This last month or so of the year is a pretty intense one for family gatherings; you might be able to go all year without seeing your siblings. But when the holidays roll around, there's at least one family gathering that you can't blow off without looking like a jerk.
And that leads to sitting across a table from someone you might know both extremely well and not at all: Your brother or sister. Whether your relationship is marked by love, hate, sibling rivalry, competition, or some combination of all of them, you probably fall into one of these categories and so do they.
The Golden Child: Can do no wrong. You can slave over an entire holiday feast while they bring the bread. Guess what Mom will gush about? Not too bad if they don't believe the hype about themselves, nearly insufferable if they want very much to retain the position.
The Black Sheep: Likely to show up drunk, high, with a terrifyingly tacky significant other in tow, or at least wickedly hungover. Entertaining; definitely try to wangle a seat next to them at dinner. Also sometimes kind of pathetic. Delights in ribbing the Golden Child.
The High and Mighty: Will. Not. Stop. Yapping ... about whatever his or her current passion is, and makes it clear that they are so glad they outgrew the rest of you losers and found attachment parenting/cloth diapering/law school. Their child will invariably be the one to slug his cousin. Incredibly annoying. Angling for Golden Child status and probably attempts closeness with the holder of the crown.
The Celebrity Guest: Just like a celeb "stunt-cast" on a TV show, this sibling comes home from wherever they moved to once every few years, does the quick "pop-in," and is treated to wild applause and admiration. If you don't drop everything when they show, you will pay. Cordial with everyone, close with no one.
The Martyr: The gifts are handmade, the chocolate is fair trade, and she shows up to dinner late because she was shuttling around seniors who had no other way to get to their families for the holidays. Likes to tell you all about how they've been helping your aging parents "but I know you're so busy, Sweetie, no one expects you to do the same ... are the kids in school all day now, then?" Sometimes the reformed version of the Black Sheep, closest with the High and Mighty, hates the Celebrity Guest.
You've got to wonder how some siblings can be like peas in a pod and some can be so different as to question how you ended up in the same family. Researchers are actually studying sibling relationships, noting they can be among our most influential and have been largely overlooked.
To me, the theory that seems to make the most sense is that our parents treat siblings differently, even when they try really, really hard not to. In many ways, we grow up in very different environments even if we're fairly close in age.
For example, if the primary breadwinner goes through a long period of unemployment, one sibling might think of their family as being on the edge financially, while another, who was out of the house at college and didn't see Mom juggle the bills, might say they were well-off and never worried about money. Each will respond to that in different ways in their adult lives, ways which can make the other sibling roll their eyes clean out of their heads. Throw in rivalries, different life situations, and even spouses, and that can make for one fraught Christmas dinner.
Does this sound like you and your siblings?
Image via TimothyJ/Flickr