The Myth That You Were Treated the Same as Your Siblings

Yesterday I saw a quote that angers me. An Australian 'entrepreneur' throws around this idea: "People blame their childhood for their situation but, two siblings can be treated the same and turn out quite differently. The real difference is how much responsibility you take." Clearly, this guy has not spoken to lots of people about their childhood in any depth or he would not dismiss the effect of childhood assuming that children are generally treated similarly by their parents. This myth is also a line that bad parents use to defend themselves when their children express dissatisfaction with how they were treated - "we treated your sister the same and she turned-out fine". Never believe that you were treated the same as your siblings. There are lots of reasons why parents treat their children quite differently from each other.


Lots of research evidence exists to prove that boys and girls are treated quite differently by their parents. In comparison to girls, boys are more likely to be given toys that prompt physical activity, they're given less emotional support when upset and more likely to be hit than girls. Girls are spoken-to more than boys, required to restrict/sacrifice themselves more (be nice to others and share their possessions) and given less pocket money. More girls than boys are also sexually abused or at least sexualised early in life. And, some cultures are explicit in valuing male children more highly than female children and consistently favouring them as a consequence.

Birth Order

Similarly, lots of research evidence exists to prove that the order in which children are born has an effect. On average, firstborn children have better verbal skills, are more anxious and more likely to go on to tertiary education whereas last-born children tend to be happier. Obviously firstborn children are the subject of their parents' first attempts at parenting, they are the experimental child - hence the anxiety. For a while, they also exclusively get adult verbal interaction whereas the second born tends to speak to their older sibling and be influenced by their verbal inadequacies. Once parents have practised on the first child, their skills and confidence grow which translates into a more calm and happy experience for later-born children. 


Like birth order, time influences the way people parent because things change over time. Parents typically mellow over time and treat later-born children less harshly than firstborn children. However, the opposite can also be true; if circumstances change so that parents experience increased stress, their parenting can deteriorate. Ill-health, financial loss, death of a partner, divorce, or some other misfortune can sap the personal resources of a person and make them less tolerant or less available. The child born at that time will experience a very different parent than the child born in good times. Circumstances can also improve over time so that the child who experienced the struggling, the unavailable parent had a different childhood to the later-born child who experiences the parent after they've achieved some success or stability. 


Pretty children tend to be favoured over plain-looking children. However, good looking girls tend to be sexualised and experience the complexity and burden of managing this kind of attention.


Children do not experience the same parenting because parents respond to the unique qualities of each child. A friend of mine is a very mild, socially sensitive person with a keen sense of fairness. She was an easy child to manage. Her brother, on the other hand, was more autonomous - preferring his own goals to those of the family and aggressive in response to any restraint. She rarely experienced conflict with her parents as she self-managed her needs in relation to those around her. Her brother also experienced little conflict but for different reasons - he would seek-out satisfaction of his goals and, if confronted by an obstacle in the form of his parents, would be aggressive until the parents backed-down and he got his way. My friend experienced lots of approval for compliance and would be asked to self-sacrifice by her parents because they received little resistance from her. Whereas her brother experienced parents who rewarded his aggression and experienced no requirement for self-restraint or training in negotiation. 


These are just a few broad ways in which each child has a unique experience of their parents. Parents who claim otherwise are naive at best and being dishonest at worst. Parenting has a profound effect on all of us. Self-help gurus who dismiss this are oversimplifying life and the challenges many people face. You may be able to "take responsibility" for improving yourself but, the place from which you start is very different from your siblings and can massively hinder a person. Starting any self-improvement by acknowledging this, rather than dismissing it, is only fair. 






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