Family Dynamics

Brotherly Love and the Sibling Effect

Why your brothers and sisters are more important than you think.

Posted Sep 13, 2011

By Genevieve Gralton

Jeffery Kluger begins his book The Sibling Effect with a tale of sibling survival. In an all for one, one for all attempt at deceiving their ornery father, Kluger and his three brothers devised a plan they called the scatter drill. No, the boys weren't subject to any form of abuse, but their angry father did dole out occasional discipline and hard hits. So, in an effort to avoid such punishment for their rambunctious behavior the boys created a drill that mandated hiding in different areas of the play room, with the youngest brother crammed in the dangerous fuse cabinet. Of course their father and mother had no idea of this untoward plan; but that was precisely the point, Kluger explains. In the time it took their father to reach the play room Steve, Jeffery, Garry, and Bruce were nowhere to be found; the senior Kluger opened the door to an empty room. Sure, he left confused and annoyed, but the drill was harmoniously deployed.

In nostalgic fashion, void of sappiness, Kluger appropriately inserts his personal stories throughout this book.

And being the good science journalist he is, the author loads The Sibling Effect full with the latest research. For example, unlike the group mentality displayed by the Kluger boys outside the womb, rivalry can be fierce, literally, inside the womb. Take sand tiger sharks, these animals murder before they are even born. A mother shark releases fertilized eggs into her womb, the eggs hatch into fetal young, and then sibling competition begins. As soon as these baby sharks develop mouths and teeth they bite each other to death; the dead siblings become a food source for the surviving offspring. The last baby shark standing continues to live off additional eggs released. The baby shark is born, marking the end of the orgy of siblicide, as Kluger aptly coins the term.

The sand tiger shark is just one example of how nature handles the sibling effect. Kluger gives many more illustrations from the animal kingdom, showing that birth order and sibling rivalry abounds in many life forms. He even has an entry on egrets, explaining how the mother egret chooses one egg over others to promote its hatching and its dominance. Kluger also covers themes such as the golden child, not as a sole entity but as a child with the ability to help his siblings satisfy their craving for parental attention. And, not shy about tough topics, he writes about being the son of divorced parents; here, he again deploys personal storytelling however painful. Other touchy subject matter includes blended families with stories about siblings step, half, and full. He even discusses controversial areas such as the teen brain, teen pregnancy, and sibling violence.

But throughout the book, his main point is clear: Whether you have one sib or ten sibs, "there may be no relationship that can run quite as deep or survive quite as long as those among siblings."

Genevieve Gralton is a former PT intern.

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