The Sibling Paradox
My mother was a psychology major in college, and she has always been vocal that the best style of communication is clear and direct; she levels with us. Moreover, she parents us individually; that is, she reprimands us and teaches us lessons in ways that mesh with our specific personalities. She and I have long talks where she is both affective yet firm; my sister responds to harsh reprimands and strongly enforced rules. If any two members of my family are enmeshed, it is my mom and I. I tell my mom everything, and she is my best friend; we are a team.
There are implicit rules in my family. Though never stated, it was expected that as soon as I got home from school, I would eat a snack (usually a fruit), and then begin my homework and studying. This has always been the norm; I did not flout the unspoken expectation, so there was no need for my mother to lay down the law. My mother was a high school valedictorian; in my house, education is highly valued and school always comes first. In this way, my family is very similar to my mom’s family of origin. My grandma and grandpa were stricter than my parents, but they share the same values regarding education. However, my little sister has recently disrupted this pattern. When my sister comes home from school, she too gets a snack but she eats it while using her cell phone. A fifteen-minute snack break stretches into a two-hour social media marathon. My mom then has to reprimand her or urge her repeatedly to put her phone down and get to work. In addition, Alana gets up to check her phone multiple times, which also results in scolding. The fundamental difference in the prevalence of phone use has changed from when I was in middle school to now, when my sister is in middle school. My mother frequently limits Alana’s phone use and requires her to complete all her school work before she is able to us her phone. Put simply, parenting my sister requires more control since she has more competing sources of influence. Though we have the same implicit rules, my sister often needs them explicitly stated.
In my family, I am the rule-follower, the homework-doer and I am happy with my established routine (perhaps I am quite boring). In contrast, my little sister is the sassy, witty social butterfly. Her exposure to social media and usage of her phone is a huge part of her life, which my mother has to deal with in a way she never had to with me. When my sister and I are together, we complement each other, balancing out the extreme parts of our personalities. Her daring side brings me out of my comfort zone, while my bookishness and dedication to my studies inspires her to be more scholastic (my little sister is naturally extremely intelligent and witty).
Though my family is a tight-knit unit yet we are open to growth and change. One big change was when I went to Yale for college. Now, I kept in touch with my family with text messages and phone calls. I still felt like a part of the family, but I also had my space to embrace college social life and academics.
Our family has many established norms. For example, we often have “reading dinners” where each family member gets to read their current book while we eat. My mom’s best friend is a hair stylist and every Saturday morning she goes to “Hair” to relax and my dad watches my sister and I. If my sister or I misbehaved while my mom was at Hair, my dad documented our misdemeanor and waited until my mother was home, so she could mete out an appropriate punishment. Moreover, my mom is completely in charge of the house and everyone in it—including my dad (who is more than happy to go with the flow). It was not until I was older that I realized not every family adheres to the same norms, traditions and transactional patterns.