The Other I

November 6, 2014

The socialization of oldest sisters and Catholic priests

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:43 pm





In the supermarket this morning, I watched a little girl, probably about five, showing her little sister, about age three, how to push a shopping trolley for groceries.  The youngest was clearly immensely pleased and very proud to be given instructions for carrying out such a grown-up activity.  The older sister was very kind and patient.  And definitely in charge.  It was like watching myself in a time-lapse episode.

Photo from Kid Costs || Child Support Budgets

By the time I was a year and a half old, I had a younger sibling.  By the time I was thirteen, I had four younger sisters, four younger brothers, and a great deal of authority countenanced by my parents.  By the time I was a teenager, “Terry said I could do it” held as much justification for my younger sibs as permission received directly from Mom or Dad.  I took them swimming.  I took them shopping.  I helped them with their homework.  They sat on the kitchen cupboard and “helped me” make cookies, which meant they got to lick the spoon and anything left in the bowl.

I’ve often thought of the effect this subtle but constant socialization as the oldest sister has had on my psyche.  I was the oldest.  Whether I was intrinsically the smartest might be questionable, but I was always the most experienced, always the biggest.  I didn’t ask my sibs for advice.  I figured things out for myself.  I always knew better.  And I didn’t just know it.  All my brothers and sisters knew it.  They would no more say to me “Don’t tell me what to do” than they would have said it to either of our parents.

I have, as we all moved into adulthood, relinquished my absolute sense that I always know best.  I sometimes do ask various brothers and sisters for their opinions and advice in areas where their expertise greatly out-ranks mine and take them seriously.  I’ve learned a lot from them.

But I realized some time ago just how much of an oldest sister I still am.  I got caught in the middle of a conversation with two men squabbling with each other, and I spontaneously more or less scolded them and told them to stop.  The wife of one of the men looked at me and said “You sound just like Father Patrick!”

I have since been reflecting on how much like a Catholic priest I am capable of being.  I assume an authority based on years of living in a world where my word was never questioned, was always accepted as right, where my authority was never resented but rather accepted as a sign of my concern.  And like most Catholic priests I have known, however kind and wise many of them have been, I don’t expect to be told what to do or what to think.  Discussion, yes.  Dictation, no.

Rather like the girl in the supermarket who by the age of five was already “the oldest.”




  1. Abs enjoyable post compressing a vast time-scale. Wonder how it evolves when the big-sister becomes a mother to her children.


    Comment by tskraghu — November 6, 2014 @ 4:32 pm | Reply

    • Hmm, interesting question. We lost our child, so I never was a full-time mother. I used to think I would have made a wonderful mother, but in recent years I haven’t been at all sure I would have been quite as wonderful as I assumed. Perhaps another example of those things when the worst and the best things that happen to one are the same things.


      Comment by theotheri — November 6, 2014 @ 5:07 pm | Reply

  2. Very interesting post, Terry. I am the youngest of three but I think, like you, I have managed to develop a sense of authority despite being the youngest. I think the trait I have picked up from that role is that I play dumb and get people to do things for me. I’ll perhaps give this some thought for a post of my own on being the youngest!


    Comment by sanstorm — November 6, 2014 @ 9:07 pm | Reply

  3. Being the youngest and the “baby” as well, I’m on the other end of the spectrum. I recognize the type, though, in my older brother, the oldest in my family.

    Only children are an interesting species as well, don’t you think? They combine the oldest and the “baby” in their mindset, and I have three only children in my current family, odd as that sounds.


    Comment by Thomas J. Hubschman — November 8, 2014 @ 2:32 am | Reply

    • We’re only agreeing with Adler when we say that one’s position in the family has life-long implications. You may already know this, but you are a typical example of “the baby,” who often turns out to be the most creative in a family. The oldest might become CEO’s and managers and school principals. But they (we) aren’t rule-breakers, which on some level is the sine-qua-non of creativity. The “only’s” are harder to predict. Do they become so self-centered that they are unaware of others’ needs? Do they become overly responsible, blaming themselves (and never their parents or circumstances beyond their control) for anything that goes wrong? Or conversely, high achievers because so much is invested (sometimes financially, sometimes psychologically, sometimes both) in their success? Etc.

      Fascinating, isn’t it?

      On Sat, Nov 8, 2014 at 2:32 AM, The Other I wrote:



      Comment by Terry Sissons — November 8, 2014 @ 2:22 pm | Reply

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