Of siblings and favorites

I loved receiving the comments from Sandy and Toby on my last posting. Yes, indeed. Siblings need to get along because when they do they truly are each others’ most steadfast companions through life. They share memories of events and attitudes and tastes and impressions and lots of funny stories.

My sister told me that she forgave me for the mean things I did to her because she didn’t want us to become like our parents’ siblings who didn’t get along and were not able to enjoy the warmth and intimacy they could have had with each other.

The truth is, as I look back at my childhood, I was set up to have a poor relationship with her. My mother overtly told me that it was “the brown eyes against the blue eyes.” She and my sister had brown eyes; my father and I had blue eyes. My mother stopped taking me to dancing lessons because “the baby” was sick. My dancing lessons were always the best hours of the week. So the fact that both my sister and I chose to be close and remain close was fortuitous and not what would naturally have occurred.

One of the best moments of my life (really) was the moment at my oldest son’s wedding when he and my middle son were dancing together (which is done at traditional Jewish weddings where the dancing is gender-separated) and as they swung each other around I could see big smiles on both of their faces. These were the two who squabbled the most and it was wonderful to see them rejoicing together.

As a parent, seeing ones children being kind to each other and helping each other is the ultimate high. What could be better than knowing that you have enabled your children to have warm relationships with each other that support and affirm through the years, and to know that when you are gone, they will be there for each other.

As to Toby’s response: In the course of development, children learn a number of skills. When they reach adolescence, the most important aspect of their development is individuation. The child needs to define him/herself as separate from his/her father and mother. At this time the child begins to notice which ways he/she is like and which ways he/she is unlike his/her parents. In a healthy home, the child takes much of what the parents have had to offer in the way of an example– values, attitudes, manners of behaving, religious beliefs, etc. and makes them his own- really incorporates them into his being, not as a given, but as a choice. Similarly, he/she defines him/herself as different from parents with some attitudes, values, behaviors, etc. that are different from the parents.

Now let’s look at a dysfunctional family where there are clear winners and losers as children. If the child is a loser in the parents’ eyes, he/she is really free to define him/herself as an individual. He/she knows that pleasing the parent(s) is impossible, so he/she can become his/her own person. He/she can take responsibility for evaluating his/her courses of action and take pride in making decisions. But woe unto the winners in the dysfunctional family. The winners are the children with whom the parents have so over-identified that any action or behavior contrary to the parents’ will is treason. All deviations are punished and all conformity is overwhelmingly rewarded. “Oh, look at her! She’s just like me!” For these children individuation becomes an impossible task– because all deviation from the parent(s)’ wishes is seen as betrayal. For some, individuation doesn’t happen until after the parent(s) has/have died. For some, it never happens. They never get to live their own lives. And that is why I said that it is easier to be the child who is out of favor than the one who is favored.

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  1. My father, in one of the last times we all sat together and talked, told us, “Now, I don’t want you kids arguing.” I thought it was a strange thing to say, as we always got along, maybe because it’s what my parents wanted.

  2. Wow! Rona,
    I cannot believe how well you put it.
    The truth is that I never was able to figure out why I, out of all my siblings was able to get the farthest ahead in every aspect, (academically, materially, geographically, and emotionally).

    i guess your thoughts answer a lot of things. And it makes me realize that I did do a lot of individuation which others in my family havent been able to do.

    So now i have to accept that this is probably the reason that i am the most different from anyone in my family and will have to suffer through this loneliness. ;-(

    Thanks for the eyeopener,

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