Jeff, a 20-something college graduate, came into my (Leslie's) office unannounced.  He had been a student of mine a few years back and I knew he could always be counted on for a little levity. 

 

"Hey!" I said as he appeared at my door, "what's the joke of the day." 

 

"No jokes today, Doc." 

 

Jeff was notably different as we had a bit of idle conversation.  Then tears began to well up in Jeff's eyes.  He dropped his gaze and we sat together silently for a few seconds.  With a deep sigh, Jeff then revealed that his older brother, who was on a fast track in a very successful career, had been recently killed in a car accident. 

Suddenly, the happy-go-lucky Jeff, who had been content with his retail job at an outdoor equipment supplier, felt the mantle of "oldest and only son" falling on his shoulders.  Now that Jeff's role in the family had changed, everything about his future looked different.  

 

Birth order and sibling dynamics are significant factors in shaping one's role in the family. How we act has a lot to do with our family constellation; whether we are oldest or youngest, male or female, and so on.  The point is that roles played out within the family, just like unspoken rules, often develop into lifelong patterns of behavior that influence every other relationship we have.

 

Before his brother's death, Jeff's role in the family was as a fun-loving, carefree youngest child.  But the death of his brother had redefined the boundaries of Jeff's role in the family and created an identity crisis. 

Suddenly, Jeff looked at all of life differently.  His career, his putting off marriage, and his dreams were changing because his perceived role in his family had changed.  He now felt much more responsible.

 

Have you given much thought to your role in the home you grew up in?  What part did you play in your family's drama?  Consider the following roles to help you more accurately pinpoint your part.  Which one comes closest to describing you in relation to the rest of your family?

 

      Problem-solver: Always ready with a solution

      Victim: Pulling compassion and sympathy from others

      Rescuer: Diving into situations for somebody else's safety

      Comedian: Ready with a joke for comic relief