Standing in the Shadows

By Laura Theobald on September 02, 2013
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It was weird seeing her older sister in the halls at high school, senior Stacey Schroeder says. Sometimes her sister, then a senior, would pass by the then-freshman and completely ignore her.

“Usually she would just walk right by me and not say one word to me,” Stacey said. “Unless she needed to tell me [that she was] staying later and could not give me a ride home.”

It was also hard living up to the standards that her straight-A sister set. Her sister always made the dean’s list, Stacey said. And all the teachers at Washington High School in Washington, Mo., assumed Stacey would be smart, too, because of it.

And Stacey isn’t alone in her older-sibling woes. Emily Horvath, a senior at Freemont High School in Irvington, Calif., says she’s compared to her older brother so often that most people don’t even refer to her as Emily, they refer to her as “Ian’s little sister”.

“My brother was a legend like Babe Ruth,” Emily said. “I will never even come close to anything he has done.”  

Find your own path 

Unfortunately, those comparisons are most likely always going to happen, said Bruce W. Barton, a licensed psychologist and family therapist in the northern suburbs of Minneapolis. It’s an automatic response called transference for people to assign traits of a person they know to a person they see as similar.

As a result, many students, including Emily and Stacey, have tried to find their own paths in life. Emily says she avoids sports and tries to rebel against peer pressure, where her brother was a jock and went along with the crowd. Stacey excels at shooting and hopes to win a scholarship for it rather than grades, like her sister did. While her sister is studying to be a pharmacist, Stacey says she plans to go into teaching.

“She studies all the time. She always carries a book with her,” Stacey said. “I have no interest in carrying a book everywhere I go.”  

Be yourself

These comparisons, said North Chicago Community High School guidance counselor Brian Reich, can be hurtful at times.

“It’s difficult for one (sibling) to have success and not the other,” he said. “There are a lot of tears that go on in the counselor’s office sometimes.”

To curb this, Barton said, teachers should vocalize only sibling comparisons that are positive and aimed toward the younger sibling.

When students do come to him with concerns of not being as great as an older sibling was, Reich said he tells students to just be themselves.

“Face the fact that you are yourself, and your actions will determine how we all perceive you and you how you learn and succeed in school,” he said.

On the flip side, Reich said, having an older sibling at the same school can be beneficial. Teachers are often more interested in students whose older siblings they’ve taught before, because they already have an interest in the family.

Plus, older siblings can offer introductions to new friends and teachers and share tips and insights they’ve learned from a few years’ head start on school. Emily says she also learns from her older brother’s mistakes and pitfalls of too much partying.

“Sometimes it hits me hard being compared constantly, but I just try to move on, try to be happy and realize that I’m still loved,” Emily said.

About the Author

Laura Theobald

Laura Theobald

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