Join Date: Jul 2003
Location: In the middle of nowhere, at the centre of everything.
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Siblings' roles in forming identity
Our family dynamics are in flux this summer, and that's got me thinking about this issue. It seems to me that unschooled kids, since they don't have the tangibility of grade levels and age-levelled peer groups with which to orient themselves, have their identities formed to a far greater extent by their family members. Which in our case means siblings play a huge role.
I look at the schooled kids we know, and they think of themselves belonging to a certain social order based on their age and grade placement. This gives them an identity which influences their sibling relationships. Older siblings think of themselves as belonging to a category of more sophisticated, mature, knowledgeable and capable people than their little brothers or sisters. Younger siblings look at their older siblings' peer group as representing a model of their own futures. The linearity and simplicity of the school model of ages and grades gives kids an easy way of viewing their own growth as compared to their siblings'. Not that this is necessarily toxic. Not that it necessarily distances siblings from each other. I imagine that sometimes it could reduce tensions and rivalries for each child to have a clear identity that is separate from home and family. Though obviously I think there's the risk that it could create a hierarchical model between siblings: in school you get bigger and smarter and more capable each year, so the older siblings are by implication better than their younger siblings.
But with my own kids there isn't that linearity and separateness based on age. Things are much more fluid. Progress is more asynchronous, and we tend to view it through the lens of process rather than by benchmarks. And family relationships don't have to encompass the hierarchical system of age-levelled school grades.
My oldest three are quite close in age and played and learned together a lot during their formative years. Their skills and interests overlapped, and their level of mastery wasn't necessarily predicted by their age. But my youngest, born four years after her next-older sibling, was too little to be part of that world and has always been clearly younger and less capable. Yet her desire to become a part of their world has driven her to unprecedented levels of precocity. Which has I think led to a little bit of resentment ... she is, to an extent, that little sister who is always annoyingly trying to keep up. And even more annoyingly, sometimes managing to do so very well indeed.
My ds (now 17) has tended to be the hardest on her. She came to understand his dry sarcastic wit pretty young but her temperament is easy-going and resilient, so she coped very well with his subtle and not-so-subtle derisive comments. Over the past six months, though, as he's begun to form a solid idea of who he is and what his independent path will be going forth, he's been much more appreciative of her. The two of them have found comfortable sense of who they are, and their relationship has been more like a friendship than it ever was.
He's working at a museum in town this summer, and yesterday Fiona's dance instructor came through the doors for a tour. They were chatting and my ds told the dance teacher who his sister was. The teacher responded enthusiastically, and explained [off the record] that Fiona was his favourite in the class, so bright and with such a great sense of humour and always on-task and willing to help out. And it totally melted my heart to hear this. Not, I should say, to hear what the dance instructor had said about Fiona, but to hear that my ds was more proud than resentful of the impression his sister had made, proud enough to share it with me. He was clearly very pleased.
I think that being unschooled amongst siblings made my elder three very accepting of differences that fly in the face of age- and grade-levelled expectations -- or any expectations, really. I think that being an unschooled sibling has fueled my youngest's precocity but also helped make her emotionally very emotionally resilient. I think that all my kids' senses of identity (as separate from but also as related to their siblings) are more authentic and complex then they would have been if they'd been separated by age-groups and grade levels.
Those of you who also have multiple children, how do you think the dynamics between them and their formation of personal identities have been affected by the fact that they've been unschooled? In your experience is it harder but ultimately better in an unschooling family, or is it just harder, or just better, or not better at all? Or is it too early for you to really have a sense of how it will all flesh out?
Mountain mama to two great kids and two great grown-ups
Last edited by moominmamma; 07-19-2014 at 08:41 PM.