The Great Birth Order Experiment [Updated]

15 Apr

We’ve been kicking around an idea since we found out we’re having triplets.  Let me hit you with it and, please, give me your honest opinion.

Growing up, my sister’s closest school friend was a girl named Dana.  I don’t remember a whole lot about her, other than the fact that she was kind of a goofball.  Very sweet and quirky.  Also, Dana was a twin.

I don’t remember her twin brother’s name, but I do remember Dana thinking he was a little obnoxious.  She’d roll her eyes and shake her head and say, “he acts like that because he’s older.”

“But aren’t you twins?  Isn’t he older by, like, 5 minutes?”

“Yeah,” she’d say, “but he thinks it’s more like 5 years.” * [Update below.]

I’m the oldest of 3 and my wife’s the youngest of 3.  We’ve discussed it over the years and wondered: what role does our birth order play in who we are?  Would I have been attracted to Carey if I’d been a middle child or a youngest?  Would I have chosen the same career?  Would I have the same adult relationship with my sisters if they’d been older than me?

Clearly, my poor little sisters would’ve had to endure far less torture at my hands if we’d all been born at the same time.  Then again, would they?  Do groups of human beings need an Alpha?  All things being equal, are all things equal?

So, our experiment: what if my wife and I keep the order in which our 3 are introduced to the world between us?

I’m not saying never tell them.  But what if we wait until they’re 16 or 18 or well-established in their life patterns?  What would happen if these three human beings really are treated as equals?  Is it possible?


It would probably take a decent amount of pre-planned subterfuge to pull it off, but we might be able to do it if we’re committed.  We’d have to hide a document or two, maybe fudge a few details if we have a particularly eventful birth (and, lets’ face it, we will).

The only thing I’m not sure about: if Birth Order Knowledge is taken from children, is that a frustrating or damaging to them?  Will they hate us for it? We’re still on the fence about it.

I don’t know.  What do you think?

* [Update]

The great thing about keeping a blog is you get to hear from people you’d never get to otherwise.  Turns out Dana Lawes (above mentioned twin from my and my sister’s childhood) discovered her name here and decided to drop a note.  Who knew!  She says:

My twin’s name is Drew (or actually Andrew). And to be honest, I was the older twin by 3 minutes. It’s funny because I always was so proud of the fact that I was older since Drew was undeniably the smarter one and taller one. So I had the “older” card. Honestly, it was a great trait to have growing up but it really doesn’t matter now – or since I was probably 12.  I think birth order is more important for non-multiples. But that’s just my opinion.

Don’t feel like you have to update your blog with the correction (not like you would but just saying).  At least your memory of me wasn’t that I was the obnoxious girl that loved being older! And you need to be ready for people asking if your triplets are identical (even if you have 2 boys/1 girl). About 80% of people that know that I have a twin brother ask if we are identical. I mean really.

Mea culpa, Dana.  Memory, she’s fickle.  Thanks for writing, though, and for the thoughts on birth order.

(And, sister, you’d better believe I’m updating with a correction.  We’re all about integrity here at T.O.T. Central.)

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16 Responses to “The Great Birth Order Experiment [Updated]”

  1. pam April 15, 2011 at 11:26 am #

    I have friends who did this too with their twins. I never considered it, but keep in mind you are going to get asked A LOT who was born first, second, third. I don’t understand why people think a one minute difference is going to matter, but there you are.

    Anyhoo…even though we arent keeping it a secret, i dont intend to make a big deal of it either.

  2. Andy Kerr April 15, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

    I have no idea what the results would be, but, given my experience around twins, I think it’s a worthwhile experiment!

  3. Jenny April 15, 2011 at 12:13 pm #

    This is something I’d heard if but never considered with our triplets. For one, keeping that secret would be work, and triplets are enough work. I had no desire to add more for my poor brain! But really, it’s because we want to treat them as individually as possible, and singleton siblings learn their birth order. I’d be interested in a true nature-nurture study on the matter, but I don’t want to conduct my own. I mean, what if we put forward all the effort of maintaining secrecy when our boy steps into a big-brother role without knowing he’s the “oldest?”

    I think what’s important is stressing that they were all “born” at the same time – their entrance into the operating room just happened to be by single-file only. Someone had to go first!

  4. Randy Bear April 15, 2011 at 1:06 pm #

    “All things being equal, are all things equal?”
    Not a chance. Even though the social engineers of our time want to believe that, the truth is that people are inherently different with different capabilities and aptitudes and talents… and will perform differently given the exact same set of opportunities and circumstances. It’s just the way life is and some may call it unfair, but it’s reality. It’s true not only with individuals, but with people groups and entire cultures as well. So whether they know who was born first or not, IMO will not matter a whit. No reason not to tell them… otherwise it’ll just frustrate them. They are who they are… and I love ‘em all already. Can’t wait to see those little jits.

  5. Cary April 15, 2011 at 1:17 pm #

    I have twins and I don’t plan on telling them who’s older / younger. I personally think it’s a really silly distinction for twins…all it really means is that one was closer to the birth canal than the other one.

    The reason we’ve chosen not to tell them (until they’re older…not sure what age yet) is that I really don’t want to deal with the whole “i’m the oldest” thing. I think it would drive me crazy.

    Plus, none of our extended family care one bit about who was born first. So, the “secret” is not all that hard to keep.

  6. Esther Hanes April 15, 2011 at 3:35 pm #

    ummm…I actually have a great deal of knowledge on the subject (candidate for PhD in psych, after all) I was a data manager for the Minnesota Center for Twin and Family Research for a couple years as well…(who knew it would come in handy…) All this training (oohhh) taught me to look at the data, and leave my opinion out of it.

    According to DATA, birth order effects exist, and do so because of ACTUAL lapses in births. Twins who think they are, say, more responsible because they are older, usually aren’t. Someone made a big deal about them being the “older” twin, but most observational data does not support these differences. Differences that do exist can often be explained by the the self-fullfilling prophecy (thanks mom and dad!).

    Recent data (I’m talking articles from the last 5 years) on twin studies has shown that parents overemphasize differences in their twins from birth, and many twins grow up believing they are the “talkative” one, or the “quiet” one, for example. Observational data has shown time and time again that those differences, if they exist at all, are always much smaller than the parents say, especially among identical twins.

    I specialize in personality psychology, and certain traits are highly heritable. Those trait levels (e.g. extraversion, neuroticism), are mostly shared among identical twins because the are genetically identical. Fraternal twins are no more similar in personality than any other sibling would be.

    I won’t be seeking differences between my identical twins, nor will I announce who was born first. Parents’ beliefs about their kids can go a long way…

  7. Chloe April 15, 2011 at 4:26 pm #

    I read an article on this topic written by an adult identical triplet. Unfortunately I can’t find it now. Her parents had never told them the birth order, and she was glad of it. We hadn’t been planning to tell our kids for as long as we could get around it.

  8. Amanda April 15, 2011 at 4:50 pm #

    We don’t put any real importance on it at all; we have 6 minutes between them. Where it DOES come in handy though,and you may want to keep this in mind, is for ending fights, or making quick decsions as to who is first for things. We almost always give our girls a choice, however,if they both want to do something at the same time and cannot come up with a solution that does not involove fighting, we resort to birth order. We keep it simple and straight forward, “Cae was first, she goes first. Ash, your turn is next.” They get it. Quick, clean, easy. They can fight it all they want, but it cannot be changed. On the occasion when they do grumble at it, I simply remind Ashlyn that she had every opportunity to be born first, but she chose to flip late in the game, pushing Caedance near the exit. It works for us.

  9. Kim P April 15, 2011 at 6:02 pm #

    We haven’t mentioned it to our girls at all (they are 5 now) and yet the older one definitely acts older. She’s the boss between the 2 girls and she and our oldest butt heads a lot since they both act like oldests.

  10. Valerie April 16, 2011 at 7:57 am #

    Family members and friends know the birth order of my two. When a stranger asks, I tell them that the girls are twins, so they are the same age. Strangers HATE that answer, but I won’t tell them who is older. It doesn’t matter. I did tell some people in the beginning and they all made ridiculous assumptions and statements about each child based on her being the first or second born. The kids are a minute apart, birth order doesn’t matter for them. I don’t know why people are so interested in which is older. Part of our not telling is the fun of watching strangers try to figure out how they can ask the question differently to get the answer. You get stalked in stores and asked the same questions over and over. The least you can do is have a little fun with some of the ridiculous questions.

  11. Erin April 16, 2011 at 4:56 pm #

    Clearly, I know nothing about multiples, but as a mother I’m going to weigh in. I truly think that birth order would not and should not matter for triplets. Personally, I would not even mention it to the triplets, and downplay it as much as possible when it does come up. However, when they are old enough to be curious I would tell them the truth and move on. I strongly believe in being as honest as possible with Parker and Audrey. It is important to me that my kids know they can ask me questions and I will answer them honestly (in an age appropriate way of course). To keep a “secret” of sorts about their lives seems to me like it would be very frusterating. And, I think the desired affect of downplaying the birth order would backfire–I think the secret of the birth order would become a big focus because it was information they weren’t “allowed” to have. To me, being honest when they do become curious, and then treating it like it is no big deal would send the message that it doesn’t matter to you and shouldn’t to them. Just my two cents, though.

  12. Olivia April 16, 2011 at 6:00 pm #

    I am an identical twin and I’m 31 minutes older. 31 minutes is pretty significant compared to other twins, but I have not once held it over my sister’s head. The only time we think about it is if someone asks how far apart we are. OR when I blow out my birthday candles at 7:35, and she blows hers out at 8:06. That’s it. We NEVER think about it.

  13. Erin April 18, 2011 at 9:06 am #

    I have identical twins who are one minute apart. They exhibit classic birth order personalities and they have no idea who is older and who is younger since they’re only three. So even if you don’t tell them, it may not matter. It is what it is.

  14. Jon April 18, 2011 at 10:57 am #

    Just tell them they all came out simultaneously and leave the rest to their imaginations.

  15. Chrissy April 18, 2011 at 5:38 pm #

    Just wanted to let you know that I gave you a blog award over on our blog because this blog is so funny and real!

  16. cecilia May 3, 2011 at 11:15 am #

    Jeremy,
    I have triplets (4-years old) – all girls AND a 10-year old boy. I am the oldest of 4, my husband the youngest of 7. So birth order has always fascinated me. When the girls were born I kept asking (my husband and OB/Gyn), did they come out the way they were situated in my uterus (Baby A was at the bottom, then Baby B on the left side, Baby C on the right top)? They said yes. I don’t know why this was so important to me, I guess I was curious about their personalities (if Baby A on the bottom – who carried all of her sisters’ weight on top, and weathered the storm – would reflect this in her personality somehow). Either way, I can say, they definitely exhibit “classic” birth order traits. My oldest (by 1 minute each) (or the one on the bottom) is bossy, sensitive, strong-willed, neat, perfectionist. My middle one – oddly – when the girls are sitting on the floor (i.e. gymnastics class) will squeeze her way inbetween her sisters so that she’s in the middle. When they hop into their side-by-side stroller, she always wants to sit in the middle. Her car seat, has to be in the middle – her bed (they all share a room) is in the middle. Explanation? I can think of only one. Our baby is independent, and yet shy. Happy go lucky, easy to please, easy going (but stubborn as hell too). I have so many theories about their personalities (2 came home right away, the 3rd had to stay in the NICU for an extra week) – she’s left out of all their play activities and the other 2 seem closer (in friendship/sisterhood – with personalities and likes). One has a peanut/shrimp allergy the others no allergies. How does that happen when I was eating the same thing? (I have a theory for that too- which I won’t delve into and bore your other readers with). If I had enough time to read, I would love to research. As for telling my kids – we never really told them, but people always, always ask, and by the time they were old enough to understand, they’d repeat it. They know. But it doesn’t seem to cause friction. What causes the friction is who’s the tallest!
    When are you due (I haven’t dug deep enough in your blog to find out)? As for things to buy – what you need in the beginning – I have a list for you (referring to your Babies R Us post).
    Good luck! Would love to help with any questions you may have!

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