All Things Being Equal
As we’ve discussed typical sibling profiles, I’ve used the phrase “all things being equal” several times because it’s a critical one. There’s infinite variability in a family’s birth order constellation and in the external forces that act upon a family’s development. Each of these variables can have an impact on the development of each child.
Some of the most common variables include:
- Chronic illness in a family member
- Abuse and neglect
- Remarriage and blending families
- Death of a family member
- Frequent moving
- Parental relationship at time the time the child was conceived and born
- Number of years between children
- Gender of the child
- Age of the child
- Father-mother-child triangles and other interlocking triangles
- Genetics and epigenetics
Any one of these factors can significantly impact a family’s expects a child to be in a family and how a child perceives him- or herself. When more than one of these factors occurs either simultaneously or over time, an even greater impact can result.
Consider, for example, a firstborn female child with two brothers, each two years apart. Given typical personality profiles, one would expect the big sister to be responsible, nurturing and independent. However, let’s say that she comes from a family system that prizes males. In such an environment, she may be treated more like a younger child than an oldest, and she may not develop the typical leadership qualities of an oldest child.
And what if the middle child in this family, the first male child born in a family that prizes males, is expected to take over the family business when he grows up. He may be groomed for his leadership qualities, and may slip easily into that role, especially because he’s the older brother of a younger male.
Let’s say, however, that this middle child is killed in a car accident when he’s 12 years old. His 10-year-old brother may get the message (or impression) that he’s supposed to step into his brother’s role. Having been taken care of by his big sister, big brother and his parents, he may feel pressured to fill shoes that don’t fit. Being the more free-spirited youngest, he may rebel against the new expectation, adding more tension to an already tense system. Furthermore, the onset of puberty would undoubtedly play a significant role in how this family deals with the crises of these developments, which may also impact the personality development of the survivors.
Now let’s add more wrinkles to the fabric. What if one of the children is diagnosed with autism? How might this alter how the parents interact with each other and with their other children? How will this alter what expectations each child carries and how they interact in relationships? Or what if younger children immigrate to a new country with their family while the older ones are left with grandparents to finish school in their home country? Or vice versa—the younger ones staying with grandparents and the older ones immigrating? Or what if one parent has an affair and the family disintegrates?
No family escapes significant stressors that impact each person in the system. The point isn’t to make sure the children are free of any stress that would alter the development of their personality. No family is perfect and no family can stave off the natural blows that come as a result of living on this planet. The idea is to be consciously aware of how these stressors can influence development and to help children to grow solid within them.
By way of example, tomorrow I’ll present how some of these external forces impacted the personality development of my siblings and me.
(For more information about sibling positions and profiles, see Birth Order & You, by Ronald W. Richardson and Lois A. Richardson; and Family Constellation: Its Effect on Personality and Social Behavior, 4th Edition, by Walter Toman.)