Living in the shadow

I am told it’s not easy living in an older sibling’s shadow. Constantly being compared, usually unfavourably, by parents and teachers. You’re not as good at maths as your older brother, you’re not as well-behaved as your sister…

If that’s hard, imagine how much harder it must be to be living in the shadow of your younger brother. That’s what my eldest son has to deal with every day of his life and it’s not easy. There are two years and four months between my boys, and three whole school years. Yet my younger son is constantly snapping at my eldest’s heels in whatever he does.

It’s not that my eldest is bad at stuff. He isn’t. He got two Level 5s (above what he should do) and a Level 4 in his SATs recently. His younger brother is just so much better.

Take every parent’s favourite way of comparing ‘intelligence’. Reading. By the end of year 1, my younger son was just one reading level down from his brother (12th out of 14 colour bands). Two months into year 2, and they were on the same level. And let’s not forget, my eldest isn’t stupid. He’s above average at everything.

Just before Christmas 2010, my younger son started playing football and my eldest started playing rugby. Apart from the inconvenience of one being on a Saturday morning and the other being on a Sunday, I was glad they were doing something independently of each other and my eldest might get the chance to shine away from his brother. Having never played rugby before, he literally threw himself in, and he surprised and impressed us all with how quickly he developed and how soon he fitted in with a team of experienced players.

We gave him lots of praise. I was happy for him to be there on his own, but Daddy had other ideas. If he was going to be at the rugby ground with my eldest, surely he might as well take my younger son too? I pointed out this wasn’t in my eldest’s interests. I knew exactly what would happen. My little boy would stroll in and be brilliant, completely taking the shine off his older brother’s hard work.

And so I was proved right. After about three months, we all caved in and my younger son went off to rugby. They’re not in the same team, but they’re in the same club. My little boy waltzed in, having never picked up a rugby ball, and was brilliant as predicted. Right from the start, he was one of the best and by the end of his first full season this year, he’d walked away with the coach’s player of the year trophy.

When it comes to big tournaments, my youngest won’t be left out for five games and crying tears of pure anger, accompanied by a tearful mother, like his brother. No, he will be in the A team, one of the chosen ones, first choice in every game.

My eldest plays violin. It is probably the only thing he can do that his brother can’t. After a shaky start when he really didn’t get it at all, he plays very well. His timing is good and his notes sound perfect to me (although I don’t have a musical bone in my body). He reads music well and genuinely enjoys playing. He played in the school Christmas concert last year and in a summer concert at school earlier this year. He gets LOTS of praise for his violin. He’s just done his Grade 1 and we are waiting for the result.

Now my younger son is in year 3, he can play a musical instrument. Because he is so clever, I actually think it is important that he does sport and music to give him another outlet for his talents. To keep him busy and keep him out of mischief.

I didn’t mind what he played, apart from one thing. NO VIOLIN. We have bought violins. We have three of the buggers hanging around the house, they will be used again, but by my daughter, not my son. I couldn’t have him muscling in and being good at the one remaining thing which sets his brother apart from him. So B2 is playing guitar and, yes, he is doing very well.

You may wonder how my eldest copes. With a combination of anger, jealousy and pride. The anger and jealousy show themselves at home. Not all the time, but every now and then it does get a bit much for him. But outside the house it’s all about pride. Showing off, even. He will tell anyone that will listen how clever his brother is and how good his brother is at football. If people don’t believe how clever he is, my eldest will go inside to get his brother’s reading book out to show them.

Author: Sarah Mummy

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6 Comments

  1. I loved this post. It doesn’t give a solution, just tells it like it is. The most telling bit though is B1’s pride in his younger brother’ s ability. You have got two wonderful sons there (and I’m sure a wonderful daughter too) and they will both come through ok. Your elder son may even end up the better equipped for real life, having learnt the hard lesson that gifts are not fairly distributed at such a young age! Well done all of you.

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  2. It is really tricky and I can sympathise as R and L are 18 months apart and although they are both very intelligent, L is a bit cleverer than R and the school wanted to move him up a year but then they would be in the same year and I knew how it would affect R. Luckily when it comes to sport, R is very good and L is still young and a bit clumsy and less focused than his brother. It must be difficult for you, I think you are right to try and give your eldest son his own activities, and I know that that is not always easy, but it will help

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  3. Thanks very much, ladies 🙂
    I have a lot of posts like this, Griselda. I write about situations affecting me that I’m sure others will relate to, but I don’t often have the answers, we just do the best we can!
    It is lovely that my eldest is proud of his little brother – they are actually the best of friends and they adore each other.
    Thanks for taking the time to comment, I really appreciate it.

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  4. Thanks, Nicola, I know you can relate to this one! We were offered the chance to move my son up in Year 1, but it was his decision to stay put. He is lucky that although he is the cleverest, there is a group of really high achieving boys in his class who are all really good friends. He is so sociable that he doesn’t judge others, even though he knows he is a bit different. And all the kids adore him!
    I think Level 6 SATs will be great for him, as we were told his maths was already at Level 4 at the start of Y2 and his teacher was worried there would be nowhere for him to go from Year 4 onwards. (He will be in Y4 from September)
    It’s unfortunate for my eldest that my younger boy is also so good at sport. Hopefully he will find other areas to blossom in as he moves into secondary school. They will go to different secondary schools, so they will be separate from now on.
    Thanks very much for commenting x

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  5. love this Sarah, I dont think that you will ever have the answers but i love your honesty honey :-0 xx

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  6. I don’t remember reading this one at all before….unbelievable! So we have the same situation here but this time it’s with my middle one and youngest. Despite being in year 3 and she in year 6, he is already on a higher Maths paper than her and got a 4a in the end of term tests whilst she got a 4b. Despite her having difficulty at times, she too boasts of his skills to her friends. Secretly I think she finds it you. Like you, we have made every effort to find something she is good/better at than the others and encourage her in it – hers is performing and art, the other two hate being in stage! You’re doing everything right I would say 🙂

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