The more the merrier? Differing family dynamics affect quality of childhood

Gabriella Backus, Editor-In-Chief

Family dynamics are convoluted, messy and sometimes filled with drama. No matter how crazy you think your family might be, it’s undeniable that the family you are born into shapes your personality. Psychologists have turned their attention to a more complicated question — does family size matter?
Unfortunately for children in large families, recent research has found that the amount of time parents spend with their children, or the lack thereof, is essential to the child’s development; for every new sibling, the “quality” of their childhood declines in terms of care and cost.
In larger families, parents inevitably spend less time parenting per child, which has proven detrimental to development. The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics database surveying 12,000 men and women across four decades, found that, as family size grew, individualized parental involvement declined; as a result, the kids of larger families end up with lower education and earnings, more criminal charges and a higher rate of teenage pregnancy.
Not only do kids in larger families miss out on parental care, they statistically get less. According to a report from the Department of Agriculture, the average cost of raising a kid in 2017 was $233,610. In a big family, this number decreases, and kids may be encouraged to find jobs early to pay for their own expenses.
“There are times when less money gets spent on the older kids and the younger kids get whatever they want,” sophomore Max Moreno, who has nine siblings, said.
Although there are downfalls to a large family, some argue having many siblings is favorable. Having many siblings encourages social agreeability, and taking responsibility for younger siblings makes the eldest children natural leaders and caretakers.
Senior Ben Gyman, who has six siblings, fondly remembers intimate moments with his siblings that made them closer.
“When we were younger, we would always play together and go exploring,” Gyman said. “My siblings have definitely taught me what to do and what not to do; without them, I’d be a different person. I have so many good memories with them… I wouldn’t have gotten that if I didn’t have so many siblings.”
Gyman’s sentiments are echoed in the infamous “only child syndrome,” the belief that those without siblings will grow up selfish and greedy. Because an only child never has to compete with other siblings, he or she has their parents’ undivided attention — forever! Some believe they also may suffer from a lack of responsibility that many children who take care of their younger siblings develop.
A Chinese study conducted in 2017 found that while only children outperformed those with siblings on creativity, they scored lower on “agreeable” personality traits, such as selfishness, dependency, and social amiability.
Sophomore Lillian Huang, an only child, disagrees with the attention-hungry stereotype only children often battle.
“My parents already give me enough attention since I’m an only child,” Huang said. “So, there is no reason to crave more attention.”
Birth order can also affect a child’s personality. Older children benefit from their parents’ undivided attention, which may lead them to be more confident and self-assured. Assuming a parental role can make older siblings more compassionate.
“When my baby brother was born I was 10,” senior Juanita Watkins, who has four younger brothers, said. “I was in charge of changing diapers and bottles, anything. He even slept with me. I felt like his mom a lot and I feel like I raised him.”
Second born, or middle children, learn from their older sibling but may feel inferior or jealous. They may also feel left out or invisible to their parents, which leads them to be competitive or become a people pleaser, as they have to work harder to gain attention.
“My oldest [sibling] had stricter rules than me, and my youngest had less strict rules than me,” sophomore Grant Aistrup, who is a middle child, said. “Being the first child, [my older sister] got the hard rules. My mom calls her the ‘test child.’”
Youngest children benefit from less restrictive and high-pressure parenting. They are more free-willed and can be manipulative, as they are used to getting what they want. However, like senior Jafari Binder, who is the youngest of seven, they can also be subject to overbearing expectations lost on older siblings.
“Growing up, my parents were ridiculously strict on me [because] my older siblings fell short of my parents’ expectations, until the last school year,” Binder said. “They are less restrictive right now because the past three years I’ve been more than adequate in grades, but definitely the first three years of high school they were constantly on me so I wouldn’t end up like my older siblings.”