Second Kids Get The Shaft.

If you’ve ever done even a cursory study of birth order, then you know that where you fall in the lineup of your siblings has an undeniable effect on your personality. Numerous studies have shown that, in families with two kids, the first born tend to be type-A, control freak over achievers, who are more serious, more anxious, and less spontaneous, while second children are usually the fun, laid-back ones who march to the beat of their own drum, could care less what other people think of them, and often fail to live up to their full potential. When I worked as a high school counselor, I saw this phenomenon play out all the time. The older sibling worked her butt off to get good grades, was the president of every club and organization known to man, stayed in studying while other kids partied, stressed endlessly about getting into college, and then, ultimately, had a nervous breakdown at SAT time and scored well below what her grades predicted. Meanwhile, two years later, her younger brother would show up with a transcript full of Bs, a resumé comprised of video game-related activities, a laissez-faire attitude towards college, and then, without so much as cracking a book, would pull off an SAT score in the 95th percentile nationwide.


My husband and I, both being first children, tend to be more comfortable with the first child model, at least with regard to success. For us, success is measured quantitatively. Test scores, diplomas, positions held, salaries earned. Our younger siblings probably wouldn’t agree. For them, success has to do with where they’ve traveled, what they’ve experienced, and how often they get to hang out with friends. I would rather have a prestigious job with big responsibilities, a big salary and two weeks vacation, while my brother would rather make less money, get less recognition, and have summers off. Neither one is right or wrong – it’s just how, and who, we are.


Being that my husband and I are who we are, when we found out that I was pregnant with our second child, we were determined to turn him into a first. We agreed that we would raise him exactly the way that we had raised our daughter to that point. We would applaud every achievement, no matter how small. We would bombard him with letters and numbers from the moment he learned to talk. We would lavish him with attention. For us, and for my husband in particular, not having the drive to succeed is a fate worse than death, and we were going to instill a drive in this kid if it killed us. We were going to control the situation. We would make him care, God damn it.



This would be more more acurate if you looked at it as the middle child, not just the second. I watch my middle child get overshadowed time and time again in daily life. Nevermind the special moments when grandparents are around. As the second of two, there are still opportunities for one on one time with parents--even if it is individually. Once the line crosses over to 3 or more, those middle children really get lost in the the shuffle. The oldest still lives on the undivided attention of their youngest years, and the youngest can get attention just by being cute, but the middle child can easily miss out on anything because everything is cut short by the bookends.

beta mum

I have 2 children.
The first behaves like the typical second you described (happy-go-lucky, doesn't care about getting top marks as he would rather play football than do homework, sloppy, careless, etc etc)
The second is meticulous, organised, hard-working and keen to please.
She is a girl.
You don't mention gender in your analysis, but I think it may make a difference.
I, by the way, am an only child, which I think is like a first but more so.
I certainly hate sharing.


Overall I think your article was good and slightly entertaining. However, I disagree with your use of describing 2nd born children as "under achievers". I think First borns tend to see 2nd borns that way, basically that it is their opinion of them. As a middle (2nd of 3) child I am more laid back, but I am just as goal oriented as any first born, but without the "control" issues you describe. I also don't harbor any guilt about how I am raising my 2nd and third children. All three have confidence and believe in them selves without feeling like they need to be perfect. Birth order is a mysterious thing and like I said I did enjoy your article and so many descriptions did hit the nail on the head. Thanks for taking the time to write it :o) Just for the record I am not being judgemental at all. Without first borns their may not be much order...Just for fun you should look up how many Presidents of the U.S.A. were first borns....pretty interesting!


I feel you on this Risa. Especially since my "second" is TWINS. Imagine trying to give your second and third a good amount of attention at the same time while doing everything you need to do for the first. I'm screwed.

Julie Cole

this is timely....I'm expecting my sixth child and just blogged about how I can't even find a date to HAVE the baby!
I may not be able to pour a lot of individual attention on each of them, but boy, do they all know they are loved!


As the 6th child... I have to add, it was wonderful. I had all of these siblings looking out for me. My parents were way too busy to notice me. I could get lost for hours in a house full of people. I hardly ever got noticed for things like grades and sometimes my parents didnt even make it to my ballet recitals... PTA meetings? Ha! Mom told me to not even bring notes like that home. But I learned not to take it personally. And I had the love and support of a big family. That includes the love and support of my biggest big brother who was so over achieving - the poor guy. BUT - he's the one that tried to "teach me" something new each day.

So my super underachieving advice is - don't sweat it. It's natural to give the first as much as you can - and it's a good investment. They help raise the rest of them...


Maybe instead of trying to raise our second child as a "first" we should try to raise our firsts as seconds. As a first myself, I think life as a second sounds much more fun!


*sigh* I've heard this cautionary tale before. I am a second child and I have a daughter who gets the uninterrupted love and attention from me and my husband that you describe. I feel how you do (did) about the future sibling(s) and I already feel guilty about it!