Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sibling (Dis)Order

I'm the oldest child in my sibling quintet.  As a teenager that meant that I was in charge of keeping the peace, babysitting until the parents returned from work and was trained in the art of diaper changing twice. In many ways the uber responsible, family container, role of the oldest child fits me well.  As each of us age however, the assumptions I had about the middle child and youngest child stereotypes and those about the oldest (me), have proved false. Maybe my notions were incorrect to begin with or maybe my siblings are uncharacteristically awesome (the likely answer). All I know is that I frequently feel like I am the younger sib.

Visiting with my sister this weekend, I was reminded of these thoughts and feelings. I am filled with pride, which sometimes tiptoes into jealousy when I am with her. The middle child who was "supposed" to get lost in the shuffle is now a power house of a woman who routinely loses other people in her dust.

Likewise, my baby brother, who by most standard sibling order articles could be the slacker of the family without anyone batting an eyelash, is instead a dynamo.  He is an amazing dad, marathon runner, justice fighting, superhero type dynamo. 

All four of my siblings prove that it is not birth order that defines us.  There is some cosmic cocktail of when and where we are born, to whom, with what resources, and how we respond to all those ingredients that lays claim to us. How we respond is the mystery piece that intrigues me most.  The resilience factor. 

I look at my own kids today and remind myself that the older brother/younger brother images do not consider the cosmic cocktail. The assumptions and predictions can not forecast the inner spark that exists in them or the paths that they will discover.  I keep reminding myself that imposing my own hopes on my kids is futile.  They will be who they are going to be - taller or smarter or more creative than some, shorter, dumber and less than others.  It's really pointless to compare.  It was pointless for me at 16 and it's even more so now, 30 years later.  Encourage, affirm, nurture.  Helping my kids figure out who they are, what they're good at, and how they thrive is what matters. That's what needs to matter for me, for myself, too. Birth order, not so much.
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