Second Borns - Lucky Position or Victims of Bad Timing?
By Michael Grose
"What about me?"
This seems to be the second borns' lament. It was certainly the
response my daughter (a second born) gave when she read an article
in Sunday Life published by Fairfax newspapers last Sunday, where my
birth order book "Why first borns rule the world and last borns want
to change it" was the basis of an article about siblings.
She claimed that the article was three pages long and only one
paragraph was devoted to second borns. Only a second born would take
notices of that!
Certainly second born and middle children are generally the victims
of poor timing. They are born too late to get the perks and
privileges of their eldest siblings and, if they have younger
siblings, too early to benefit from the more relaxed style of
parenting that they generally experience.
The arrival of the second doesn't draw the same amount of attention
in families, as does the birth of the first born. It is not so much
that parents have 'been there and done that' but their life has
already been altered and a pattern of life has emerged that includes
another entity. It has been dramatically changed already.
The first born has a vested interest in keeping the second child in
his or her place, or at least being seen to be superior or better.
He or she will often go to great lengths to remind their parents of
their superiority. They often point out their second sibling's
misbehaviours or inadequacies to their parents just in case they
haven't noticed. Number ones often don't leave such matters to
chance. So the second faced with competition will go either head to
head or develop their own unique personality, traits and
characteristics. They often excel in areas that are leftover by the
The second born child leads a different life to that of the first
born. His or her life will in all likelihood revolve around the life
of the first born. Seconds had better get used to tagging along
after the first born because they will in all likelihood accompany
the first born to playgroup and pre school activities. They are
often woken from their afternoon naps so adults can pick up the
first born from school. Second borns learn to fit in so flexibility
is often a key component of their personality.
Their flexibility tends to make seconds borns far more resilient
than first borns and they expect a little less of life. They learn
early on that life doesn't always go their way. While working out
personality traits for seconds is tricky, there is however one rule
of thumb to go by. Seconds will usually differ in personality,
interests and achievement areas than first borns. If the first born
is responsible, then there is every chance number two will be a
terrorist. If the first is an academic star, then number two may
well find another field of endeavour to shine. Seconds and middles
often choose a different path than their siblings.
They also tend to have more friends as this cohort tend to look
outside the family for their belonging. If they are stuck in the
middle of three children they often develop an array of social
skills so they become the social glue in many groups as adults.
Seconds are often into social justice as adults. Fairness is a large
driver for this group as they move through school and into
adulthood. While firsts often need a purpose in their lives if they
are to feel successful, many seconds need to get behind a cause to
give their lives meaning.
Seconds need different parenting experiences than their elder or
younger siblings. They sometimes get squeezed, forgotten in the
crowd and can spend less time alone with their parents. Parents need
to be alert to the messages that this cohort give as their voice can
be lost in the crowd at home. Many learn to be secretive and keep
their opinions to themselves. "It's not fair" is their mantra and
parents need to be careful not to fall into a guilt trip with this
Making time to spend with this group, assisting them find their own
area of expertise and helping them feel special seems to be keys to
raising happy, resilient second borns. This means parents need to be
pro-active to initiate time with them and especially sensitive to
the fact that they don't want to be a compared to a successful elder
Each birth order position has its own unique requirements from
parents but it seems that it is seconds and middle borns that
perhaps challenge and concern parents the most.
Michael Grose is the author of Why First Borns Rule the World and
Last Borns Want to Change it. You can purchase this ground-breaking
book (and find out just want your first, second and youngest
children need from you) at