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The Love That’s Overlooked in Second-Born Children


There’s been A LOT of talk regarding the volatile behavior of second-born children (boys in particular) due to the recent research findings of an MIT economist, Joseph Doyle. My sister-in-law, a second-born herself, was the first person to bring it to my attention. I read the details and wasn’t alarmed. Within the next week, several of my Facebook friends raising second-born children posted some related articles. Even, FCMB had a link in their feed. The more I saw and re-read the research, the more I started to think about why I didn’t care about the findings. 

My son, kid #2, recently entered a troublesome stage, testing the limits of my body with his violently acrobatic tantrums and the limits of my patience with his potty-training mind games, all of which are more challenging than what I experienced with his older sister. But I still think that it’s just his threenager phase. Of course, I don’t want to believe that he is any more likely to make poor decisions, because of his birth order and gender. The reason I don’t put much stock in the research is because it doesn’t address what I have personally found to define his behavior: an intense love for his older sister.

My son is a lover. He loves his father as a role model, following him around and learning how to garden, grill, use tools, and play sports. He loves me for cuddles, protection, silliness, and calming down. His sister, though, he loves with his entire being. My husband and I know he loves her more than us.

Out of that love for her, three amazing personality traits have emerged:

Instinctive sharing:

Since he’s shared his life from the get-go, we never had to teach him the concept of sharing. He automatically pulls out two of everything, taking one for himself and giving one to his sister. Sure, there are times when they’re playing and he wants whatever toy she has and he gets upset, but his first attempt at handling the situation are the words, “she’s not sharing.” 

second born

Ice cream is hard to share, but not for him!

Protective empathy:

One of my most vivid memories is of my son rushing down the stairs, grabbing his shoes and a bag, and running after me, shouting, “I come to the hospital too,” as I loaded his sister into the car to go to the ER. When I pulled out of the driveway, he stood on the porch, distraught and tearful, knowing she was scared of getting stitches. Ironically, he had gotten stitches months before when a game of “she’s not sharing” went awry, but he has never held it against her. In fact, any time that she pushes him around, he rarely tattles, knowing she will erupt into tears as she profusely apologizes. He understands her emotions sting her more than the momentary pain he feels.

Tender devotion:

For the past year, they’ve been roommates (he was a difficult sleeper, and being close to her was the only solution) and pretty much been inseparable during free play at their daycare. He is devastated that she will be going to another school for kindergarten (explanation for the tantrums and potty battles?). And so, the days when they are not together over the summer have resulted in him alternating between sobs, tight clutches, the repetitive question of, “When are we picking up Abbie?,” and an extra-large smile when we do pick her up. With the approaching separation looming, he’s even gotten more attached to me and my husband, asking for more kisses and hugs, both for himself and her.second born

Let’s Conduct Our Own Research

My son professes that his sister is his “best friend,” and while I know that may change as he gets older, I’ve heard more seasoned parents say that their child is at his/ her core, the same type of person s/he was at the age of 3. That’s reassuring, given that three is one of the most challenging ages. His episodes are challenging, but I count them as growing pains that he will outgrow. The compassion that is at his core, however, just keeps growing, cultivated by his second-born status.

I’m just his mom, not a child psychologist or an MIT economist, but based on my own observations of other second-born children, some my students and others my friends, I feel confident in saying that there is a fierce love that they express for their older sibling. It is a quality that should be studied and celebrated more often. It is what, I believe, will keep them making the right choices. 

If you are a second-born child or are currently raising a second-born child, what do you make of the recent research? 

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8 Responses to The Love That’s Overlooked in Second-Born Children

  1. Leila August 15, 2017 at 2:00 PM #

    This is so perfectly stated and honestly, my 2nd born son is literally 100% of what you described, with so much empathy and protectiveness, especially for his big brother but also for everyone he loves and cares about, I wonder how it’s possible at 3.5yrs old! He is an incredible human being… glad you put this out there!!

    • Maria F
      Maria F August 15, 2017 at 9:48 PM #

      Leila, thank you so much for the praise and for sharing your son’s story! Second kids need to be applauded more often!

  2. Mindy August 17, 2017 at 5:18 PM #

    This is totally my second born! A son, with an older sister and now a younger sister. He loves his big sister with his whole heart. They are best friends but it means more to him. She’s happy to do a day out with mom but he wouldn’t even enjoy it without his big sissy. No middle child syndrome and he’s definitely not “more difficult.” He is my most laid back.

    • Maria F
      Maria F August 21, 2017 at 9:08 PM #

      Mindy, yep, my oldest also doesn’t miss him the way he misses her. And your experience with him gives hope to mamas fearing the thought of middle child syndrome!

  3. Danielle August 17, 2017 at 6:50 PM #

    This is completely my 2nd (a boy)! I have no idea what I did to get so lucky but he came to this earth and has been a joy ever since.

    • Maria F
      Maria F August 21, 2017 at 9:05 PM #

      How sweet!

  4. Sharon August 18, 2017 at 11:34 PM #

    I join the chorus of mom’s who would precisely describe their second born sons in this way- and with eerily similar anecdotes. I wonder what role gender and age difference play. (I have a girl, then a boy, 21 months apart.) Any thoughts?

    • Maria F
      Maria F August 21, 2017 at 9:04 PM #

      Sharon, how fascinating! We really should all pool together and conduct our own research:)

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