Thursday, November 27, 2014

Playing the Birth Order Game: Surviving Your Family during the Holidays

It’s the time of year when your family, his family or her family
are getting together. Why is it that some feel this is a stressful
experience; after all, it’s just family?  When families get together
everyone takes a step back in time and the pecking order or 
each person’s birth order comes into play.  No matter that 
Joann is now an investment banker in New York City, she is 
still the baby sister to her older siblings and is still treated the 
same way she was when she was growing up.  Family has a 
way of erasing all of one’s accomplishments.

Why do families revert to Childhood Behavior Patterns?

Your birth order is your path throughout life and it doesn’t 
change when you leave the nest, get a job and have a 
family of your own. Your own family may sound too 
critical to you but they see the “real” you and no amount 
of window dressing can fool them into seeing you in a 
different light.  This may be the reason many don’t come 
home for the holidays! Bringing up old wounds and sibling
rivalries are unpleasant.

1.     Why Birth Orders Clash

Every sibling has a different birth order in a family.  When 
extended families get together, many will have the same 
birth order.  This is where the problem begins.  If we have 
two or three firstborns, who is really in charge?  The fun 
part is for everyone to think about the other’s birth order to 
understand why conflicts exist and then work through them.

2.     Playing the Sibling Birth Order Game
·        Get each family to list all the siblings in their family.
i.e. Anna 21, John 38, Sue 37, Becky 30
·        Make sure you get the years between each successive
sibling.  Anna 3yr  John 1yr  Sue 7yr Becky
·        Give each a number with the oldest being #1
Anna #1  John #2  Sue #3  Becky #4/0
·        Those with four or more years between successive
siblings will have Double Birth orders so add a 0
behind their birth order number.  Beck is 7yrs younger
than Sue and that is why she gets the 0. Adding this 0
Birth order magnifies and intensifies her #4 birth order
·        Find out which family members have the same birth 
·        Give a name tag to each person showing their birth 

3.      The Only Birth Order
This birth order may love having everyone around, something
they missed as a child growing up alone.  Others will like the
solitude during the holidays and prefer being alone.  This birth
order will be the most adult of the group, the go to person if
problems occur.  Onlys like Condoleezza Rice and Rudolph
Guliani would calm the waters.

4.     The Firstborn
Similar to the only child, the firstborn is at the top of the
pecking order. These are the people who want to
give orders and be in charge or be very supportive. One can
get a mental picture of the firstborn’s approach by just
imagining Hillary Clinton and Julia Child in the same kitchen.
both would want to be in charge.  One giving orders the
other supporting others with a different approach. If you
are working with firstborn’s one approach to keep harmony
would be to make each firstborn responsible for a different
part of the meal.

5.     The Second Born
Don’t tell a second born what to do! The second born may still
be acting out their sibling rivalry with the firstborn. The second
borns may want to take the competition outside for some touch
football or any game where they can compete from cards to
monopoly.  If the second born is in charge of dinner, you can
bet it will be as perfect as possible—the second child often tries
hard to unseat the older sibling. Second-born Martha Stewart,
home and entertainment perfection guru, is a good example
of a second-born child.

6.     The Third Born
These are the masters of relationships and will be the 
observers watching the family in action, taking everything 
in. They make its their job to keep peace and keep 
everyone on an even keel. Laughing on the outside, you 
can bet they are feeling everything on the inside and 
won’t let it show. The third born will know just which 
family members should sit together at the holiday table.
Third-born Barbara Bush, wife of one president and mother 
of another, is the perfect example of the all-knowing, 
all-feeling third born who doesn’t let her tender side show.  
She is great at picking up vibes from people and can 
easily figure them out. 

7.     The Fourth Born
They are ready to have some fun! As the true babies in the
family, everyone takes care of them and they can be the grease
to keep the family having fun and keep things from getting too
serious. The holiday party won’t be at their house unless
someone else is in charge. They prefer to sit at the little kids’
table, where they are right at home. Fourth-born Dolly Parton
exhibits the playfulness of this birth order. Patricia Heaton who
played Debra in the TV series (Everyone loves Raymond) 
shows this characteristic as well.

Beyond the Fourth Born
If you are from a large family, birth order starts over again
for the children following the fourth child of the family.
If you are a fifth born, you share the firstborn traits. If you
are a sixth born, you share the second-born traits, and so
on. Often the birth order traits are softened in these
family members with 5th 6th 7th 8th & 9th birth orders.

Some Variables
Birth order characteristics are not black and white and they
can be influenced by many things—sibling deaths, divorce,
blended families, and lengthy spacing between children, to
name a few. For example, “double birth” family members are
children spaced four years apart or more from their closest
sibling. A third (and last) child born five years after the second
born of the family would carry a Three/Only birth order.
Double birth order children carry characteristics of both
of their birth orders. In many cases the blending magnifies
and intensifies characteristics. If a two is stubborn, then a
Two/Only is an immovable object! President Donald Trump
has a Double birth order, that of a firstborn and fourth born.
That is why we see two sometimes contrasting behaviors
one like an Adult, the One, and the other like a child the

Let the Game Begin!
If you have a large group, give a name tag to each person
identifying their birth order. It’s a great way to get the
holiday dinner conversation going! Bon App├ętit!

Dr. Robert V. V. Hurst is author of the book:
 “Life’s Fingerprint: How Birth Order Affects Your Path
Throughout Life.”  For more information contact him at  This book should be on every
coffee table at this time of the year.