If you’re a wild child free spirit or a nose to the grindstone, responsible breadwinner, you probably have your siblings to thank. There has been a flurry of news about how your siblings shape your life. In case you missed it, here are the points that stood out for me.
According to an article written by Francine Russo for Parade, siblings are the top factor in shaping your personality, even more than your genes, parents or peers, because on average you spend between 10 and 17 hours a week around them at a very impressionable age. Studies show that the way you interact with your sibs while growing up shapes your relationships, your level of happiness, and how you view yourself for the rest of your life (unless you do a lot of therapy.)
We all know this, but research supports that in general first-borns are more responsible and high-achieving whereas the youngest are more risk-takers, charmers, and free spirits, and the middle child gets sort of lost in the shuffle.
Younger siblings often start out adorning their older siblings (this was certainly the case for me) but to reduce competition with the smarter, cuter, bigger, stronger one, they do “sibling de-identification. Why? So they won’t be compared with an older brother or sister who set a high standard and got more attention. Distancing themselves from the pressure of competition, younger sibs have the best show of forming their own identity.
A younger sibling can have an advantage in being more socially comfortable, especially with the opposite sex, because they learn from watching older siblings and their friends and observing how they behave.
Children learn to deal with conflict with their siblings. They can test what strategies work best and what don’t. Research indicates it’s important for parents to get involved and help them work out disagreements so kids learn to compromise and deal with differences. Parents who don’t unwittingly set their children up with poorer social skills and patterns with friends, coworkers, or partners that aren’t necessarily very constructive or loving.
The way our parents act also sends significant messages. Siblings learn how to treat someone in a close relationship by watching their parents interact. If the parents have a good marriage and communicate lovingly, kids get along better. (That’s a no-brainer but worth noting.)
Favoritism or “differential treatment” by a parent can also impact children later in life. If one child perceives a level of unfairness and that another child seems to be the golden one, this can leave a lasting impression on both. The passed-over one usually feels resentful (and hurt). And to cope the favored one often goes into denial since the inequality can feel uncomfortable.
It’s fascinating to note that in many cases each sibling felt as if the other was the favorite. (My brother never felt that I was the favored one, while I felt it was him, and my parents being “democratic” swore they loved us equally.)
As parents grow older, get sick, and die, a desire for love and approval from our parents intensifies. Research indicates that in 90% of the families surveyed, the caregiving is done by one person. Care for aging parents can also be a time that unites siblings as they work together to find solutions and learn that some of the conclusions they drew as children about the other no longer apply.
Siblings who drifted apart when they move out of the house can reunite and establish warmer fulfilling relationships later in life. Studies show that “the healthiest, happiest, and least lonely people have warm sibling relationships.”
If you don’t have siblings, there are studies about the impact that has on you today. Regardless of our situation growing up, you aren’t a total victim of your family structure. You can always create healthy relationships by looking within at quiet times and deciding how you want to behave today to increase the amount of joy, love, and peace, and then following through.