Birth Order and Character

February 8, 2010 by in category Blogs with 3 and 0
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This month, I’m blogging around the blogosphere on various aspects of the science of birth order, looking at how a person’s position in their family – oldest, middle child, youngest, or only child – affects their personality, decision-making, education, career and even their marriage.

I’ve read a few books on the subject, but my favorite is The New Birth Order Book, by Kevin Leman. I bought the book because I was interested in understanding my kids better…and along the way I gained some insights into myself and my husband. I’m an oldest child; he’s a psychological oldest (meaning, in this case, there was a big age gap between him and the next kid up the line) with a heavy dose of middle child thrown in.

How does this affect our personalities, and our relationship? We’re both fairly strong-minded…oh, okay, I’ll come right out and say it. We’re both bossy control freaks! As you can imagine, that leads to sparks. But I can console myself with the fact I’d rather have a healthy discussion with someone as opinionated as I am, rather than deal with one of those complex, brooding middle children, or an undisciplined, never-serious youngest child. Of course, I’m probably the worst nightmare of those other birth orders, too!

Now, I know this is generalizing. But there are lots of insights in Dr. Leman’s book that provide food for thought about how we recognize and deal with our own flaws, plus how we deal with conflict with others.

The book also gave me insight into the characters in my novels. When I read it a few years ago, I realized that in most of the romance novels I’d read, and all of the ones I’d written, the heroes were oldest or only children, or psychological oldest children. Not surprising – romance novel heroes are usually successful, commanding, often bossy, and those are often traits of the oldest or only child.

I found I shook up my writing when I considered other birth orders for my characters, both heroes and heroines. I’ve recently completed two trilogies – Those Merritt Girls is a Harlequin Superromance trilogy about three sisters which ended in January with Her Surprise Hero, and for Harlequin NASCAR I wrote three books about the Matheson brothers. The last in the series, The Comeback, is out this month. It was a lot of fun creating a realistic family dynamic for those series, based on the mindsets of different birth orders. The characters’ goals and conflicts rose naturally out of their birth orders, and that made it easier to develop each story.

Got any comments about birth order – yours, your siblings’ or your significant other’s?


  • Anonymous
    on February 8, 2010

    So, Liz, are you the "princess" only child, or the perfectionst who feels responsible for everything? Or somewhere in between.

    Iona, I think there's definitely some wishful thinking in there! What does it mean, I wonder, that my first two commenters are both only children??

  • Anonymous
    on February 8, 2010

    I've done the opposite. As an only child to older parents, all my main characters have had siblings and younger parents. I wonder what that means! Wishful thinking? This has helped me start thinking about getting that part of the characters more defined- thanks! Iona McAvoy, Houston, Texas

  • Anonymous
    on February 8, 2010

    I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who pays attention to this stuff! I always have to consider my characters' positions in their families when I'm developing them. It helps inform their actions and mental conditions.

    Maybe I'm so interested in this stuff because I'm an only child–we're a psychological conundrum all our own!

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