I grew up as the oldest of six children, all born within eight years of each other. There’s me, my sister, and then four boys.
If you think my parents are crazy for having so many children in such a short period of time, then let me tell you one thing: I often think they are crazy too. My mum’s defence when we were growing up was always, “Once you have more children than you have hands it doesn’t really matter how many more you have!”
Aged nine I was quickly learning that it’s no fun to be the oldest sibling. You constantly have to be on your best behaviour because it’s important that you set a good example to your younger brothers and sisters. I thought I had the hardest gig in the world, so much so that when my parents floated the idea of having another baby, my nine year old self responded with: “If you do, then I’m moving out.”
But now, I’m 22 and I couldn’t be more grateful that I have five siblings who I can learn from, whilst also simultaneously helping them develop and grow. Not to mention, you get way more presents at Christmas…
Be the bigger person
Growing up, I fought with the oldest of my brothers constantly. He wanted to be the alpha male but unluckily for him, I had been born first. We used to physically fight and trade nasty insults, but it was always me who got told ‘you should know better’ because I was older.
At first, I fought against this. I would continue to provoke my brother verbally, and had no hesitations swinging punches. Both my brother and I had issues with anger management, so it didn’t take much for us to get the other riled up.
But after yet another evening of having to play referee, my Mum pulled me to one side and said, “One day, he is going to be bigger and stronger than you and if you don’t stop fighting with him now you risk putting yourself in physical danger.”
She was right, fast forward to 2019 and my brother is a good foot taller than me, and holds a black belt in karate. Although my brother wouldn’t use his martial art knowledge for anything other than self defence, physically he has definitely acquired better odds of winning a fight with me. I’m glad that I allowed him to take the alpha title and now I get to sit back and relax as he wrestles with my brothers instead. I’m no longer the target; I held my hands up and waved the surrender flag.
Competition between siblings is almost inevitable, especially when you have parents like my Dad, who bought two of my brothers an ‘Alpha Male’ t-shirt for Christmas as a joke. But thanks to my Mum’s sage advice to be the bigger person I’m no longer in the firing line, which allows me to sit down with my laptop in a corner and reflect on the chaos instead.
Life experience is more important than book smarts
I am tremendously lucky. My parents are extremely supportive people, whose parental guidance and support throughout education made me feel confident enough to apply to Oxford University to study English Literature.
Of course, I put the work in to get the grades at GCSE level, but I probably wouldn’t have found it so easy to discipline myself to revise for these exams if it hadn’t been for my parents’ strict rules about television and social media when growing up.
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Similarly, my brother did well enough at school to get into Cambridge University to study Engineering. Perhaps it was the same competitive edge that led us to wrestle when we were younger that encouraged him to match my accomplishment. Maybe, even if he might not straight up admit it, he felt inspired by me. But he definitely was also supported by my parents and encouraged to strive towards the levels of academic excellence and intellectual curiosity that are fundamental to a place at these prestigious institutions.
My sister’s academic journey is slightly different. She worked hard at school, but I don’t think learning came as easily to her as it did me and my brother, having opted for socialising over reading millions of books when she was younger. She unluckily suffered with a nasty bout of appendicitis which led to a hospital stay right in the middle of her GCSE exams. She narrowly missed the grades at A level to be able to go and study nursing. But she didn’t let that put her off.
She applied for a role as a support worker in a busy A&E department and quickly impressed the team with her incredible interpersonal skills and maturity beyond her years. She was able to move out and get a flat with a childhood friend, and juggle her job whilst studying part-time at college in order to get onto a Nursing degree course. She hopes to start her studies in September, and I have every confidence that she will get to where she wants to be in her career having seen how hard she works and how resilient she is.
She goes into work with a smile on her face and it is clear that others enjoy being around her. She has managed to save money for university whilst budgeting on an apprenticeship wage, in stark contrast to her older sister’s poor financial decision making. She has helped parents cope through loss, she has compassionately dealt with victims of sexual assault and she has done all this while supporting her older sister through a myriad of personal crises. Her job has helped her grow up into a woman who I genuinely admire and aspire to be more like every day.
It doesn’t take a genius to see whose achievements have had more of a tangible impact on the lives of others.
Lies will always catch up with you in the end
Growing up as the oldest of six children felt like tremendous pressure to be perfect, to set a shining example to my younger siblings. Sure, a degree from Oxford University isn’t a bad example to set, but it’s not like I was the golden child throughout the time I lived at home.
Because of my parents’ strict rules about house parties — you could only go if my Mum had spoken to the parents of the child who was having the party, and not during term time — I felt inclined to lie about my whereabouts. I got very good at it. Or so I thought.
It’s funny now watching my brothers come up with similarly crap excuses about where they were and what they were doing. Recently, one of my brothers claimed that he had just sat on a bench for the hour and a half he was meant to be at a karate lesson — forgetting, idiotically, that his younger brother attends the very same karate lesson and would be able to report on his absence. He later admitted that he had a girlfriend and he was round her house.
I lied because I didn’t want to miss out on experiences I thought my peers were having, my brother lied because he didn’t want his family to ridicule him for having a girlfriend (as is any sibling’s automatic birth right). Part of growing up is lying to your parents and thinking you’re the cleverest person in the world. But really, you’re not fooling anyone. I don’t expect it will be any different when I’m a parent, but I take comfort in knowing that lies have a funny habit of catching up with us all in the end.
What have your siblings taught you? Tell me below.
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