I’ve noticed something: When one child is doing well, the other one often seems to be struggling in some way. I’m not sure if this is an objective fact or if I just find myself focusing more on one child than the other at any given time — or maybe I’m just looking for something to worry about!
A minor version of this phenomenon took place over the weekend. While I was celebrating Alexander’s improvement in handling homework issues, Zoe had a miserable weekend — full of disappointments, unmet demands, and three or four full-blown tantrums. It was tiring and disheartening, though, ultimately, not a totally disastrous weekend. Of course, I found my thoughts turning to Zoe, what was going on with her, how I could help. Part of this pondering was an attempt to understand Zoe’s personality and what was motivating her actions.
As I try to sort though the personality traits and behaviors of my two children, I’m aware of how easy it is to latch onto labels to explain and categorize and, inevitably, compare them to each other.
Here are a few of the phrases I’ve used more than once to describe one or the other of my kids: “thin-skinned”; “the brave one”; “more adventurous”; “hates to share”, “wary of trying new things”; “musical”; “very observant”; “determined”, “resourceful”, “makes friends easily”, “a fast reader.”
Last fall, NPR’s Morning Edition broadcast a series of stories on siblings. The first program was about three theories used to explain why siblings often have very different personalities, even though they are genetically similar and have grown up in the same family. One of these theories describes families as “comparison machines” and posits that personality differences emerge in siblings as a result of their families exaggerating and reinforcing what are actually fairly minor differences between them.
I can see how this happens.
Is this a bad thing? Is it it inevitable?
In Chinese philosophy, one aspect of the concept of yin and yang is that opposites only exist in relation to each other. As parents, do we create an ever shifting yin and yang to help us make sense of our children’s behaviors? Or do our children create the differences to distinguish themselves (which is another prominent sibling personality theory)?
As an only child (with a much younger half-sibling) I find myself lacking in personal experience with siblings, which may put me at a disadvantage when it comes to understanding my son and daughter. But that is a topic for another post!
Here’s a link to the NPR story on theories of sibling personality differences:
And another one on birth order: