Parents with more than one child are treated to a daily drama of interaction
that involves some pleasant and some unpleasant experiences. Beginning parents
will often believe that their children should be similar to themselves and
should display all their most positive qualities. This hopeful assumption will
lead inevitably to disappointment.
Each child is different, sometimes dramatically different from other siblings
and the parents. The variance in IQ score among 3 siblings in a family will, for
example, be as great as the variance in the community at large. The differences
in the performance of school work and social adaptation will alarm and confuse
parents who expect to adhere to a high family standard. The higher the
expectations, the greater the disappointment when a child fails to achieve or
The variance among siblings can involve every aspect of living. We will
consider the importance of food choices in determining biological outcomes and
recognize that one child may do well on “normal food” and another will be sick
or disabled. Even siblings that are reasonably alike, will compete, argue and
than conflict is a natural tendency among humans and the ongoing lessons built
into family life revolve around winning, losing and negotiation for the best
deal. In the best case, siblings learn to respect each others differences,
respect private spaces and learn to cooperate. In the worst case siblings
compete relentlessly, do battle and split the family in ongoing conflicts
motivated by the drive to gain more resources, more privileges and improved
Often, one family member has more problems than other family members.
Sometimes one parent is dysfunctional and produces a cascade of dysfunction that
disturbs every other member of the family. When one sibling is dysfunctional,
the other siblings suffer in a variety of ways. One child, the normal one, for
example, may adopt a supportive, even a parenting role, providing adult-like
service for parents and siblings. A disturbed child will interfere with and can
end the marriage relationship of the parents.
While more normal children might complain of extra responsibility, their
service is a model of altruistic behavior than must be present in every family
and every community. When parents are in conflict and fail to cooperate in
the daily maintenance of family, it is a usually a matter of time before the
children become dysfunctional.
In the oldest tradition of human communities, the extended family would
assume parenting duties if the biological parents failed or disappeared. Because
nuclear families often move away and become isolated from close relatives, the
failure of marriage cooperation is more devastating.