The loss of parents has devastating effects on the lives of the children. Suddenly, the children have to learn to exist without the comfort and sense of re-assurance that parents tend to give to their children – whether young or old.
The absence of parents makes the children relate to each other in a different manner. In most cases, the elder siblings tend to take up the parental role; however, unprepared they are, and the subsequent relations between the elder and younger siblings often bring out certain character traits and qualities in them as individuals.
The relationship between siblings whose parents are absent due to death or other factors and the subsequent life struggles the siblings endure, frequently bring out certain qualities and characteristics in them. Mostly, the elder siblings develop a responsible, tough, and unselfish personality, while the younger siblings often become dependent and irresponsible; all siblings, however, acquire sacrificial qualities in the end.
In the absence of parents due to death or other factors, elder siblings conventionally have to step in and play the parental role, making these elder siblings become responsible and focused individuals. Inevitably, many elder siblings are suddenly faced with the responsibility of taking care of their younger siblings, filling in the void left by the absent parents.
Many of the actions of the elder siblings are geared towards providing a sense of emotional and situational balance for the younger siblings, who are more heavily affected by the absence of the parents (Dunn 788). In most cases, the elder siblings, as a result, become highly responsible and focused individuals.
In the instance where the age gap between the eldest siblings and the younger one(s) is significant, the elder sibling often becomes a veritable parent to the younger siblings. If the eldest sibling is involved in any income-earning activity, he or she will be the breadwinner for the younger siblings as expected, and will have to accommodate the needs of the younger siblings in all the plans he or she makes.
Out of the relationship between the elder sibling and the younger siblings, in which the elder sibling has to play the ‘parent’ role, a keen sense of responsibility develops in the elder siblings. The elder sibling, regardless of age, has to become the guardian to the younger siblings, and such a responsibility creates a responsible character in the elder siblings.
The elder siblings often have to endure more hardships and have to forfeit their own leisure, freedom, and feelings of hurt and abandonment from the absence of parents for the sake of the younger siblings. The elder siblings thus become tough and almost emotionally inexpressive due to this.
Because the pain from parental loss is indiscriminate, it affects, hurts, and leaves the older siblings scared and abandoned in the same manner it does the younger siblings. However, the older siblings are not given the opportunity to grieve or express these emotions because they immediately have to fill in the physical and emotional gap left in the family due to the death of parents.
Because the elder siblings have to be emotionally strong for the younger siblings, they perfect the art of hiding their feelings. Moreover, given that the elder siblings are expected to be the role model and a source of refuge for the younger siblings when life for these younger siblings gets a bit tough, the elder siblings do not get a chance to ‘wear their hearts on their sleeves’.
Even when the occasion calls for a bit of emotional expressiveness, the elder siblings will frequently tend to feign a sense of indifference to the situation, so that the younger siblings can get the chance to vent their anger and express their emotions. According to Schlomer et al, whenever the family is in a crisis, the siblings turn to each other for emotional support…crises like divorce, parental separation, terminal illnesses in a parent, or death of a parent push the siblings to turn to each other (290).
If the sibling age difference is substantial, the elder sibling has to be emotionally competent for the younger sibling(s). Therefore, in most cases, the elder siblings do not usually get the personal opportunity to express their feelings, and thus become emotionally inexpressive and find it harder to express their feelings freely.
Additionally, younger siblings are likely to exploit the abundant kindness shown to them by their elder siblings, thereby developing carefree attitudes and cultivating a culture of being irresponsible. The benefits of having strong sibling relations, however, tend to be exploited by the younger siblings sometimes. According to Kramer and Conger, modeling is not the only way that younger siblings learn from their elder siblings.
Even though younger siblings tend to endeavor to emulate the behavior of the elder siblings, the reverse is also true (4). The influence of peers on the younger siblings tends to be stronger than that of the model elder sibling. Therefore, if the younger sibling does not share mutual friends with the elder sibling, then the influence of the younger sibling’s friends overrides that of the elder siblings in most cases.
Subsequently, as the responsible elder siblings endeavor to make the life of the younger sibling better, the younger siblings sometimes take advantage and exploit this kindness for their own selfish ends. Kramer and Conger, for instance, state that the younger siblings are more likely to drop out of school due to early pregnancies or substance abuse whilst cohabiting with the elder sibling.
Furthermore, when the elder sibling sets standards in life and educational achievement that the younger sibling may find impossible to emulate, the younger sibling channels these frustrations into self-harmful habits such as drug abuse and become more susceptible to negative peer influence (6). As a result, the younger siblings develop a careless approach to life issues and become irresponsible.
Elder siblings, for the sake of their younger siblings, often plan their individual lives to fit to the needs of their younger siblings. The elder siblings thus develop unselfish characteristics.
The relationship amongst siblings involves many dynamics. There is a direct relationship between how the younger sibling eventually makes his or her life choices in adulthood. Such relationship also exists in the influence of the elder sibling on the younger sibling’s life.
Gerbert states that, when the elder sibling is supportive of the younger sibling(s), the younger siblings turn out to be more competent than a child who does not receive the emotional, social, and material support of an elder sibling (1389). Such a positive influence by the elder sibling indicates an unselfish characteristic.
Oftentimes, hardships endured together strengthen the relationship between siblings; they are more adjusted to life’s common hardships, and such siblings are able to sacrifice their individual desires, dreams, and hopes for the sake of their siblings. These siblings thus mutually develop sacrificial attitudes and characters.
The loss of parents, especially in childhood leaves the siblings little option but to draw strength from each other as they grow up. According to Mack, siblings who lose their parents when they are young tend to have stronger adult relationships than siblings who lose their parents as adults (145).
As they grow older, these siblings learn to draw strength and inspiration from each other, and the realization that they have only each other for support buttresses these relationships. For instance, the shared struggles between the two brothers, the narrator and Sonny, eventually strengthen their relationship. Having overcome their initial relations, the two brothers in “Sonny’s Blues” get to appreciate each other’s exclusive dreams and desires in life.
Therefore, the loss of parents has the effect of strengthening sibling relations overall, especially if the loss occurs when the children are young. These siblings, in most cases, are thus able and willing to sacrifice for each other and thus acquire a sacrificial character especially towards each other and those close to them.
In Conclusion, how siblings relate to each other, especially in the absence of parents, functions to bring out certain characteristics and personalities in the siblings in most cases. The sudden departure of a parent from the family scene has a significant effect on the immediate and future well-being of the children. Most of the time, the children have to make emotional, moral, social and even economic re-adjustments to their lives.
All these re-adjustments make the siblings turn to each other for support and re-assurance and such a relationship brings out certain qualities in the siblings. The elder siblings tend to be responsible, emotionally mature, and altruistic, while the younger siblings tend to be irresponsible. Both of them eventually do develop a mutual respect and love for each other, based on shared difficult life experiences as siblings whose parents are absent.
Dunn, Judy. “Sibling Relationships in Early Childhood.” Child Development 54.4 (1983): 787-811.
Gerbert, Haselager. “Perceived support in sibling relationships and adolescent adjustment.” Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry 45.8 (2004): 1385-1396.
Kramer, Laurie, and Katherine J. Conger. “What we learn from our sisters and brothers: For better or for worse.” New Directions for Child & Adolescent Development 2009.126 (2009): 1-12.
Mack, Kristin. “The effects of early parental death on sibling relationships in later life.” Omega: Journal of Death & Dying 49.2 (2004): 131-148.
Schlomer, Gabriel, Bruce Ellis, and Judy Garber. “Mother–Child Conflict and Sibling Relatedness: A Test of Hypotheses from Parent–Offspring Conflict Theory.” Journal of Research on Adolescence 20.2 (2010): 287-306.