26 March, 2008

Evolution and Sibling Dynamics

According to The Wikipedia, in biology, evolution is the changes seen in the inherited traits of a population from one generation to the next.

Ever noticed how often people remark –
“My second child is not like my first one”. Whether it be a battle over a toy or wit or thinking on their feet, it is my first child that needs to be protected. The second one somehow manages on his/her own.”
"In competitive situations between the kids, many a times I feel that it is the elder one who needs protection from the younger one who bulldozes around the elder one despite the fact that the younger one is chronologically littler."

How often do we hear that remark ? How often do we say it ourselves ?

While the younger sibling may not be all that aggressive and “go-getting” in the outside world, when it comes to showdowns between siblings in familiar surroundings, the younger ones somehow seem to prevail. There are tiffs and fights along the way with both siblings holding their ground and getting pretty noisy at times but somewhere along the way, the elder ones seem to either get on the defensive or just walk away. And this is something I’ve noticed not just with the nutty siblings but with other siblings as well.

On the homefront, I have thought about this plenty of times. As changes in the nutty siblings become more marked, as their individual personalities begin to take hold and shape them for what they are meant to be – these differences are becoming very distinct and noticeable.

While the elder sibling is a lot more steadfast and steady in her approach, the younger sibling is quite impulsive.

While the elder sibling is very resolute and extremely tenacious about what is right and what is wrong, the younger sibling does not make it his business to try and fathom things to the depths to which his elder sister does.

While the elder sibling chastises herself whenever she makes a mistake or does something wrong, the younger sibling, at first, tries to get away with it by flashing a huge cheeky grin.

While the elder sibling believes in thinking, analyzing as to what is troubling her before she comes out in the open with her thoughts, the younger sibling believes in speaking what’s on his mind. All troubles and predicaments are meant to be aired and immediately – be it something as simple as a speck of dirt in his eye or something more complex as having a dream wherein he goes into the MTR and the door closes, leaving his family behind on the platform. Everything gets vocalized.
Delegating is a trait both siblings seem to be exhibiting rather strongly. In this department, it is more a question of who wears whom down and prevails.
Even with simple matters like getting people to listen to what they have to say - the elder sibling has a very even approach - in the sense that she knows when to give the other person time or space to think about and digest what she's just said - before she puts forth the next thought. The younger sibling bludgeons his way into his parents' thoughts. His thoughts have to be heard out. Many a times, this has resulted in him completely derailing his parents' thought processes.

I used to ponder over these so-very-apparent differences in their personalities until I came across Frank Sulloway’s theory on birth order and variations in sibling personalities. Sulloway is the author of the book "Born To Rebel" and his theory states that first-borns tend to be conforming, ambitious, academically oriented, and respectful. On the contrary, later-borns show more unconventional, flexible, almost unpredictable, and rebellious personality traits.

Going with the flow of thoughts - even with simple fights and arguments that the nutty siblings have – it makes me wonder if this is another form of the Darwinian theory at work. Yes – fights and arguments are bound to happen because siblings, albeit the fact that they share the same gene pool, do most definitely have distinctly different personalities. But my question is – are clashes a result of just differences in personalities or is this a more latent form of competition among siblings ?

Until the time the younger sibling comes along, the elder sibling has the attention of his/her parents – 100%. And it is only after the younger sibling comes into the picture that the concept of sharing ones parents’ attention comes into the picture. And this is said to be the most common cause of sibling rivalry. Initial feelings of resentment or dislike on the part of the elder sibling towards the younger one are quite common.

As they grow, these feelings of resentment iron out eventually and as the younger one grows, they bond – out of the camaraderie that is shared by two constant playmates, out of the constant communication between them, out of the sheer fact that they are woven from the same fabric. They forge a bond amongst them that is unique in that it belongs to the siblings and the siblings alone. Even parents fall outside the purview of that ring of the siblings’ affection for each other, of their solidarity of purpose and their companionship. It is a totally different kind of amity that one witnesses when one sees siblings interacting with each other.

But as they grow, does sibling rivalry disappear or does it just take on different hues ?
Is it something that diminishes as the siblings grow or does it just turn more subtle ?

Adele Faber once said

"From their struggles to establish dominance over each other, siblings become tougher and more resilient. From their endless rough-housing with each other, they develop speed and agility. From their verbal sparring they learn the difference between being clever and being hurtful. From the normal irritations of living together, they learn how to assert themselves, defend themselves, compromise. And sometimes, from their envy of each other’s special abilities they become inspired to work harder, persist and achieve."

Even between siblings in the closed confines of home, amidst all that carefree joy of children just being children, does nature instill in them that need to compete with each other, albeit at a subconscious or even an unconscious level ?

What is your take on this ? What is your opinion on this aspect of sibling dynamics ?
Penny for your thoughts.
Tell, Tell !!

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7 voice(s) said so:

Asha said...

I am not sure about the 'evolution theory'. I have always thought that the younger ones keep bullying around taking advantage of the 'arre, woh chotta haina?!'.

dipali said...

Evolution or not, sibling rivalry seems to be a fact of life and a very long standing one as well! I've seen it lasting decades beyond childhood, ( but to a degree that is pathological) and am most amazed at the deep-seated
nature of what I've seen!
It's a part of childhood, but certainly needs to be transcended.

Altoid said...

Nice topic :). Some time ago, a girl had talked about birth order and how it plays into people's lives at a toastmaster session. According to what she said, first borns are said have higher IQ's, are very ambitious(having been the only child for some years) and responsible, while middle children are aggressive cos they always get sidetracked either by the first born or the youngest, and the youngest are reckless, more prone to taking risks and in general are nurtured by parents and siblings the most.

And interestingly enough, apparently these birth order characteristics play into career and external interactions as well. 40% of the CEO's are first borns. Its also been observed that first borns tend to take less risks, are very methodical and detail oriented, while youngests are happy go lucky and humorous.

Very interesting dynamics, and that its universal makes it even more fascinating.

I'll try to locate the book she referenced in her talk for ya.

Sorry for the loooooooooooong comment.

Nirmala said...

Hi Gauri
I am a regular reader of your posts and this is the first time that I am commenting here.
I wouldn't like to generalise but I have found in many cases, the younger sibling is blessed with a higher emotional quotient than the older one probably because of being exposed to family dynamics earlier. There is a saying 'Moothadhu mozhai, iilayadhu kalai' (I couldn't get the Tamil transliteration completely) ..wonder how true it is ?

itchingtowrite said...

i think rivalry or competition always exists at whatever age you are. normal human tendency to be better or get the better stuff. the variables change. only the focal point of rivalry broadly changes. tolerance threshhold may change again depending on what is important at that point of tim. Sis & i used to fight over dresses at one time. today i gladly lend her my clothes and feel bad if mine don't look good on her. i really don't know whether we compete on anything today but u never know something might surface later on...

the mad momma said...

ooh you gave me lots to think about. and i have nothing to contribute till i think it over.

Poppins said...

Very very interesting post, I never saw sibling rivalry in the positive light that you have brought out towards the end..(Adele Faber's words)

I'm not so sure about the birth order because in my case, I'm more ambitious/driven than the elder sib. And yes, I used to win arguments at home as well. I think it's a necessary requirement to use your chota status because otherwise the bigger one will eat you alive :)

UTBT is also doing a series on sibling rivalry (FYI)