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Feeling Unconnected to Older Siblings



QUESTION: I am a 36 year old male. I am the youngest in a family of 9 children, the next sibling is seven years my senior. Being that all my siblings were so much older than me, I feel like I was pretty much raised as an only child. Some of my nieces and nephews are my age and I feel closer to them than I do to my brothers and sisters.

When I married, we moved 8 hours from our rural Iowa home to St. Louis, MO. We have 3 children and we only get back to Iowa 1 to 2 times per year to see our parents. My parents are in their 80's and their health is an issue; my father has Alzheimer's and is living in a nursing home; my mother has recently moved to a retirement home. I very rarely have communication with my siblings.

Lately I have had strange feelings about what will happen when my parents are gone. I feel like I will have no one to go home to, I kind of feel alone.

I have some questions. Why do my older siblings seem to leave me "out" of the family? The only time I hear from them is an occasional birthday or Christmas card, or see some of them when we're home to see my parents. I found out about my father's Alzheimer's from a nephew! How should I try to become a brother? I don't know where to begin.

ANSWER: It is not unusual for a youngest child to feel the need for family more acutely than the older siblings. In a large family, children leave the nest while it is still quite full, while the youngest may experience greater loneliness and even some sense of abandonment in being the last to go. However, it may also be the case that other siblings in your family feel some sense of vague (or pronounced) disconnection as well. Do not be afraid to be the voice for maintaining relationship in a family which may show weakness in this regard. Because you are the youngest does not mean you cannot take the lead!

It is often the case that large families with significant hiatuses between children to establish separately defined sibling "constellations". In large families, two or three children close in age may form an age cluster. Sometimes families can resemble two different families from the standpoints of the youngest and the eldest children, due to significant changes in economics and parenting skills and style that may have transpired by the time the last child is born.

It is also common for attachments to form between a younger sibling and an older "caretaking" sibling. However, in your situation there seemed to be little that bonded you to any of your other siblings, whether through age or attachment behaviors. And being left out of the loop with regard to information on your father's Alzheimer's diagnosis is clearly neglectful. No wonder you are feeling "left out" of the family!

Start by entitling yourself to information in the family and letting your siblings know that you wish to be contacted when health or other important issues come up for any family member. Take initiative to contact one or two siblings you feel will be the most receptive to you and make an effort to establish a connection. Talk about your parents, plans for taking care of them in their final years and even broaching the topic of their upcoming deaths and plans for handling this family passage.

Plan some family visits to as many siblings as possible, with the purpose of allowing contact to develop between not only yourself and your siblings, but your children and their cousins, aunts and uncles! Many families who have not been particularly close may welcome efforts for a reunion in later years, as maturity and an appreciation for relationship develops.

Perhaps your parents did not encourage a sense of connection between the siblings, or the circumstances of your childhood did not support much opportunity for sibling bonding. It is also conceivable that your mother's last pregnancy was an unwanted one, and though your parents grew bonded to you, your siblings acted out this unsaid tension in your family system. Or, if other siblings are close and you are not, you may simply be the caboose that became disconnected from the train and left behind on the track! But do not get stuck in powerlessness because you are the youngest.

Though you were at one time the "baby" of the family and could not take action on your own behalf, you are now a fully competent adult capable of influencing a change through initiation. It is likely that your parents may not have successfully inspired family traditions that could have helped you remain connected as adult siblings, and this may be the root of your familial disaffection. But now you can act on your own values for connection by establishing birthday and Christmas card exchanges on a consistent, instead of an intermittent basis. Your input is a part of your solution!

Once you have reestablished some connection with one or more siblings, begin asking what your siblings remember about your mother's pregnancy with you. You may uncover valuable family history which relates you to the period of time before you were born. Develop an understanding of your siblings experience in the family before your birth, including the atmosphere surrounding your parents' meeting and getting married. Perhaps a project like developing a family tree back through the generations would help you reconnect with your siblings and find a place in your own family's history.

You are a brother to eight siblings and this will never change. Any alienation that may have developed due to age differences and the lack of established family rituals for connection need not continue. Though you cannot bring back the past, you can begin to build a relationship with your siblings in the present. You are a member of the family. And as a member you have a right to influence your siblings to meet your needs for greater connection.

Whatever the reasons for your feelings of estrangement, it is critical that you not wait for others to come to you. Rather, take stock of your ability as an adult to initiate a change and get to know the brothers and sisters who hold information about your past history and are potential resources for your own children. Though you cannot recover time lost in your relationships in the past, you may be able to impact the connections possible for the future. Do not underestimate the power of your action or inaction. Your efforts to establish or refrain from connection with your siblings is a pivotal link for determining the relationships of the next generation!

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. She is a clinical member of The Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and a Diplomate with the National Association of Social Work. She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.



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