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Power of birth order

By | September 27th 2009 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

By Evelyne Ogutu

What do Oprah Winfrey, Bill Clinton, Saddam Hussein, Winston Churchill, Barack Obama and Esther Murugi have in common? They are all firstborns, leaders and achievers in their own right.

It has been said that firstborns are born leaders, charismatic, bossy, adult pleasers and responsible while lastborns are risk takers, creative, self-centred and love to be pampered. However, personality is influenced by variables such as temperament, gender and other family circumstances.

Murugi, MP Nyeri Town and Minister for Gender and Children Affairs, believes birth order affects one’s personality and shapes how one behaves.

Three sisters spend time together. The lastborn (centre) is typically entertaining, highly social and has few expectations of self.

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The firstborn in a close-knit family of 12 children, Murugi says her parents expected her to set a good example to her siblings.

"I was always on my toes to behave well and set a good example for my brothers and sisters. I always behaved well and was the family’s role model. As a first born, my parents expected a lot from me," she says.

As a schoolgirl at Githiru Primary School, Murugi always acted as the head of her siblings. For instance, she made sure they all went straight home after school.

Her mother, a strict disciplinarian, used to time them after the school bell rang in the evening and expected them home eight minutes later. It was Murugi’s duty to ensure her siblings went home and did not idle with other children.

"I would not dare play with my classmates after school as I risked a beating from my mother," she says.

Setting a good example

However, this strict discipline, hard work, constant striving to please her parents and setting a good example earned her remarkable results and she was among the top pupils at her school. She proceeded to Highland Girls’ Secondary School and later to the University of Nairobi.

"I can say, as a firstborn I always strived to please my parents by ensuring that I always topped the class. Being a role model to 11other children made me want to be the best. Even now, I always try to set good examples," she says.

She insists firstborns are natural leaders, since the eldest child is left with all the responsibility when parents are not at home.

Family counsellor, Wangui wa Mwangi, says birth order not only controls our habits but also the career paths we follow.

For instance, Jay Okalo, the lastborn in his family says, although his parents wanted him to pursue a career in human resource management, he was not interested in that field.

"I can organise people or manage them but I enjoy doing creative work. After much persuasion, my parents allowed me to pursue a career in graphic design," says Okalo.

Bossy and pushy

Mwangi, who usually asks her counselling clients their birth order, says parents should understand when, for instance, their firstborn is bossy and pushy towards siblings.

"Firstborns and children who do not have siblings, love to feel in control and can be uncomfortable when somebody else tries to take their position or boss them around. They are, however, good managers and tend to be responsible," she explains.

A firstborn girl (back centre) is protective over her siblings. Oldest children frequently act like surrogate parents. Photos: Martin Mukangu And File/Standard

Fredrick Wanjohi, an IT manager in Nairobi, says his birth order dictates the way he behaves.

The fifth born in a family of eight children says he has been a risk taker in all he does. He recalls venturing into business in Mombasa as a fresh graduate although his parents were against it.

"That was my first time in Mombasa but I dared the odds and I don’t regret it. I learnt a lot," he says.

The father of three says he has ventured into various businesses ranging from teaching and driving a matatu to IT.

Wanjohi says he can see typical birth order traits in his children.

"My firstborn, who is in Standard Eight, is much more mature than the second born. When my wife and I are not at home, my daughter does everything," he adds.


Another middle child, Virginia Magondu, the CEO of Kenya Orient Insurance Limited, who describes herself as independent, says her birth order may or may not have contributed to her character.

The single mother of two, a daughter and son, says despite losing her mother when she was only 12, the loss did not deter her from achieving her dream of joining university.

"I sailed through primary school. I disliked conflicts and was there to solve disputes," recalls the 46-year-old.

Alfred Adler, a well-known psychiatrist who also studied birth order and how it affects who you are, says the first child tends to be analytical, detailed and one who values control. He or she sets the example for younger children and are used to being ‘number one’.

On the second born children, Adler’s theory suggests that they are often in competition with the oldest child. While the middle children tend to be the family diplomats. They dislike conflicts and seek fairness and justice. They are ‘people pleasers’.

The youngest children are usually excitement seekers who crave attention so they won’t be ‘left behind’ in family activities and the atmosphere as a whole.

Jackson Mbatha, 45, who is the lastborn of five siblings, says birth order has shaped him.

"I am mama’s boy unlike my other siblings who are independent. I always seek my mother’s approval in almost everything I do and this has sometimes affected my marriage," says Mbatha.

Set high goals

Unlike the lastborns, notes counsellor Wangui wa Mwangi, only children never have to compete and share within the family. They are lonely, usually set high goals for themselves and keep a polite distance from others.

However, Mwangi cautions the effects of birth order on one’s character, profession or behaviour should not be taken too seriously.

She says several factors influence the children’s behaviour for instance, the age differences of the children, disabilities and gender.

"As we look for reasons why our children behave in a certain way, we should not blame it on their birth order only. It can only be used as a guiding tool to parenting," she concludes.

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