Old Souls

Societal pressures, family roles affect oldest children, family dynamics

Senior Remi Sirayanagi takes a selfie with her mother and younger brother. “Being the oldest has kind of shaped the family dynamic and my personality as well as my younger brother’s personality,” she said. “I think you can tell i’m an older sibling a lot of the time, compared to my brother I take more of a leadership (Submitted Photo: Remi Shirayanagi)

As the eldest daughter in her single-parent family, Senior Remi Shirayanagi recalled how she would often become another caregiver to her younger brother.
“(I was) raised in a single-parent household, so a lot of the times when my mom isn’t home, when I was younger, I would have to take care of my brother, make sure that he does his homework, help him with his homework, make sure that he was fed a lot of the times like after school and before my mom got home for dinner.”
Shirayanagi is not alone. A study conducted by Frontier Psychiatry found that birth order contributes to personality, pressures and happiness. These differences are attributed to many different factors, including societal pressure and expectations placed on children.
“Family roles in our society are reinforced by just that—our society,” said psychology teacher Michael O’Toole. Said we have what we believe to be defined roles, like the patriarch father knows best—not that I agree with that—and then women should be the caretakers (and) emotional support, whereas fathers are like the discipline, and each child can kind of take on their own role. Obviously that’s the quote-unquote ‘tradition’ view.”
O’Toole offered his own experience as a father of two children1. “We have this idea, especially with the older child, that because they’re older we forget they’re a child, and I’m included in this,” he said, “and there are times I want the older of the two to be a leader or an example and I forget he’s only a kid; that isn’t his job.”
Shirayanagi said she has experienced this type of pressure. She said she also attributes her family role to necessity and circumstance.
“I think there are some responsibilities that are taken on by the oldest sibling if their younger sibling needs to be taken care of,” She said “also, there’s a sense of, or idea that society has, that girls mature faster, so we have to take on the role to have a more caring role. And for oldest siblings, regardless of any gender, I think we’re kind of considered the guinea pigs, especially with immigrant households, I believe, with school and everything like that, so I think we’re kind of left to guide our younger siblings through that.”

Junior Lily Pineva plays with legos with her younger brother. Pineva said that despite the benefits of being the younger sibling, she wouldn’t change her position as the oldest sibling in her family. (Submitted Photo: Lily Pineva)

Lily Pineva, oldest child and junior, said she has experienced the same issues.“I feel like some responsibility has to be taken, because my two younger siblings are brothers, but I feel like they still somewhat look up to me for guidance,” she said.
Pineva also said these pressures are not just established at home, but in other areas of her life.
“I feel like since I am the oldest it has kind of translated into relationships with other people. Like in friendships and stuff, I kind of feel like I have to be the one responsible for other people (and) make sure they’re ok,” she said.
She said these pressures also influence her relationships with family members.
Shirayanagi says she often has become a second mother to her brother.
She said, “I think I’ve definitely adopted the caregiver role in the sense that especially due to my family situation I think I’ve taken on that role more than usual. I think it’s made me more mature than I would have (been) if I was the middle child or the youngest.”
Shirayanagi said she also she feels she must remain independent and not ask for help.
“I remember in middle school if I struggled with my homework or a concept, I would never ask for help or anything like that. I felt like that burden was on myself and other people already had enough going on in their lives so it was my thing and my responsibility,” She said.
The Chicago Tribune identified different family roles family members may fall into including the scapegoat, the hero, the lost child, the hero, the clown and the caregiver.
However O’Toole said,these types of categories can be problematic “We are reinforced by so many mixed messages that we believe to be real, so we have expectations (of children) reinforced stereotypes through media whether that be movies (or) Tv shows.”
“Being in a family is hard,” he added. “It takes work, but it’s hopefully ultimately worth it. I would just challenge people to challenge what their notions are and what a family is and what roles are these are just stereotypes.”
For their part, Both Shirayanagi and Pineva said they would never trade their position in their family.
Pineva said, “I don’t feel any guilt or, like, want it ( my life) to be different, honestly, (it’s) just a lot of responsibility and just kind of wanting to take care of them ( my siblings).
“I think there are some benefits to being the younger sibling and I think that it would have been too different, in a bad way.” She added,”but I think that I wouldn’t want to change anything.”