Friday, February 7, 2014
The Birth Order Book
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.
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.
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.
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?