Young siblings laying next to each other

Vanessa LoBue on Psychology Today: Does Birth Order Matter?

Are there real differences between children born first and children born later?

Psychology's Vanessa LoBue explores the research behind differences in children due to birth order in a new essay for Psychology Today

Three years ago when my son was born, my life changed forever. The first few months were the most difficult of my life, but the ones that followed were among the best. Every day I watch as he developed and became a more delightful person. It was difficult to imagine loving anyone more, even a second child. Which is why when I found out I was pregnant again, I couldn’t possibly fathom what it would be like to have a second son—one that I would obviously love as much as the first.

It certainly feels like there are large differences between the way I can be a parent to the first child versus the second, even though I’m still me, I’m raising them in the same house, with the same environment, in the same family. Watching these differences unfold before my eyes has made me wonder about the effects of being the born first versus being born later. Are there real effects of birth order?

Besides being worried about loving the second one as much as the first, I was also worried about how much time I would have for a second child; having one is hard, but splitting time between two (and a husband and full time career) sounded exponentially harder. Would I be able to give the second child as much attention as I’ve given the first? Would my first son still get enough time with me, even as I’m nursing the second? How would the second time around be different?

First, I quickly saw that physically having the second child was significantly easier than having the first. When I went into labor, I knew exactly what was happening, I knew when to go to the hospital, and I knew what to do when I got there. I already knew how to nurse, how to burp a newborn, how to change a diaper, and how to swaddle. I knew that leaving my newborn alone for a few minutes in the crib was perfectly safe, and that I could easily take a shower or make myself some lunch without having to worry about every second that I wasn’t watching closely over my new baby. I knew that crying wouldn’t hurt him, and I knew that every bump in the road would eventually pass.

All in all, I am way more relaxed for the second child than I was for the first. But then again, I’m also more tired, busier, and have less total time to devote to #2, because I have a 3-year-old who is perfectly capable of telling me when he wants my attention, and has a full repertoire of strategies up his sleeve that he can use in order to get it.

It certainly feels like there are large differences between the way I can be a parent to the first child versus the second, even though I’m still me, I’m raising them in the same house, with the same environment, in the same family. Watching these differences unfold before my eyes has made me wonder about the effects of being the born first versus being born later. Are there real effects of birth order?

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