By Aruj Sipra
We love to hate them but still can’t imagine life without them. They annoy us, know all our strengths and weaknesses and are usually our first best friends.
If you haven’t already guessed, these descriptions belong to the wonderful individuals known as siblings.
Sibling relationships are love, competition, friendship and jealousy all overlaying each other to create complex emotional reactions to family issues and situations.
In the past, people tended to have large families in almost every culture. Five or more children were common in a typical family. My father had eight siblings and throughout my childhood, I saw him juggling with relationships to keep harmony intact in the family. My husband comes from a large family as well – seven siblings. Once out of curiosity he asked his father jokingly – why so many children? Luckily my father-in-law was in a good mood so he smiled and candidly answered, “We had no television like you do nowadays”. I will leave it to the readers to decipher this one, but his witty answer filled the room with laughter.
Siblings don’t choose the family they are born into, they don’t choose one another. They may be of different gender, are probably of different ages and temperaments, and worst of all, they have to share the one person or two they want for themselves the most – their parents.
We are three siblings, two sisters and one brother. My sister is the eldest, with a brother in the middle and then me, the youngest. My sister has always been the apple of my parent’s eye. She is the first born with the confidence and social savvy inherent in an eldest child. Our parents always had a special pride and affection for her. It does not mean that my brother and I were ignored by our parents but her bold personality got everyone’s attention.
My brother, the middle child, always felt sandwiched between two female siblings, though he was a favourite of my grandfather. Since he was a boy, my parents decided to get him admitted to the prestigious Aitcheson College in Lahore where he would go on to complete his high school. Later, when our father due to his professional career, had to move to Karachi for few years, my brother stayed back with my grandfather in Lahore to continue with his education. For this he used to blame the ‘poor parents’ for neglecting and leaving him behind and moving to another city with their beloved daughters.
Parents always know what is best for their children. Their advice might infuriate their children at times, but actually it is one of the depictions that they want only the best for their children. They want their children to be successful people by getting higher education and better opportunities in life. Now that my brother has grown into a cultured, handsome man and a successful journalist, my parent’s decision and love for him seems to have paid off.
Now my turn! Being the youngest, I can write on and on but don’t want to bore the readers with my stories. All I can say is when the youngest child is born, the first thing she discovers is that she is surrounded by more capable adults who can do many things that she can’t. As a consequence, she usually becomes overly ambitious and highly competitive. I always admired my sister’s confidence, my brother’s intellect and so with time I managed to infuse some of their most admired qualities in myself.
My sister and brother had a very close relationship right from the start. They would share their secrets and always ignored me – like I never existed. They did fight over some petty things but not too much. With me, it was always ‘you are a baby’ or ‘you know nothing’. Trust me, my brother says the same things to me even today!
Being the youngest has its downsides. Being referred to as ‘the baby’ your whole life, for instance. I mean, come on, you are dealing with a grown up lady now! My sister would always share her things with me but I, on the contrary, would never. I was a reserved, disciplined, protective child who made sure her things were organized and always in top notch condition. Once shared, they had to be returned in the same condition and if returned with any sign of impairment then it would be the last time I would see the person and the thing would go to the garbage bin. Later in life, the demise of my mother taught me that people have more value than material things.
Now let’s see how birth order plays a role in sibling relationships.
Firstborn: These children tend to be conscientious, ambitious, organized and dominant in relationships. As with all birth-order positions, gender plays a role too. In the case of firsts, oldest sons usually tend to take charge as leaders. Oldest females on the other hand, are more likely to be bossy, confident and aggressive than their younger sisters.
Middle child: Middle children are the least defined of their type .They can be predictable in the best sense of that word. Middles tend to be good at compromise — a skill valuable to them as they negotiate between bossy older siblings and needy younger ones.
Youngest child: Beloved, treasured, and in many cases babied for much longer than their older siblings, the youngest children tend to be less responsible, with a devil-may-care attitude and with less of a hankering to take charge.
Only Child: They are pampered and precious, and thus will have trouble ceding the spotlight to anyone. They tend to be responsible as well as mature. In fact, many ‘grow up’ quicker than children with siblings, thanks to the company of adults.
People questioned later in life often say that their biggest regret is being estranged from a sister or brother. Sibling rivalry often persists into adulthood because in many families it goes un-addressed. My father often had clash of opinion with his siblings and at times it even seemed they would never see each other again, but they would patch up the very next minute or in the worst scenario, the next day. Such was the love and respect they had for each other that they never let their ego come in the way of mending relations. Sadly, this is missing today among many family relations.
Handling Sibling Rivalry
Sibling rivalry happens in every house with more than one child, and at every age. It’s a common challenge, but that does not mean it’s easy on your sanity!
Arrange for attention: Plan on giving each child at least 10-20 minutes of positive, individual attention every day, from each parent, and all of a sudden, your children will learn they don’t have to fight to get you to look their way.
Stay out of disagreements: When you do hear a disagreement among children, ignore it and busy yourself elsewhere. Give them a chance to work it out on their own, and at the same time, you’ll remove the payoff they get from your attention.
Calm the conflict: Listen to each child, encouraging discipline as they tell their story. Then without taking sides, ask them to come up with some solutions. If they cannot, suggest a few for them and help them reach an agreement.
A sibling is the greatest gift you can give your child.
I truly believe these children not only choose us as parents, but also pick their brothers and sisters.
About the author:
Aruj Sipra is the community manager at MuslimMoms.ca