becomes a part of contention in their relationship as they get older. I do believe though, the fact that they already have two older siblings eliminates a lot of the competitiveness and for some lone sets of twins then an air of importance can be given to the older twin, thus leaving the youngest one feeling a little inferior.
So the next time someone asks "which one was born first?" will you think more carefully about the long term effects your reply can have on your child and their self esteem? Should parents of multiples consider withholding the information of who is the older twin to spare the child's feelings? Or is it irrelevant and unimportant in the grand scheme of things?
**Below is some information about the theory of birth order and it's importance. **
Psychologist Alfred Adler, a contemporary of Sigmund Freud, defined a set of characteristics to describe how a child's position within the family would actualize in his or her personality. Presented below is a simplified version of his theories, adapted from the Adler Institute website.
Adlerian Birth Order Characteristics
Family situation: dethroned by next child. Has to learn to share. Parent expectations are usually very high. Often given responsibility and expected to set an example.
Characteristics: May become authoritarian or strict. Feels power is his right. Can become helpful if encouraged
Family situation: Has a pacemaker, always someone ahead. Is more competitive, wants to overtake older child.
Characteristics: May become a rebel or try to outdo everyone. Competition can deteriorate into rivalry
Family situation: Is "sandwiched" in. May feel squeezed out of a position of privilege and significance. Even-tempered, "take it or leave it" attitude.
Characteristics: May have trouble finding a place or become a fighter of injustice
Family situation: Has many mothers and fathers in older children. Never dethroned.
Characteristics: Wants to be bigger than the others. Can stay the "baby." Frequently spoiled