Published on Meld Magazine on Friday, 16 March 2012.
THE sister of two very talented and successful women, Marcella Purnama tells us why being the youngest child isn’t always as fantastic as everyone says it is.
Most people say the youngest child has it the easiest. They’re the spoiled ones who can’t do anything wrong, after all. But if you’re the youngest, like me, you’ll know that’s not true. Often it’s actually the opposite. We’re the ones who have it the hardest.
Generally speaking, the oldest child is usually the boss, the planner, the leader. They’re born with that natural instinct to lead and to find out about stuff, whether it be organising a holiday trip or asking a stranger how to get to the supermarket.
They’re the ones the parents turn to when they need something done. They’re usually more confident, more responsible, more stubborn and more opinionated. This is called the Oldest Child Syndrome, and my older sister is a perfect example.
The middle child is usually referred to as the “odd” one. Well, the theory is that the middle child can’t beat their older sibling in authority and they can’t beat their younger sibling at getting their parents’ attention, so they’re stuck in the middle.
Middle children are usually introverts who keep things to themselves. If the oldest child and youngest child have similar personalities, the middle child is usually at the other end of the rope by themselves. At least, my second sister is and she definitely has the Middle Child Syndrome.
The youngest child, as many of you know, is spoiled and more of a follower. They’re forever referred to as the baby – it’s a name that’s stuck with them for life. Even when they’ve grown up, their parents never really understand they’re no longer children.
The youngest child usually demands more attention from their parents and are a bit of a rebel. They’re too used to walking in the footsteps of their older siblings and that makes them want to break free and prove to the world that they’re different. At the very least, I do. This is the Youngest Child Syndrome.
Of course, there are plenty other syndromes, the Single Child Syndrome, Oldest Child being Male Syndrome, Youngest Child being Female Syndrome and whatever other combination you can think of, but in my family, we’re perfect examples of the Older, Middle and Youngest Child Syndromes.
When you have siblings, it’s hard to run away from the inevitable comparisons. I know, I’ve been there, and it’s not that my parents and teachers and friends want to do it, they just do it unconsciously.
When my parents try to correct my mistakes, they start their lectures by saying, “When she was your age, your older sister never…” and it goes on.
When you go to school, you go to the school your older siblings went to years ago. Usually you’re taught by the teachers who taught them earlier and they’ll inevitably make comments like, “Ah, you’re her little sister”. Immediately, deep down, you begin to question whether you’re on the same level as your older sibling. It’s inevitable.
Looking back, I took triple science and extension maths in senior high school because my sister took those same subjects before me. I chose to major in psychology and media and communication when I had the slightest freedom at university partly because I wanted to prove to the world that I was different. I wanted to shout that I was me and not my sister.
My parents know that, for sure. They love each of us for our distinct abilities and talents, but sometimes the unconscious comparison is still there, and when your older siblings are the closest living people to perfection, it gets even harder.
My oldest sister is the multi-talented one. She can sing well, dance well, perform well, play the piano and guitar and be the MC at any event. She is a natural leader, able to organise every party, every holiday trip without a single mistake. She is clever and is currently on her way to completing a PhD in Bioscience in Singapore.
When people look at her, they know she is the soul of the party. With her bubbly personality and her beautiful looks, it was little wonder she was prom queen and the boys worshipped at her feet. She is taken now, married to a wonderful guy a little more than a year ago.
My middle sister is the smart one. Have I told you that her UAI (Universities Admission Index, now called ATAR – Australian Tertiary Admission Rank) was 99.95? She was a science student and is now a doctor in Melbourne. Her friends love her and she always has the right values and morals.
She is a very good writer, and if she chose to be one, I believe her book would be the next number one international bestseller. Not to mention she has a very good eye for fashion and I trust my sister’s opinions even more than my own. She is a very good listener and a philosopher. She is kind, loving and gentle.
In summary, they’re the most perfect people I have ever known and I love them (I’ve also self-diagnosed myself as having a “sister complex obsession”).
But their perfection does nothing for my self esteem.
As far as people are concerned, I will always be someone’s “little sister”, especially when it comes to my middle sister. In high school, my teachers had the highest expectations of me because she held the unbeatable record of having the best UAI in the school’s history.
At home, my parents hope I’ll be more like her – easy to teach and someone who will adopt the right morals in life.
In church, it’s the same thing. I am her shadow. Coming to Melbourne four years after her made me “her little sister” all over again. On Sundays after church I never get asked to go to lunch if my sister isn’t there. Sadly, they never really think of welcoming me as a separate being. They just think of me as “her little sister”.
And maybe that’s why I’m trying so hard to be someone so different to my siblings.
Don’t get me wrong, I am immensely proud to be their little sister, they are everything an older sister can be.
But maybe, a part of me wants to be known as who I really am, without comparison to those who are very dear to me.
Sometimes, people forget that part.