Sunday, March 25, 2012

Book Review: The Sibling Effect

I grew up in a family with four siblings. I would say we were very close while in our childhood years. I'm sure there was squabbling. I can remember moments where my parents would wonder aloud as to why we couldn't "just get along." Now, I watch those same moments in my own household between my boys.

I'm sure we have the normal amount of sibling fighting here, no more or less than other households. Still, the fighting does get to me and I have voiced my own pleas for more peace in our house. My greatest struggle is with the dynamics between the boys. Bryce, the oldest, tends to favor Sean, the youngest, leaving Trevor out or even outright ostracizing him. While I will concede that Trevor brings much of it on himself by being annoying, it still breaks my heart when they gang up on him.

I expected something different than what this book delivered. I went in hoping to glean some wisdom on dealing with sibling rivalry. This was not the book for finding that answer. It was part-memoir (telling the story of author, Jeffrey Kluger's, childhood in a family of four boys) and part-expose (sharing the findings of various studies on a wide variety of aspects of sibling relationships).

And even with that, I found myself disagreeing with many of the tid-bits of information. When discussing the influence of birth-order, it suggested that the eldest is often more timid of dangerous rides. Not so in my house! It also declared that the oldest is usually the smartest, since it began with more parental attention than the younger siblings. Not sure that is so in my house either!

I would say that all three of my boys are very bright, but if anything, the youngest shines out with greatest brilliance for early acquisition of knowledge. He knew his letters earlier. And his math skills are stunning (he can already understand the concept of negative numbers, at age five). The other day, I was sitting with him while he was taking a bath. Out of the blue he said, "So 3+3+3 is 9, +3 is 12, +3 is 15. Wow! That means I've been alive for more than 1500 days!" I was blown away. He clearly understood that there were over 300 days in a year and then calculated to see approximately how many days he had been living.

The book also suggested that parents often say of middle children, "they've never been a bit of trouble." I'd have to ask my parents whether they considered me to never be a bother, since I was dead middle of five. But, I can guarantee that comment would never be said of my middle boy. If anything, he provides the greatest trouble of them all.

My conclusion is that the birth order science is none too scientific. There are so many variables involved. I'm guessing many families would beg to differ with the findings cited.

Another area where I found myself shaking my head was a section on homosexuality. Research was claiming to have discovered variables of likelihood. For example, the more boys one has, the more likely you are to have a boy who "comes out." Not buying that one! It made me laugh even harder when it was suggested that the size of one's fingers or ear canal played a role in such tendencies.

The memoir elements were interesting enough, since the author had a chaotic upbringing, with divorce, remarriage, committing their mother for a prescription drug addiction, a brother's "coming out," step-siblings, half-siblings, being cut out of their father's will, etc. The story was interesting, it just didn't provide much in the way of suggestions for nurturing the strongest sibling relationships or combating triangulation (the official term for what happens in our house when the two boys gang up on the third).

So if you are looking for an interesting memoir about sibling relationships, this might fit the bill. But, if you are hoping for guidance in fostering good relations between your kids, then look elsewhere.


Elizabeth A. said...

The ear canal is a new one. We have tons of homosexual men in my family (okay, like 6) and there are a lot of brothers. But having more boys just in general equals a higher chance of having a gay son. A 10% chance is a 10% chance.

Those math skills are amazing! Like I'm totally jealous of your 5 year old.

Wendy said...

Liz - the ear canal size increased the odds of lesbianism, supposedly. I'm betting you could have a smaller ear canal and still choose men.

Yes, his math skills blow me away. He loves doing workbooks and can handle first grade ones. The difficulty there comes when they ask him to draw patterns, since his drawing is nothing compared to my middle guy. I just have him tell me what to draw.

Elizabeth A. said...

I told Jeff the story about your son because Jeff liked to do math workbooks when he was young. Jeff's response was, "Well, now they know one kid won't need much help with college."

Now I wish I knew what kind of ear canal I have. Never thought I would say that sentence.