Sibling rivalry has existed as long as families and has been a concern for most parents. Even though parents usually try to equally distribute their love among all their children, they do feel differently about them depending on their personalities, differing needs, dispositions and place in the family. Though they are known to be impartial, at times they may favor a child who they perceive to be similar to them, in terms of values and belief. Studies have revealed that kids who considered themselves closer to their mothers experienced less closeness with their siblings. Surprisingly, these children also reported higher depressive symptoms, especially when they were both favored and provided care by their mothers.
Among other reasons, being the target of sibling rivalry and feeling obligated towards their parents are two other important reasons that take a toll on their mental well-being. The influence of siblings on one another can be enormous and that parental favoritism is associated with lower self-esteem and higher rates of anxiety and depression in the favored child.
What causes sibling rivalry?
Studies suggest that children are highly sensitive of how they’re being treated by their parents. They may pick up on any kind of disparity and act out to get attention. When a parent showers more love and attention to his or her favorite child and is unable to monitor the problems between children, often the siblings and their relationships suffer. The following reasons can be held responsible for conflicts among the young siblings:
- Position in the family: Based on age and maturity level, the oldest child may be burdened with responsibilities of the younger children. At times, a younger child makes concerted efforts to be at par with the older sibling, even if it damages his self-esteem or psychological well-being.
- Gender: In certain families, a son may hate his sister because parents are gentler with her, while a daughter may wish she could go on outdoor trips more often like her brother.
- Age: With rising age, siblings may become poles apart in terms of behavior and habits.
Study on siblings in midlife
Apparently, these feelings don’t diminish with time and can take a toll even on the favored, leading to depression and anxiety in them. A study by researchers at Purdue University suggests that adults who believe they are their mother’s favorite child are at an increased risk of depression and anxiety. In the study, the researchers analyzed the data of 725 adults, with their mothers aged between 65 and 75 years, from 309 families. Starting in 2001, the study was conducted in two phases seven years apart.
The researchers focused on the children’s relationships with their mothers with greater emphasis on four dimensions of favoritism – emotional closeness, conflict, pride and disappointment. Interestingly, the siblings continued to compare themselves with each other well into middle age and these constant appraisal and judgments were the root cause of unhappiness. The children who were closer to their mothers were more likely to experience tension from their siblings and feel a greater responsibility for taking care of their aging mothers.
The findings shed light on the role of relationships among adult siblings in midlife, by taking into consideration the children’s perception regarding their mother’s favoritism.
“Adult children who reported that they were most emotionally close to their mothers also reported higher depressive symptoms,” the study found. “Depressive symptoms were also higher when respondents identified themselves as being the children with whom their mothers had the greatest conflict, and in whom the mothers were most disappointed,” it said.
The way forward
Whatever be the cause of anxiety or depression, it is treatable – the sooner the better. Psychotherapy can help in case of mild to moderate anxiety disorders and depression as it works by understanding and changing thoughts and behaviors that contribute to how your children feel. Most children are usually unable to get over their problem without professional help.
If your loved one is dealing with an anxiety disorder that needs medical intervention, get in touch with one of the good anxiety treatment centers.