My older brother and I are about as different as two people can be. At college, where people knew nothing of my older brother, I told them that he was a tall, skinny, smart, black woman. And all that is true, except for the black woman part.
Well, he and I are both a little black, but that’s another story. Having sired two boys of his own, I’m fairly certain that he isn’t any part female.
Anyway, we fit the stereotypical birth-order profiles perfectly. My brother is the meticulous one, the committed one, the natural at schoolwork, the one who did not break his toys within ten minutes of receiving them. I was the creative one, the one with varied interests and lots of friends, the one who put off assignments until the night before they were due.
Growing up, my parents used to tell us that we would make a great team. They told us that I would come up with the creative ideas and my brother would find a smart way to make them happen.
And I think that if we ever tried to, we might have made a good team in this way. After all, I tend to do my best work when I’m allowed to think as outside the box as I wish, and I’m pretty sure that my brother is most comfortable deep within a well-defined box.
But the teamwork between us never really happened. He went off to college when I was a sophomore in high school. I was more concerned with my group of friends than I was with hanging out with my older brother.
He moved out-of-state right after college and made a successful living working with computers within that box of his. I stayed closer to home, struggling to apply methods to my chaos (until I got married to a wonderful woman who provides the love, money smarts, and organizational wisdom that help me thrive).
Now, I don’t want to paint my brother in a boring light. He’s a pretty cool guy in his own right. His wife’s first impression of him was as a motorcycle-riding rebel (something I never knew him as), so he’s definitely multifaceted. But as far as the typical oldest/youngest child thing goes, we both fit our roles pretty well.
And I regret that a bit. I regret that I thought his love of rules and structure was a character flaw. I regret that I valued my time with friends more than time with my brother. I regret that we never really tried to make the teamwork thing of my creativity and his organization work. And I regret that in embracing the fact that he and I were so different, I never embraced the things we had in common.
With my own kids, I can already see certain character traits. Whether they are related to birth-order, or the responsibilities that each are able to handle at their different ages, or whatever, I find myself hoping for a different sibling relationship between them than the one I had/have with my brother.
Parents of differing children, how do you encourage a relationship between such disparities?