The Sibling Effect
When my older sister Cayleigh left to go to University in England, I was devastated. My sister and I had always been extremely close throughout our childhood and teenage years; sharing countless secrets, experiences and memories. Cayleigh and I have gone on big adventures together such as traveling to England and Amsterdam, as well as small ones such as taking the train to school together every day. I couldn’t believe that not only was she going away to University, but she was going to another continent with a six hour time difference! I was losing not only my sister, but my best friend as well.
When my older brother Corey left to go to a prep school in Florida, I was thrilled. “Finally!” I thought to myself when we dropped him off at the airport. My brother and I have never gotten along growing up. While it’s gotten better since we’ve gotten older, that’s mostly because we’ve learned to avoid each, not because we actually get along anymore. No matter how many wishes my mother would make on her birthday, we never have had a day without fighting.
My two entirely different reactions to both of my siblings leaving left me thinking; why? Why is it that I’m so close to one of my siblings but not the other? Is it possible that two siblings of the same gender are more inclined to develop a close relationship? Or is it something else that influences the kind of relationship you develop?
I figured that gender must have a large influence on the relationship you develop, because children of the same gender tend to have more things in common and go through similar experiences. A study done by Furman and Buhremester in 1985, showed that siblings of the same gender are closer and are more likely to act warmer towards each other. For example two sisters are more likely to hug each other or hold hands. They’re also more likely to encourage each other and give each other moral support. When I was playing competitive soccer, my sister showed up at every game when she wasn’t working, even though she has absolutely no interest in soccer or sports. My brother, who is extremely athletic and used to play soccer himself, didn’t show up once. On the other hand, an extreme competitiveness is often seen between siblings of the same gender, especially if they’re closer in age. This tends to occur because a sibling who is closer to you in age and of the same gender is someone you are often compared to by parents. Either you are both competing for the same title, for example the “sporty one” which will create an extreme amount of conflict, or one sibling will try to differentiate themselves. So if their sibling is considered the “sporty one”, they’ll try and be the “smart one”. My sister and I aren’t extremely close in age; there is almost four years between us, but nevertheless there are times when I felt slightly competitive towards her. For example whenever we dress up to go somewhere, I always find myself comparing my outfit with hers; something that obviously never happens between my brother and I. However my brother and I still have more issues between us which led me to consider that perhaps gender wasn’t the cause of the strenuous relationship between my brother and me, perhaps age played a bigger role.
My brother and I have a bit of an age gap as well, just over two years with me being the youngest. It has been seen that the youngest child tends to have problems creating their own identity because they want to differentiate themselves from their siblings but aren’t sure how. Struggling to differentiate themselves often leads younger children to compare themselves to their sibling closest in age and this increase in competition leads to more resentment between the two and arguments take place. I struggled with this, especially because my sister had already taken the label of the “smart one” and my brother was considered the “sporty one”. I wasn’t creative or artistic or particularly sweet or quiet so I wasn’t sure exactly what label I could fit under. I became the “smart one but not as smart as her sister” and the “sporty one but not as sporty as her brother”. I tried for years to be better than my brother at sports, just different sports, but for years my athleticism failed in comparison to his. My parents’ just weren’t as interested in my soccer and track as they were in my brother’s hockey and golf. Instead of asking my parents to show more of an interest, I chose to resent my brother for taking all of my parents’ attention.
Regardless of whether you have a warm and loving relationship with your siblings, or one filled with arguments and resentment, this relationship affects you and your personality in the long run. According to a study done by Harvard about adult development, having a poor relationship with your sibling before you’re twenty can effect whether or not you suffer from depression in the future. Now I don’t think that everyone who has ever suffered from depression has a poor relationship with their siblings, other factors contribute. But if you are going through a hard time as an adult, having a brother or sister to talk about it too might help you move past it. I know that whenever something’s bothering me that I don’t feel comfortable talking to my parents about, such as a boy problem, my sister is my confidant and having her to talk to has helped me work through many issues that I wouldn’t’ have been able to handle by myself.
If you have older siblings, their actions also have an effect on who you are. Older siblings are extremely important for many reasons. They are our role models for so many things in life including school, friends and appearance. When I was young, I was always wearing my sister’s clothes because I wanted to be just like her. She was always being called smart, polite and thoughtful and all the adults fawned over her. As a little girl, I wanted to be fawned over as well, instead of being told I was reckless and impulsive. Unfortunately, not everything we model after our siblings in is positive. For example, a study done by Patricia East at the University of San Diego, found that girls whose older sister became pregnant as a teenager, is four time more likely herself to become pregnant as a teenager. As well, Richard Rende from Brown University has found that an older sibling smoking is much more influential than a parent smoking. I still have yet to find something negative about my sister, she literally is what people would consider the perfect child therefore she didn’t pass on any negative influences to me. All of the negative aspects about my personality are all my own.
Birth order might help to explain why I have these “negative aspects” about my personality. While not all children are the same, there are classic markers that first born children, middle children, and youngest children show. First born children tend to be reliable, conscientious, cautious, controlling, and structured. As children, they tend to copy their parents’ actions and act as adults. When younger siblings join the picture, they like to help their parents take care of them and contribute. My older sister, who is the first born child of my family, fits this mold completely. When my parents go away, she is always the one organizing our schedules and making sure my brother and I are on track. She also cooks and cleans and does all the other household chores. It’s easy to have confidence in a reliable person such as first born children. First born children are also known as the “achievers” because they are often found in careers such as law, medicine or a CEO. First born children also have, on average, a 3 point higher IQ. This doesn’t seem like much but it can lead to a 15 – 20 point difference on the SAT’s. When my sister and brother did the SAT’s she did score higher than him, something that everyone expected seeing as she has always had the best grades. When the first child is young, parents can devote all of their time and attention to them, helping to foster their cognitive skills. Any subsequent children must share their parents and their parents’ time.
Middle children are often flexible and understanding, nevertheless they are known to be quite competitive. They often feel that they don’t receive much attention from their family and they will create a close circle of friends to make up for this. They are often found in careers that involve negotiation because in these types of jobs they also receive the attention that their family didn’t give them enough of. My brother fits this description fairly accurately because he is extremely competitive and he and his group of friends are always making bets on everything.
The last born child is typically outgoing, manipulative, fun-loving, self-centered, attention seeking, and uncomplicated. They are often considered to be free spirits because of the parents more relaxed attitude that is common once they’ve had multiple children. Youngest children are often quite independent because parents tend to give them more freedom. They have a lot of charm and are considered quite likeable, therefore it’s not surprising that youngest children are often found in the entertainment industry, working as actors or comedians. Youngest children truly feel secure and supported within their home because parents often make them feel special and spoil them. As the youngest, I would agree that all these qualities match my personality. I am outgoing, manipulative and self-centered, although talk to any of my ex-boyfriends and they would strongly disagree that I’m uncomplicated. I would disagree that my parents spoiled me, not long after I was born my mother returned to work so I was used to her out of the house much younger than either of my siblings were. Instead, I had my sister taking care of me after school and helping me with homework. This is something you’ll never hear me complain about, because she was a pretty good surrogate mom.
Although I’ve uncovered possible reasons for the animosity between my brother and me, I still don’t know how to resolve it. At our age, our personalities are very ingrained and changing them would be difficult. But I think it’s worth the effort because siblings are the only ones who can commiserate with you about your childhood. A tough divorce; your siblings went through it as well. Strict parents; your sibling learned how to break the same rules as you. A death in the family; your sibling grieved as you did. And while we will make new families, that doesn’t mean that the old one should be forgotten. I know that my brother will always be involved in my life and not because he has to be, but because I want him to be. He has taught me how to fight and stand up for myself, as well as how to back down and admit defeat. I’ve now realized that while my sister has been beside me supporting me throughout life, my brother has been behind me, pushing me and making sure I’m strong enough to deal with what will come in the future.
McCamish-Svensson, Cheryl, Gillis Samuelsson, Bo Hagberg, Torbjörn Svensson, and Ove Dehlin. “Social Relationships and Health as Predictors of Life Satisfaction in Advanced Old Age: Results from a Swedish Longitudinal Study.” The International Journal of Aging & Human Development 48.4 (1999): 301-324. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.
Van Volkom, Michele, Carly Machiz, and Ashley E. Reich. “Sibling Relationships In The College Years: Do Gender, Birth Order, And Age Spacing Matter?” North American Journal of Psychology 13.1 (2011): 35-50. Academic Search Premier. Web. 8 Mar. 2015.