ZONAUTARA.com – Listening to your siblings recount their upbringing can occasionally feel a bit disconcerting. It might even seem as though you didn’t grow up in the same world, let alone the same home.
“Even though siblings usually have common early experiences, it’s not rare for them to have perceived their childhood quite differently,” explained Genevieve von Lob, a clinical psychologist and author of “Happy Parent, Happy Child.”
Interestingly, this is quite normal and happens for valid reasons. Experts delve into this phenomenon below.
Siblings often enter the world under varying circumstances. The family situation a child is born into can be quite different from the one their younger sibling encounters. For instance, financial shifts might make siblings feel like they had dissimilar childhoods.
“Substantial fluctuations in family financial status can create differences in extracurricular activities, schooling, vacations, and other material aspects of childhood among siblings,” Keneisha Sinclair-McBride, a clinical psychologist at Boston Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts, mentioned. “These aspects are very tangible and might seem ‘unfair,’ although they frequently result from changes in circumstances.”
Emotional transformations in parents can also significantly impact the situation. For example, siblings are often born during different stages of their parents’ lives, so they may be treated differently.
“Parents might behave quite differently with each of their children based on their own life stage, including factors such as their mental health, stress levels, relationships, support networks, work, financial obligations, and number of children,” von Lob pointed out.
She highlighted that parenting could feel overwhelming for highly sensitive individuals, as their nervous systems are more easily overstimulated.
“If they have multiple children, additional stressors, or lack sufficient sleep and personal time to recharge, they can become more drained, anxious, irritable, and frazzled,” von Lob added. “Thus, differences in parenting can also stem from a parent’s temperament and their emotional state in life.”
As a result, birth order can affect your perception of your parents. “Siblings born years apart are quite literally born to parents who are themselves years apart from who they were during earlier or later pregnancies,” observed Dr. Kevin Simon, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Boston Children’s Hospital and chief behavioral health officer for the city of Boston.
As parents gain more experience raising children, their caregiving style naturally evolves.
“First-time parents may be more uncertain and cautious, while they become more confident with subsequent siblings,” Sinclair-McBride stated. “This can cause older and younger siblings’ experiences to differ.”
Parents may realize that some methods they used with their first child were suboptimal and make adjustments.
“Perhaps the older sibling was treated more severely, but the parents modified their parenting style and became more compassionate with a younger sibling,” suggested parenting educator Laura Linn Knight. “An older sibling may also have experienced or witnessed more events than a younger sibling, like a divorce, which can shape the way they perceive themselves within the family dynamic.”
Birth order can also influence how a child interacts with and perceives their parents.
“Expectations placed on the oldest child often include taking on more responsibilities and caring for younger siblings, resulting in a distinct childhood experience,” von Lob explained. “Meanwhile, younger siblings may have more experienced and relaxed parents, but they might receive less attention than the firstborn.”
Parents’ responses to their children’s diverse personalities also play a part. “All siblings are unique individuals, even twins,” Sinclair-McBride said. “Their individual personality styles, traits, and characteristics can cause siblings to interpret or experience the same situations or parenting differently. These differences can affect how they are parented, connect with their parents, and experience family life.”
One child may have interests and personality traits in common with one or both parents, while another sibling exhibits a more distinct personality and separate interests. So, if a child shares a passion for a sport or team their parent enjoys, they may form a special bond around that activity.
“Sometimes, a child’s personality traits can bring out different sides of their parents, and parents may relate to one child’s personality more than another, which can be perceived as favoritism,” Knight explained. “Parents may respond differently to each child or enjoy spending more time with a child they find easier to communicate with and enjoy being around. When considering the differences in personality, temperament, needs, and interests of parents and children, it’s easy to see why siblings have their own unique experiences.”
Even parents with the best intentions don’t treat each child the same way. Factors such as personality, past experiences, and societal expectations surrounding gender roles can influence each interaction. Some children may be more extroverted and seek attention, while others might be more reserved and less expressive about their desires.
“Each child’s gender, personality, needs, mannerisms, and behavior can trigger different reactions from parents, leading to different treatment for each sibling,” von Lob stated.
She noted that a parent may find their strong-willed, highly sensitive child more challenging and difficult to manage than their easygoing, even-tempered child, resulting in vastly different interactions throughout their childhood.
Siblings can have varying reactions to and reflections on the same experiences. “Based on the personality, temperament, and characteristics we’re born with, our parents will respond to those differences,” said clinical psychologist and author Jenny Yip. “Siblings are different individuals who will also respond differently to their parents.”
Yip emphasized that no two individuals perceive a situation in the same way. Thus, siblings can have different emotional responses to similar experiences, both during their childhood and when looking back as adults.
“It’s similar to eyewitness accounts,” Yip explained. “You have 10 people who all saw the same event, but depending on their belief system, attitude, and values, they will interpret it differently. Another example is watching a movie. Everyone watches the same movie, but each person’s takeaways and connection to the film will differ based on their values, attitudes, and beliefs. The same goes for siblings who share the same parents.”
Siblings can disagree about shared experiences. One may have been more affected by a particularly positive or traumatic event they both experienced, or they may simply have different impressions of whether something was positive or negative at all.
“One sibling may have loved their childhood village, while the other found it restrictive,” von Lob said. “One sibling may have enjoyed camping trips in the countryside, but the other found it boring and longed for trips abroad.”
This is not necessarily a negative thing. “It’s normal and expected for siblings to have different experiences with their parents,” Simon noted. “This is neither inherently good nor bad. It’s a natural result of each sibling’s unique personality, experiences, and perspective.”
Indeed, the fact that you and your siblings grew up in the same household but had very different perceptions of your childhoods doesn’t necessarily indicate a problem.
“Children don’t have to be treated identically all the time to be treated fairly,” Sinclair-McBride stated. “Each individual has unique needs and experiences. If those needs were met with love and support, slight differences in treatment don’t have to be a cause for concern for parents or siblings.”
However, the reality is that you and your siblings have different impressions of your childhood, which might make your parents feel uneasy. That’s where open communication can help.
“Siblings should recognize and respect each other’s differences in how they perceive and relate to their parents,” Simon advised. “Siblings can learn to appreciate and value each other’s perspectives, even if they disagree.”
While these differences are natural and understandable, working through them can still be beneficial. Additionally, there may be some negative emotions that need to be addressed.
“If one or more siblings feel that there was unfair or unequal treatment during their childhoods, discussing this together can significantly improve their relationships,” Sinclair-McBride said. “Allowing siblings the space to express their experiences without judgment and defensiveness can facilitate understanding and empathy. Attempting to change others’ perceptions of their experiences is a futile effort. Processing one’s own experiences can be healing.”
In conclusion, it’s essential to recognize that siblings may have different perceptions of their childhoods due to various factors, including birth order, family circumstances, parental emotional states, and individual personalities. These differences are natural and do not necessarily indicate a problem. However, openly discussing these differences and respecting each other’s perspectives can strengthen sibling relationships and promote understanding and empathy.
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