Friday, February 7, 2014

The Birth Order Book

Thank-you all for your lovely comments under my vlog earlier this week. It was great fun to do, and we're glad you all had fun watching it. Definitely something to be continued in future!

Today we're back to the book reviews. :)

Labeling personalities has been the favorite procrastination pastime of countless people. You can find a letter combination for almost every behavioral pattern under the sun. From the basic introvert-extrovert discussion, to the Myers-Briggs test, which gives you all the trait combinations you could possibly need, scientists and psychologists have actually done a pretty decent job narrowing down the human characteristics into a few types. I, for instance, am a pretty happily introverted INFJ.

Our whole family has had great fun taking these tests (with surprisingly accurate results.) And so earlier this year I continued personality research by adding in a third factor--birth order.

I wrote down Kevin Leman's Birth Order Book a long time ago, and last summer I flipped through it in the bookstore in a free moment, and was even more intrigued by it. So earlier this year, continuing the theme of choosing books I really wanted to, I put it on hold and read it as part of our library's adult winter reading program.

It's a fascinating book. Entertaining, informative, and fairly accurate. I didn't agree with all of it, but most of it was pretty spot-on, and if you liked the Myers-Briggs test and other labels for your personality, then you'll definitely want to add this book to your to-read list.

The Book
What if your behavior, career choices, academic achievements, and marriage problems are influenced in large part by your birth order? Kevin Leman claims they are. An internationally known psychologist, his popular Birth Order Book has shaped a lot of company policies and helped a lot of struggling families.

In the book, he goes through four birth order categories: firstborn, only child, middle child, and lastborn. You can have five firstborns in a family. You can have an only child with 3 siblings. You can have several middle children, or several last borns. It all depends on gender, family atmosphere, and spacing between children, as well as the birth order of the parents themselves.

Leman defines what makes a person fit into a particular birth order, the inherent strengths and weaknesses each birth order has, and how people with different characteristics will relate in the workplace and with their families. Mixed with a heavy dose of humor and a lot of practical examples from his years of counseling, this is an informative and entertaining look at yet another key factor that shapes our personalities.

My Thoughts
I couldn't have had a more perfect family pattern to compare Leman's theories to. A first-born older brother, a third-born younger sister, and I'm a classic middle-born. But Junior B and I have exceptions Leman addresses. For one thing, I'm middle-born child but first-born girl, so I actually have a mix of traits between the two patterns. There's a few years' age gap between myself and Junior B, which, according to Leman, starts the birth order cycle all over again. She's third-born to a great extent, but she also has some first-born characteristics due to the five and a half year difference between us.

Fascinating stuff.

I took a lot of people I knew and fit them into the different birth order patterns, and even started taking fictional characters just for the fun of it and figuring who they were and which exceptions applied to them. While I couldn't make Leman's categorizations fit in every case, by far the majority of people I know followed his labels to perfection.

Leman is a Christian, but he doesn't use his beliefs to draw a lot of Christian conclusions in this book. Once in a while he'll make reference to the Bible, but I have a feeling he's trying to write a cross-over book--one that will appeal to both the Christian and secular markets. Which is fine, secular people enjoy that sort of thing too--but you won't find the spiritual implications of certain birth order traits, and you won't see a lot of mention of God choosing birth order for specific reasons, or how strengths and weaknesses in different birth orders could impact the Kingdom of God. I would have liked to see that; I think it would have brought his researches to a whole new level. But this book was designed to reach to a wide spectrum, so he chose not to include that side. That being said, though there's not a heavy dose of spirituality, Leman's book does avoid evolution and the idea of excusing problems because "I'm just being me", pitfalls a secular author would fall into.

I enjoyed the whole book, actually, until the last few chapters, particularly the ones about marriage with different birth orders and parenting different birth orders. Then something happened, and I didn't really enjoy the rest of it. For one thing, Leman wrote as if certain birth order positions were more likely to make a successful marriage than others, which begs the question, if you're not in the sweet spot, what should you do? Younger birth orders are apparently the go-to partners, but the rest of the birth orders have personality traits which can make marriage challenging. Now, I know Leman didn't mean that if you're not a lastborn you shouldn't get married; he's written a whole book on the subject of birth order and marriages which probably goes into it all with much more detail and clarifies some of the points he makes. But I found the chapter more concerning that encouraging, nonetheless.

By far, I was quite interested in seeing what Leman would say about middle borns. After all, that's what I can speak to from experience, and I looked forward to testing his accuracy. It was only marginally satisfactory. He split the short sections on middle borns into two types, which further decreased the effectiveness. One type of middle born was the peacemaker/counselor, quiet, keeping to themselves, and enjoying a circle of close friends. The other was one who liked to push the limits, run with the in-crowd, and generally do things that I haven't seen to be true in my experience of middle borns.

The majority of the book is spent on firstborn birth order, the second largest section is given to last born birth order (fairly so, as Leman is himself the baby of the family) and two chapters are devoted to middle borns. They make short appearances in other chapters, and are mentioned now and again, but it's a slightly uneven exchange. Leman makes the joke "You're often overlooked! Get used to it." And fairly enough to him, it's not all his fault. To quote the book itself, "I suppose the middle child does get fewer pages in this book than the other birth orders. One reason for this little oversight is that we psychologists don't know that much about middle children."

Somehow, after the book was over, I felt this diabolical gratification in the fact that we were too hard to read.

In the end, The Birth Order Book is probably going to be more helpful for first and last borns. But even then, most of it is a treat; it was only the marriage and parenting chapters that I found less than helpful. The two chapters Leman devoted to first born perfectionism were spot-on and absolutely excellent. Being a first born girl, I had some of the perfectionistic traits that plague firstborns, and Leman gave good, solid advice on distinguishing between the trap of perfectionism and the pursuit of excellence, points which I have been seeking to apply ever since I read the book. For those chapters alone I'm glad I took the time to read it.

That being said, I don't think I have a strong inclination to read it again. It was an interesting one-time read, but I'll probably remember everything I need to know from it. Who knows, though; sometimes I get odd cravings to get a book out again. And it was well worth that one-time read.

So I'm curious--have you seen birth order traits play out in your own families? And have you ever taken the Myers-Briggs personality test?

Lady Bibliophile


  1. Birth-order intrigues me! I love to see the similar character traits in different families. For example, I like to see which birth-orders enjoy cats the most. Fascinating stuff. :P
    I loved all the little bits of trivia you were telling us while you read this book! ;)
    Great review!

    1. 3rd borns definitely have the corner on the market when it comes to cats. ;D Though I think Leman forgot to mention that... :P

      It was fascinating, and I love my third-born younger sister! You're definitely our sunshine and sparkle. :D


  2. "Somehow, after the book was over, I felt this diabolical gratification in the fact that we were too hard to read."

    Lol, oh Schuyler, that's funny! Being a younger piggy in the middle as well ( though slightly different than you in having two older sisters and one younger sister), the way it all plays out in our family is absolutely fascinating! The funny thing is that between my two older sisters there are two and a half years difference (Sarah, Mary), and then between Mary and me are four and a half years difference, and then between me and Gracie are eight years difference! As you can imagine, the age gape is rather varied, and especially with Gracie, the characteristics of only child probably fit her personality the best. With me... it is awful tricky because for 8 years I was the youngest; I was over the moon having a younger sister but never adapted into the role of older sister brilliantly because well.. you know... you have two older sisters still! Now it is probably the most challenging because my two older sisters are in their twenties, I'm in my late teens and Gracie is close to ten and the dynamics of our relationships are awfully tricky and fun and I find myself caught between being the 'younger' (invisible maybe, haha?) middle one out of the four, and also the 'older sister' in the sense that I'm closest in age to Gracie, and also the youngest of the 'older girls'. Sometimes I wonder how our parents cope with our different age groups and personality-slots-- we can be quite a handful! While I've never done any personality tests or read /birth/order books, I find Little Women a fascinating test comparison with my sisters and me ;).

    But to be honest I think middle-borns are the most interesting ;). Hmm, Leman's book sounds good, but I would agree to be upset over the 'marriageable' issue - because when it boils down to things, the Grace of God working in the heart of a person can change and override all birth-order personality weaknesses/strengths :D.

    1. Wow, that is fascinating! According to Leman, Gracie would definitely have a lot of only child characteristics like you say, and according him, most personalities are formed by 6 or 7 years of age, so you would probably be the true 'baby of the family'. :D

      I wonder who would be the true middle sibling in your family! Perhaps Mary--or you may be one of those unique families that has no middle sibling at all.

      I love doing personality tests with Little Women, but I've never been able to figure out which one I would be. I think I have a cross of Meg, Jo and Beth, though I've never imagined myself as having much of Amy. :)


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