Growing a Community
You call it CHAOS. We call it FAMILY.
Family structure is an unfixed number, a random chance, and a contribution to society. Big families are something of the past, or so it may seem. The small percent of multi children families that are left have carried with them some unique traits. One being the role of the eldest child. Large families takes simple tasks, multiplies it by 5, 6, or maybe even 7; then makes it work. How does it work? The eldest sibling must step up and take on a role not many children experience, they are in a way the third parent, the glue of the family.
The Guinea Pig and Personality
It isn’t always clear a person will be the oldest of a multi children family, but one thing that is clear is that child is the “guinea pig” child. First time parents never really have things figured out, they may read all the books under the sun, but experience makes a parent not the books. In the case of big families there is an evolution of parenting, only beginning with the first child. Huffington Post writer, Dr. Gail Gross, shares her view of the evolution on her article, “The Achiever, the Peacemaker and the Life of the Party: How Birth Order Affects Personality”
“ firstborn children enter a family of adults who are proud of their every progress and frightened by every potential injury. The child caught in the middle is often dominated by the firstborn… By the time the baby arrives, parents are usually worn down, worn out and less likely to micro-manage. By now, you know your baby is not going break, and therefore, you can be more flexible in both attention and discipline.”
The first born child isn’t told “ here you go now you have to do these things, because you are the oldest.” Its a role one takes on almost subconsciously, they tend to develop a dominant demeanor and independent personality due to the role and responsibilities they have. This demeanor can be seen as influential in both a child’s Primary and Secondary Discourses. Using a concept much like James Paul Gee’s concept of filtering through experience and observation it can be seen that many aspects from one’s primary Discourse that dictate how one acts and responds to various situations in a secondary Discourse. Having dominance and affection can be very beneficial for different aspects in a person’s life; such as group projects, being in a workplace, or just interacting with other people in general. This shows how a person’s home identity can help them develop their role in secondary Discourses.
In work situations, school, and even friend groups my “parental” nature shows through. I always have a plan, nothing ever get left out and I tend to take more of leadership role. Being the oldest child requires a person to take on more responsibility, and a parental identity is something that is almost expected.
Siblings, Siblings, Siblings
When breaking down the life of the eldest child, it becomes clear that that individual spends the majority of their time with their siblings. In most cases such as mine and the family in the “ Large families on Purpose”blog this can be seen by the sharing of rooms.
“Children learn selflessness when they have to focus on others’ needs and not just their own; generosity when they share their space, their things, and their time;… self-control when they want to do something or say something to a sibling… they learn tolerance for another’s breathing sounds and giggling and when that sibling is sick… sensitivity; flexibility; and compassion” (Shupe)
Having siblings often provides an competitive stimulating environment that improves children’s overall growth and development. The competitive nature of that comes with having siblings not only builds relationships, but also plays a role in the politics of the family structure. Having a competitor in life motivates those around a person and also forms a hierarchy and rivalry. From this hierarchy the roles are promoted, and established within the family and implemented in everyday life. The competition isn’t always obvious, it can be something as simple as who the parent chooses to help them with a rudimentary task. “As kids reach different stages of development, their evolving needs can significantly affect how they relate to one another” (Pendley 4), this is due the competition that is associated with every interaction.
In closely spaced siblings, much like my little brothers Darcy, RJ, and Caleb, who are only about a year and a half apart this occurs often. It can occur for many reasons such as wanting more praise from parents or recognition from older siblings. This is a significant process in the lives of siblings because it helps to establish the right from the wrong. The way that siblings interact with one another affects how the parents react, and what comes of the competition affects how the child themselves will react in similar situations outside of the home.
This is another aspect that gets filtered between Discourses. The concept of right from wrong is something that everyone learns throughout their lives, and by having siblings one can learn right from wrong in many situations that others may not have an understanding of until a much older age. Siblings help a person grow and develop, almost like a second set of parental figures. This becomes beneficial when entering the “real” world where everything is defined by a hierarchy system. Having siblings in a way prepares a person for future social interactions.
A Leader,The First Best Friend, and The Right Hand Man
The oldest child has a plethora of responsibilities unique to them, from helping siblings get ready for school to setting the standard for school and work. This is evident when looking at chores; every person has a specific role, being in a large family these roles are not always equally distributed.
“The older children who are actually required to do their jobs are not always so enthusiastic… But ultimately they feel good having done good work. We hold them accountable… and this really helps them to do excellent work and be successful, and helps us to not lose our sanity…” (Shupe). The oldest child have these roles to assist the parents and compensate for the extra work that comes with simple everyday activities.
We are all different…
Siblings display different primary Discourses, the way each child is raised changes slightly depending on where they are in the birth order. Each child has a different set of standards and expectations that dictate their lives.
Special bonds are made as the older siblings help to set sleep patterns, teach them lessons like cleaning up their rooms, and help with morning and nightly routines. Which plays to the idea that each sibling has a slightly different primary Discourse. The youngest will never know what it’s like to have a younger sibling or have to experience the change in expectation.
Each child has a different set of practices and expectations, that comes with the the hierarchy of the family. Having a variation in expectations is the basis of learning right from wrong. The skills that children learn in large families come into play when looking at the expectations of people in all kinds of social situations. The concept of right and wrong works almost parallel to right and wrong in the “real” world, and having this skill sets children up for success.
Overall being in a big family can be a struggle, but studying a big family can result in great amounts of usable knowledge of the evolution of society and how people respond based on their household.