Love Thy Brother

Por Cecilia Rinaldi.

Whether triggered by jealousy, resentment or just plain boredom, sibling rivalry is bound to come up in any household with two or more children. Yet there may be a positive side to roughhousing and bickering: when periods of conflict and altruism are intertwined, we learn to mould our personalities, hone social skills and come closer to our next of kin – with whom, for better or for worse, we are stuck with for life.

Whereas brotherly love is supposed to be the natural state of sibling relationships, sparing and squabbling between our brothers and sisters often seems to come up more readily than feelings of fondness and compassion. This disposition to pick fights with our next of kin has been depicted in mythological and biblical stories throughout time: our relations are so physically and emotionally close that they often put strain on our feelings and reactions.

“The most important factor in sibling rivalry is jealousy: the unconscious fear of losing love from one’s parents,” deemed Paola Delbosco, Doctor in Philosophy and Associate Professor at the department of deontology at Universidad Austral . A firstborn child tends to savor great amounts of one-on-one time until the second child is born; then the time parents have to dispose of starts to dwindle and the older child starts picking on the younger one in an attempt to hold onto the love that used to be only his. “Our siblings,” she stated, “are our first competitors for protection, facilities, toys and playtime”.

The dynamics of family rivalry, thus, have a Darwinian twist. The strategies that children develop to further parental investment in their welfare depend on the particular circumstances within their families: that is, gender, temperament and birth order. Each child subconsciously tries to carve out their own capabilities in contrast to those of his siblings to gain more attention from his parents. So, if the first child is peaceful and compliant, the second is likely to be boisterous and rebellious. This process of mutual differentiation results in softer clashes.

With maturity, then, comes the waning of childish displays of jealousy. Delbosco, who is also a member of the “Business, Society and Economy” research team at Instituto Argentino de Empresa , considers that parents play a significant role as mediators: when children learn to empathize with each other within the bounds of their families, they go forth into the world with a greater capacity for interpersonal relationships. “A sound feeling of affection for our siblings is a reflection of a cohesive personality, which makes us more positive in our interactions with other people,” Delbosco affirmed.

Our brothers and sisters are, in the end, our first and ultimate companions. Working out our differences and nurturing our relationships is necessary to gain a deeper understanding of the social network. As we age, moreover, our siblings will offer us unfailing support and warmth in moments of difficulty. In the words of Delbosco, “with them we can conjure up our formative years, come to peace with our suffering and recapture defining moments from our youth: they are a reassurance counter to the fragmentation of adulthood”.

Monday October 31 st , 2005. Published with the Buenos Aires Herald under the supervision of the Herald Education Department.

Cecilia Rinaldi
19 años
Estudiante de Derecho
c.rinaldi@sedcontra.com.ar

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