Family Ties

Jennifer: Yesterday, I happened across an article published in the Adelaide newspaper, The Advertiser. The subject: friend and researcher, Fritha Milne. The article revealed several things I didn’t know about Fritha: she is the oldest of three children, she works in the same field as her father, and she recently presented her research on birth order and familial relationships at the Australasian Society for Human Biology conference in Adelaide.

Fritha’s findings affirm that the first five years of a child’s life are crucial. It is a period during which a child must elicit support and resources from the parents. According to Fritha, “If there are any siblings, then the siblings have to compete for the limited resources of the parents”. The result is that each child creates his or her niche within the family in order to maximise the resources they receive.

I am fascinated by her research, not least because I happen to be the youngest of three girls and wonder whether her findings can explain the nature of my own familial relationships.

First-borns, having spent more time alone with their parents, tend to “align themselves with the parental status quo”. Fritha believes that this partly explains why she has followed in the footsteps of her father,  an associate professor at the School of Anatomy and Human Biology at the University of Western Australia.

Fritha has found that reproductive behaviours exhibited later in life are related to birth order, and to the niche that each child created for him or herself within the family. Her study has shown that middle-born females tend to become pregnant for the first time at a younger age, however are less likely to keep the baby. The youngest female sibling supposedly loses their virginity at an earlier age than their older sisters.

I was recently sorting through some old books that my mother, as a speech therapist and early childhood educator, has been holding onto for years. One particular cover, adorned with childish illustrations of daddies, mummies and family pets, caught my eye. Entitled “Happy Families” and published in 1977 ( I did say that the books were old), it was filled with quotes by British children relating to “life and laughter in the family”. Seeing as they illustrate perfectly the ups and downs of familial relationships, I thought I’d share a few with you:

My heart bursts with love for my parents, except when they collect us from parties too early. K. Hosford, age 15

My brothers and sisters fight alot and some times I get stuck in the middle and get squashed. Peter Nicholls, age 10

If you didn’t have a mother or a father, who would let you stay up? Fiona Marriot-Smith, age 10

The family is a funny thing, and family life is even funnier, but it is one of those things that will never be abolished. Jones, age 13

Somehow my little sister always seems to be able to start crying however light you hit her. Jacky Lane, age 11

Most children are uninhibited in expressing deep sentiments. As amusing as this unguarded approach can be, the contributions to “Happy Families” were nevertheless indicative of the importance that children place on familial relationships and the essential role that parents and siblings play in a child’s upbringing.


  1. I find birth order fascinating (being the eldest). There’s a book by Michael Gross called ‘Why First borns rule the world and last borns want to change it’ (see He notes that seconds or middles tend to have a strong sense of social justice and tend to pursue careers in this area. While I have no hard data, I know of some anecdotal examples that support!

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