Last month we were joined by a new member of the family...a clarinet. And this has turned out to be A BIG THING.
Firstly, because it's the inaugural instrument to be played by any of the kids (and so it marks a transition for the family as a whole from toddlerdom to childhood); secondly because I'm noticing myself doing that parenting 'living vicariously' thing for the first time, as I too was into music at school. It's created a new bond between me and musical child (good) but I'm really having to hold back from wanting to 'inspire' (show off) or correct (show off).
The most interesting effect however, is the completely unexpected way in which it has shifted our family dynamic. How? Because for once, it was our middle child that started something first and not the eldest. And that has turned out to be a huge deal.
For not only is the clarinet providing her with what it offers everyone - a vehicle through which she can express herself in a creative, non-verbal way - but it has also shifted her role in the family from the usual groupie to leader. Which has resulted in less of the usual jostling for attention (both verbal and physical) and a huge boost in her confidence.
If you have more than one child, you are probably already aware of the birth order theory which expounds that one's place in the family is just as important as one's genetic blueprint (in terms of shaping one's personality and emotional view of the world). Experts seem to have differing opinions on which birth place means what (if anything) but from my informal, playground straw polls, it seems that the real experts - us mamas - have got it nailed. Because we are the ones for whom the very worst behaviour is saved, remember? And so in our minds, it definitely exists.
The bottom line is that all children want attention from their parents. The more kids there are, the harder this is to grab and so the more inventive a child needs to be to succeed. Because you can't double up - the most important sibling rule of engagment seems to be that if one kid is acting in a certain way, another can't do the same: that particular behaviour has been 'reserved' and a new modus operandi has to be adopted. (So if one daughter is a girly girl and gets attention for being pretty in pink for example, her younger sister must become a tom boy and distinguish herself by liking blue. Likewise, if one child gets praise for mostly acting obediently, the next has to attract attention for mostly being the opposite.) It's how families end up with 'types' however hard you try to avoid it.
So birth order (aka inventive attempts to grab parental attention) plays out like this (at least in my family):
- People-pleasing: first borns receive a tsunami of physical and emotional attention just for existing (especially if they were also first grandchildren), as well as for achieving everything first: lifting their heads, smiling, rolling over, holding onto something, shaking that something, managing to swallow something other than milk, crawling, walking, using a potty instead of their nappy - you get the drift. Praise is their crack and now hooked on it, they require constant encouragement in order merely to function let alone thrive.
- Moody: since the second sibling is usually more overt in its demands for its needs to be met (it had to compete from the start), the eldest can only display passive aggressive signs of displeasure in the form of sulks, moodiness and dramatic (but subtle) shows of depression.
- Change averse: not surprising given that probably their first ever experience of major change - the birth of a sibling - resulted in the total loss of their limelight. First borns also benefited from your strictest interpretations of new parent baby 'routines' and are therefore not very good at going with the flow. Because neither were you. Instead they prefer to be informed of the minutiae of forthcoming arrangements so that they can get mentally prepared (and exasperate you in the process).
- Bossy: Obv. Wouldn't you be if you were the eldest?
- Bad loser: anyone who has a middle child knows that this does not need to be explained. It's volcanic. Games have to be played around them not with them, they have a chip on their shoulder the size of a brick and every decision is not only decided by them but also by their principal confidante: their ego.
- Power player: these are very adept at manipulating a situation to their advantage and anything provides legitimate material for potential sibling/parent leverage. They are born with the notion that there is not enough to go round (unlike the first child) and so everything needs to be meticulously measured in order to be fair (which in their eyes, means getting slightly more than the others).
- Affectionate: these kids need affection but also have a large capacity for giving it. They never experienced undivided parental love so they appreciate its value (even though they might pretend that they don't want it.)
- Reactionary: unlike the eldest child who experienced the brunt of your Victorian-era parenting (before you knew any better) and has, to a certain extent, been tamed into submission, middle children got less flak, and therefore don't see the need to filter their raw emotions. They know that they need these tantrums to get noticed, otherwise their stuff (which is neither cute like their younger sibling's nor advanced like their older sibling's) won't get a look in.
- Spoilt: youngest children receive a disproportionate amount of praise from parents for doing something average. This is usually provided as a counterbalance to the disdainful scorn it provokes from older siblings (because if there's one thing parents can't bear, it's sibling bullying).
- Happy go lucky: they have never had more attention than their siblings, they've only ever had to share toys, and they are used to feeling grateful for hand-me-downs so all in all, they are pretty easy to deal with and don't really care what is going on - they just go with the flow.
- Water power: as the littlest members of the entire family, they know that you are probably overly protective of them. They are therefore not averse to using tears to their advantage when receiving the slightest blow from siblings or the smallest scrape.
- Cute: they just are. You know that they are the last baby in the house and they know it too. Who cares if this mututally complicit arrangement screws them up long-term? If you feel like carrying them on your hip like a baby until they are 5 (when the eldest hasn't been carried in any way since she was nearly 2 and her sister arrived on the scene), that's your perogative.
Ring any bells? How does birth order play out in your household, mamas? Let me know in the comments below!