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Sun Sep 25 14:16:08 SAST 2016

Curse of the first-born

Jan Etherington | 26 November, 2012 00:29
Younger siblings can be a source of stress for their older counterparts
Image by: supplied

The news that younger siblings can affect your health comes as no surprise to someone like me, who is an older sister. Having younger siblings can raise your blood pressure by an average of 5%, according to a new study's findings. As the eldest of four girls, I'd like to know if that's 5% per sibling - because it felt that way when we were growing up.

There are six years between my youngest sister, Terri, and me and less than a year between the other two, Di and Cheryl, so they were still silly children while I was blossoming into a cool teenager.

The report, published in the Economics and Human Biology journal, also claims "having younger siblings may increase older sisters' workloads".

It most certainly does. I walked my siblings to school, babysat, cleaned out their rabbit hutches and introduced them to The Beatles. I was protective and responsible, while they showed me none of the respect I felt I deserved.

That was particularly relevant when I started dating. When any of my suitors rang the doorbell, Di or Cheryl always beat me to the front door. They would then follow us into the sitting room and hang around, blushing. While I threatened, hissed and glared at them, my "date" was invariably chatty and kind.

Also, I was the trailblazer who paved the way for my sisters' easy passage through their teen years.

I had the arguments with our parents and did all the negotiating about going out, staying up late, what clothes could be worn and why the music should be so loud.

Returning home once, at a reasonable 10pm, I was met on the doorstep by my furious mother, who said: "What time do you call this?"

I was 18 and engaged to be married. By the time my youngest sister reached the same age, she was driving my mother's car around town at 4am.

"The arrival of a younger sibling is stressful because the newborn competes for parental attention," continues the report.

That was the case for my daughter when her brother was born. At two years old, she hated that she was no longer the baby, the only child and the first grandchild.

She seethed and stomped. And finally she cracked. She shampooed his hair with Marmite because, she reasoned, he was just "too blond".

But it's not all doom and gloom. As you all get older the detrimental effect on the eldest child's health is less acute, the study says.

My sisters and I get on well these days. So well that we recently went skiing together. Just the four of us. It was a shock to discover I was no longer automatically the leader, the one who knows everything. Di and Cheryl are experienced skiers, while Terri and I are novices.

"Do you mind if I split you up?" the ski instructor asked on our first day.

"Are you friends?"

"No. We're sisters," said Di, whizzing into Fast Martin's class.

But later when sipping steaming glühwein, childhood resentments bubbled to the surface.

"I only ever wore hand-me-downs," Di lamented.

On the last day, Terri and I couldn't wait to tell our younger sisters that we'd managed to ski down a mountain without falling.

Di said: "We've just raced down the Lauberhorn World Cup Run." Cheryl added: "We went so fast, my nose hair froze."

We are grandmothers now, but my sisters can still wind me up. - ©The Daily Telegraph


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