Thanks to a listener who wanted some advice about getting on with siblings Ed and I found ourselves talking about our own brothers and sisters. It made me realise the stark contrast between my own upbringing and that experienced by both Ed and Rie. My own young life I described as being ‘thrown in a snake pit that needed to be survived’ while Ed and Rie had a good modicum of love and support that nurtured their early years. Even now they have good relationships with their siblings. I on the other hand have not seen my siblings for many years. The rivalries in my childhood were that I was the scapegoat and the kicking post. Rivalry was strong.
We do not choose our relations
Some spiritualist tell us that we do choose our family. I have this sneaky feeling that if I had to choose it would not have been what I got. The issue that we all have to face is, are we prepared to maintain this relationship even if they are people that we do not like. Maybe we do not really want anything to do with then. Then duty, tradition and expectation step in and we learn to put up with and tolerate the worst of relationships. I see people tolerate the most awful situation because it is ‘family’.
Do we have to make them work?
Is blood thicker than water? Well, I would say not. Family relationships are no different to any other relationship that we choose. In non-family relationships we choose who we spend time with and there is no rule that says it should be any different.
Place in the family
Each child that enters the family, at the point of birth, has a place in the family hierarchy that can potentially create rivalry. In psycho speak we talk about ‘oldest child syndrome’, ‘middle child syndrome’ youngest child syndrome’.
The oldest child is the first born. For them there is a disadvantage of their parents learning their skills. This child is a learning experiment that suffers all of their parent’s mistakes. There is also an advantage in that the first child will always be special as the first child and the first grand child. They may also be the first nephew or niece.
The middle child has all the advantages of not having to face the same mistakes and lessons that the parents learned from the eldest child. In the beginning they have it easy and may be in a privileged position, that is until the next child comes along. At this point the middle child does not have the special status of the first born or the novel status of the youngest. Many middle children feel abandoned and less important than their siblings.
The youngest child is special. They have the equivalent of many parents as their elder siblings look after them as well as their parents, grandparents and other relatives.
The eldest child may develop the need to look after other people and take responsibility. The middle child may develop a withdrawn stance and perhaps lacking the confidence of their elder and younger siblings. The younger sibling may develop an expectation that others will always look after them and some never learn to take responsibility for themselves.
Like attracts like
Often you will find that adults are attracted to other adults who had the same familial status as themselves. That is older childen create relationships with other older children, middle with middle and younger with younger.
It seems that our position in the family affects the rest of our life. However, we know that we can change any habit that we learn as children. Some deeply embedded habits are more difficult than others to change.
Habit or choice
Over all family relationships may be seen as either habit or choice. The important thing to realise is that we do always have a choice.
We use this tool when working with clients, of any age, to understand their family relationship. I have a box within a collection of items, mainly buttons, of all different sizes and colours. We ask the client to pick an object to represent each person. They then place them on a white sheet of paper. The insight gained from understanding why each person is a certain size and colour and, most importantly why they are placed where on the paper. The story begins to emerge of the nature of the relationships in the family. The way that they are grouped and who is left out is the story, the rivalries in the family between both the siblings and the parents.
So, are you an older, middle or young sibling and how has it effected your adult life and your relationships?