Second-Borns and Authority

There are many families in our church with children of similar age.

A few years back, this led to an observation that the 2nd-children of the families, while every bit as sweet (we have an *amazing* group of kids. I just love ’em), the 2nds were distinctly less compliant than the oldests.

This isn’t to imply that *all* of the oldests were compliant, just that, set on a scale the 2nds were all less so than their older siblings.

It was from this observation I came up with my current theory about birth-order and response to authority.

It goes like this:

When you’ve got an oldest/only child raised in a healthy home, s/he is interacting directly with his/her source of authority; learning about the reliability of the authority figures; learning the consistency of their motivation and the extent of their power (e.g. of enforcement).

When you add a younger child to the same environment, you have the same reliability/consistency etc, but you also now have the older child.

In my experience the older sibling can act in proxy for the adults (e.g. carrying messages), or they may freelance (offer a command based on their own authority/desires).

I contend this is where s/lower compliance comes from.  It comes from the extra layer of filtering the younger child (feels s/he) must do before deciding how or whether to act. If nothing else the extra questions create a response-lag, or a suspicious orientation toward authority.

I wonder a little bit if suspicion leads to more critical-thinking skills.

That is, rather than taking in a command and deciding whether or not to comply (as an oldest with primary input from the primary authorities), the younger child has additional questions:

  • Who is this command really from?
    • Is big-sib a messenger or freelancing?
      • Does the command jive with what I know about my primary authority figures?
    • Is sib a conscience-poker, and will I accept the extra criticism?
    • Is sib suggesting something not-required but a good idea?
      • Do I know the requirements?
      • Can I recognize a good idea?
    • Is sib suggesting something not-required (and maybe not a good idea) that sounds like fun?
      • Will I take the “bonding experience” (doing something together)?
        • How much risk will I accept?
      • Will I subvert sib for the potential status-points with the real authority figure?
        • Do I wish I could subvert sib but don’t have the experience/sophistication to do so?
          • (This last one was mine at age 6. Yes. I’ve gone through this trail of questions as a child.)

“Do I want to do it?” remains the primary gateway to action as it does for everyone, but resistance at any stage of questioning will make a person appear less compliant, if for no other reason than slowed obedience.

~ ~ ~

Another place I see this is in the Church at large.

I know the Church is called “The Bride of Christ,” and we are one entity as “Jesus is not coming back for a harem,” still I find myself looking at churches as a sort of sibling group.

If you look at family structure, internal alliances and so on, it’s not an unfair comparison.

And in this sibling group I see the Catholic Church in the position of “first-born.” So it totally makes sense to me how they are authority-based with their hierarchy and traditions and the detailed establishment of the-way-things-are.

In the same way, I totally get the (essentially) suspicious nature of most “bible-believing” or “Reformed” protestant Christians.  They will say they are under authority as well, the authority of the Bible.

The implication of course is that others may not be.

But practicing Catholics who’ve been catechized will be able to show, chapter and verse, how they too are under the authority of the Bible.

The difference is in who is doing the filtering or interpretation. For Catholics it is the Church and 2,000 years of Tradition that have scrutinized the many hard spots of scripture. For Protestants, that is left to individual study and interpretation.

Which is a daunting task, believe me.  There is little surprise in the fact that tradition-spurning protestants still tend to align themselves to a system of belief, even as (if) they continue to search the scriptures for their own education and confirmation.

But as a 2nd-child myself, I identify very closely with this need to check everything personally.  I deeply admire those who have the faith to rest in the extra assurance of godly leaders who’ve been reiterated/affirmed over time, and I honestly hope to get farther down that road someday.

All that said, it’s just… fun to have ideas about how this works; to justify (or maybe just try to explain) why I am the way I am. ;)

On a related note I recomend this fascinating article on the tendency of mental health professionals to diagnose these “hesitaters” –the author calls them anti-authoritarians– as mentally ill. The definition of “anti-authoritarians” from the article:

Anti-authoritarians question whether an authority is a legitimate one before taking that authority seriously. Evaluating the legitimacy of authorities includes assessing whether or not authorities actually know what they are talking about, are honest, and care about those people who are respecting their authority. And when anti-authoritarians assess an authority to be illegitimate, they challenge and resist that authority—sometimes aggressively and sometimes passive-aggressively, sometimes wisely and sometimes not.


5 thoughts on “Second-Borns and Authority

  1. Hmm. I always believed my sister was non-compliant because she was spoiled. I was supposed to be the example as the oldest. She on the other hand got away with a lot more without being disciplined.

  2. Simple thought. Same filtering process occurs for oldest when siblings are sent to them with “to-dos” from parents. Family dynamics definitely big part of process and if it is a boy or girl as well. As for churches and authority it can be boiled way down to is my authority Jesus (God), someone else, or myself. Sometimes it is hard to distinguish. However raw honesty always helps. Just some simple thoughts

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