Emerge From The Sibling Shadow Cast Upon Parenthood

It is widely held that parenting is greatly influenced by one's childhood experiences. Among these influences include the role of sibling relationships. Effects range from nurturing the early seeds of maternal and paternal instincts to leaving scars of emotional unrest that impact upon our parenting role during adulthood. The degree of interference varies depending upon many factors, such as the quality of one's relationship with a sibling, the challenges presented by the sibling during childhood, and the way the sibling “turned out” as an adult. Those parents open-minded enough to acknowledge the “sibling shadow” take one step in freeing themselves from potential negative effects:

Look for clues that a sibling's negative impact may effect your parenting role. Indications may be easy to spot or embedded in interactions with your child. Do your thoughts contain a bothersome theme that relates to a sibling? Are there parallels between the behaviors in your child that trigger unhelpful parenting responses and memories of similar sibling behaviors? Is there a disturbing outcome from your childhood relationship with your sibling, such as a cut-off of contact or an especially strained adult relationship? If you answer yes to any of these questions, there's a good chance that a sibling's shadow is impinging upon parenthood.

Identify the dynamic forces that converge around the sibling shadow. These may include conditions at home, behavior of children, and presence of extended family members. Some parents will find that their child's noncompliance in front of grandparents will surface an emotional intensity seldom seen in the nuclear family. Other parents will be blinded by rage when an older child mistreats a younger child since it parallels what happened to them at the hands of their own sibling. Such circumstances represent the interplay of past family scripts and present triggers. Once these dynamics are identified, parents can be watchful when these conditions are present in order to resist the unhelpful results.

The best way to curtail the negative impact of the past is self-awareness and self-correction. A sibling's early impact is layered with feelings, perceptions, and reaction tendencies. As we mature, these are buried beneath our own identity formation, leaving the sibling shadow awaiting the advent of parenthood. It lurks in the background until conditions activate it's emergence. We can preempt this interference by taking a “mental inventory” of our sibling's impact upon us. For example, if we remember a sibling's frequent tendency to create conflict within the family, we can be mindful that we don't overreact when our own child exhibits age-appropriate limit-testing.

Accept help in determining if past perceptions of a sibling continue to distort your view of your child. Some adults are so impeded by a sibling's shadow that a spouse may comment, “It sounds like you are talking about your brother/sister rather than our child!” If this has been said to you, don't dismiss it as just an edgy insult; there is likely some truth to this observation if it is offered by someone who knows you well, such as a spouse or family-of-origin member. Consider it a wake-up call to open up your “emotional baggage” from childhood, review it carefully for what needs to be discarded, and in so doing, your child will not have to bear the same scars that you carried through childhood.