In a Large Family Each Member Has a Role

There have been studies delineating the superior intellect of the "first born."   Clearly there is both nature and nurture at work.  I guess a tangential idea here is that standard intelligence tests may not adequately measure sociability of their subjects.  My point being, that as the fourth child of six, my oldest brother did score very high on standardized tests, and I did not.

However, at the adult stage of life, he is confused and isolated socially.  Most of my life I have considered him socially retarded.  Able to interact primarily with authority figures but unable to do critical thinking.  Clearly my observations are anecdotal limited to my own family...but these studies...well how can you boil down the human experience into a few measurable dimensions.  There are so many dimensions to the human experience....hey that is what this whole web site is about isn't it?

Anyway...each of us children played a role, and although we wanted to be in favor with our parents...some of us chose to just get parental attention anyway we could.  Birth order had an effect...but so did our individual personalities, abilities, and intellect.

I was as I mentioned the fourth child of six.  Unfortunately, I had an older sister who was born severely retarded.  She was the first daughter and the second child of my parents.  Because she was not born perfect, my mother blamed herself and became depressed.  Consequently when my middle brother was born three years later, there was less attention for him since my sister required so much attention.  By the time I was born, four years later, the family had acclimated to the needs of my older sister and I was the pampered baby...for about a year when my younger brother came along.   I remember feeling sad when the attention shifted to him, yet I understood that he was a baby and needed attention.  I was still very much in competition with him, which was difficult because he was very precocious.  His memory is probably greater than anyone I have ever known.  It was photographic...maybe it still is...I always felt that he was smarter than me as a child.  My younger sister was the last child and she was the baby that we all loved ....

Being in the middle, I think that I developed a strategy to fly under the radar.  I observed the dynamics in my family and made judgements.  I felt that there was something wrong with my family...I first made comparisons to television families that I knew...we were nothing like them.  They always got along, the TV houses had order and logic that made them run, ours always seemed chaotic.

Next I made comparisons to my friends families...I was popular with my friends and had many invitations for overnights and dinner...always the families seemed to cherish each and every member....this was not the case in my family...

In my family, my dad and my oldest brother were the only ones who were allowed to speak at dinner (even my mother did not speak)...the rest of us were better served if we listened and learned...I knew in my heart that this was not the way a family should be...I didn't take it personally.  I found out years later, that my sister brought this issue up in her therapy.

In retrospect, I know that I considered each family member on the basis of their relationship to me...whether that family member would or would not reciprocate loyalty, love etc.  I did not spend much time on those who would not....

I know now that most families have love, share love, have a philosophy of love and loyalty...but that is not something that we learned or accepted in my house....I have a memory from when I was about 8.  I came home from Sunday School.  One of the questions that the teacher asked was "When was the last time your parents said I love you, or when you told your parents that you loved them?"   All of the other kids had an answer but I couldn't remember the last time my parents or I had said those words....I went home and asked my mother..."Mom, why don't we say I love you?"

Well in response to that, my mom started shouting at me...she said, "You have a roof over your head, you have clothes to wear, you have food to eat...you wouldn't have those things if we didn't love you..."  Of course it always shocked me whenever anyone shouted at me...I always tried to stay out of the way to avoid being yelled at....but I was imagining...that what my mom said was the last thing my Sunday School Teacher had in mind....I knew my mom had a lot of pressure on her...I tried hard not to add to it...but that whole incident has been in my mind for nearly 40 years...

So I was always trying to not cause problems, and if possible make things better...I didn't have any way of making things better until I became 17 or 18.  My younger sister and middle brother acted out.  They were comic relief and were the antagonists to my parents.  My oldest brother and youngest brother were more favored.  Recognized for being smart, it was as though the rest of us ceased to exist.

My father pretty much ignored me throughout my teen years.  I got a master's degree more to get his attention than to leverage it professionally...but having my education has worked out well...and some years after receiving my master's degree...it did dawn on my father that I was his first and only child to achieve this milestone.

Growing up in a large family prepared me for life, because in life nothing is handed to you, and there are people you run into along the way who make strange judgements, and have influences over you that don't seem fair.  Now such things don't phase me because I have dealt with such things already.

ginger1979 ginger1979
41-45, F
2 Responses Jul 28, 2007

I was interested when you said that as a middle child you developed a strategy of flying under the radar and observing what was happening around you. I was the second of three and behaved in a similar way to you when I was growing up. According to many of the books I've read on the subject of birth order, however, as a middle child I should have been a rebellious misfit!

I'm second oldest of eleven, and I didn't have the best childhood either. I was thirty years old before my father ever said he was proud of me...and that was a fleeting moment for sure.

For me, I remember feeling somewhere in my late 20's or early 30's that my dad finally recognized my worth. So I guess it is similar. All of my siblings thought that he favored my oldest brother, but ironically in his twilight years, my father had a very poor relationship with my eldest brother.

I have come to wonder if my eldest brother suffered from feeling pressured by my father's high expectations for him and he did not truly enjoy the attention he received. All those years that have gone by, and I still think about it, and try to understand it!