Ever since NemeSIS (think ‘sister bully’) was published a month ago, I’ve spent a lot of time pondering sibling relationships. When I was growing up, there was a definite ‘Lord of the Flies’ vibe in my house. For sure, parenting was totally different back then, best characterized as ‘benign neglect.’ My parents had 5 children in 8 years, and were overwhelmed, so the prevalent lackadaisical style of parenting was even more pronounced in my household.
While my Mom and Dad made sure that we had food and clothes and shelter and hugs, my childhood memories of being disciplined or learning life lessons usually involved my older siblings. One older sibling in particular would have made an amazing dictator, she ruled with an iron fist, allowing absolutely no dissension in the ranks. We would never ever ‘tell’ on Sis #2, lest we be ‘killed.’ And yes, she was part of the inspiration for NemeSIS.
But Sis #2 was also charismatic and imaginative, life was never boring during her reign. A huge J.R. Tolkien fan, she made up a sinister fantasy world populated by small, dark cloaked beings called Them that lived in the forest at my grandparents farm. And to this day, I still don’t feel comfortable being in the woods by myself. I feel that evil might be lurking nearby, watching me. It’s an inconvenient hang up to have, especially when you are Canadian.
Sis #2 definitely stepped into the power vacuum that existed when my parents retreated and refused to cede control. My mother always said that Sis #2 actively fought with my mother over everything, from what the family would have for dinner to deciding who needed a haircut. By the time I hit grade 5, as a matter of course, I relinquished my weekly allowance to her, and she dolled it back to me as she saw fit.
My husband has always had a big job and has always worked very long hours, so my eldest son has always been a bit of a ‘right hand’ to me with my three younger kids. And interestingly, I think the same thing, to a more limited extent has happened in my household, too. P. stepped into the ‘Daddy’ vacuum at a young age, sometimes using force to keep the younger siblings in line.
Despite the fact that we are super close, P and I have had a few pitched battles over the years, and I have had to compete with him at times for domestic control and listen to him lecture me on occasion about parenting choices. And while it’s probably better to have two present parents, having an older sibling step up to the plate is not all bad. It has a bit of that ‘old school’ vibe from my childhood when families were larger and the eldest kids helped raise the younger ones.
So I found it kind of hilarious the other day when my 9 year old daughter – after spending the day under the care of her health obsessed older big brother – threw up. She then confessed to me that he allowed her to eat all kinds of junk food. I did mention the vomiting to him but tried not to be too judgey. What can I say, he was babysitting for free, and the fact that she threw up spoke louder to him than anything I could have said. My son will never be his sister’s parent and nor should he ever be, so I did not make him eat humble pie. Besides, with her newly stomach empty, my daughter would have surely asked for a piece.