‘Why can’t you be more like your sister?’ Tracey Hawthorne remembers not to expect the same from both children.
‘And don’t forget to bring in the washing before you go out,’ I remind my daughter as she dashes past me for the fourth time between bedroom and bathroom, making apparently vital last-minute adjustments to hair, makeup and clothing.
She skids to a halt. ‘Mom,’ she says, putting her hands on her hips. ‘I’m not Luke. You don’t have to tell me the same thing 10 times.’
Luke (not his real name) is her brother, my son. An intelligent and charming young man, he has a memory like a sieve – at least when it comes to chores.
If I give Luke a list of 5 things to do (say, hang out the washing, empty the dishwasher, backwash the pool, sweep the verandah and take out the rubbish), he’ll manage one before wandering off to read a book or listen to music. And it won’t necessarily be the first task on the list he’ll do; it’ll just be the one he remembers.
Let’s be cynical (or, ok, parents) and put some of Luke’s unwillingness to do household chores down to plain old laziness – a not-unheard-of trait among teenagers. Why, then, does he hop to with an engaging spirit of willingness when I remind him (and remind him, and remind him…)? Surely, if he were just trying to wriggle out of work, it would be evident in his attitude?
Still, it’s hard not to make comparisons, especially since my daughter is extremely organised and efficient, and seldom needs reminding to do anything (in fact, she’s often the one doing the reminding). I’ve managed not to use that unforgivable parental admonition, ‘Why can’t you be more like your sister?’ on my son, but it’s been on the tip of my tongue a few times.
At least, in the case of my kids, one’s a girl and one’s a boy, so direct comparisons aren’t that easy to draw. Pity the poor plainer sister of a beauty queen, for instance. Someone of my acquaintance is the parent of a just such a creature, and I find it bizarre to be in his house, where large framed photographs of the gorgeous one abound. The only pic of the other daughter is a snapshot that’s stuck to the fridge with a magnet – and in it she’s striking a pose with the more famous sibling.
Or how about being the less sporty brother of a popular jock? Unless you have an outstanding talent of your own – musical ability, say; and we’re not talking just flute lessons every Wednesday arvie – you’re going to grow up in the shadow of a supposedly superior sibling.
I know whereof I talk. I had a younger sister who was The Good Girl; by comparison, I was The Rebel. Although my mom and dad never used the unforgivable parental admonition on me either, it was always there in the subtext of how hard Gloria (not her real name either) studied, how Gloria never got caught bunking or smoking behind the bicycle shed, how Gloria had made the swimming team when the best I could manage was a week with only one detention rather than the usual several.
So, take it from one who knows: it’s usually hard enough to just get along with your siblings when you’re a teenager. The very last thing you need is a parent introducing yet more hostility into the mix by highlighting your sibling’s good traits to lowlight your bad ones.
Does it matter if you compare siblings?