Friday, March 23, 2007

On Sibling Rivalry

I have two brothers. Harley has 13-million siblings, a couple dogs, and a goldfish (ok, I might be lying about the goldfish). I was thinking about this because the object of my derision, Amy Dickenson posted a question by someone who's sign-off was "Sandwiched Daughter."

After I grew up, and stopped giggling at the (I am sure unintentional) dirty comment, I began to think about my own situation. You see, I am the middle child. I am a "sandwiched daughter" with an older brother whose brilliance was never in question (although, sorry Pedant, sometimes your work ethic was), and a younger brother who is hilarious, but has managed to lower parental expectations of himself without lowering the level of affection they feel towards him. This was most recently demonstrated by a conversation with my father:

Father: In case something ever happens to me or Mom, I put the papers in your name.
Me: What?
Father: Yeah, I figured that if we're ever in a position where we can't make decisions, you'd be the best one. Pedant is too soft-hearted, and would probably leave us on the machines forever, and Baby Brother would pull the plug immediately. Mom and I thought that you'd probably be somewhere in between.
Me: Um, thanks?
Father: The papers are in [redacted location] with the rest of the emergency stuff.

For the record, he's probably right. At any rate, I read Amy's response, and again, agreed in part, but not whole with her advice, and thought that she lacked tact. For instance: I have recently come to the realization that really, it's ok that my parents didn't support my academic/athletic career in the same manner as they did for Baby Brother. He needed more enthusiasm, and when he was in high school, he was the only child at home. For much of my high school career I was one of two or three at home. Not to mention that my parents paid for college.

I kind of think that gives them a free pass. They gave birth to me, raised me with love and affection, so that I never wanted for anything, and THEN they paid for college. The deal was, I could go wherever I wanted, as long as my Dad could complain as much as he wanted. So when I have to take an extra train from the airport erev Pesach so that my Mom only has to drive 1o minutes rather than an hour to pick me up, or my parents insisted that I was ENTIRELY PACKED by the time they came to collect me in college, I don't really mind. Some of my friends have different deals with their parents, and that is great for them, and as much as I like to complain that the parents spoil Baby Brother, it is really just for the sake of nudging them.

That said, (back to Amy) while I think that I have an obligation to care for them in their old age, I don't think that a child should be punished for a parent's poor financial choices. Yeah, Sandwiched Daughter should help support her mother, but she should sit down with a financial planner and figure out how that can be done without hurting her children's college funds, or her retirement. One must balance obligation to family with obligation to oneself. Maybe Sandwiched mother should move closer to her children, so that they can give support in ways other than financial, and in return the mother could help with childcare. There are many options, but I don't think that this poor woman should feel like her only choices are to give money or to leave her mother out to dry.

As for me? My parents are totally moving in with me (living around the corner) when they get old and grey. If only because watching my Father interact with my (hypothetical) children would be hilarious.


The Pedant said...

Dad's totally right. I wouldn't have the 'rents cryogenically frozen, though, nor would I let a sinister NGO steal their brains for Alzheimer's research like on that one Law & Order: Space Roach.

Sarah said...

I completely agree in terms of obligation (both ways). I'm currently looking at paying out the nose for the boyfriend's mom's various ailments (self-induced for the most part) and debt (self-induced 100%). I think the fact that we're in NJ a lot of weekends helping out with the house (and, I might add, buying her a lot of stuff) is the end of the obligation (she didn't pay for college, and has never loaned the bf money or paid for things I consider parental, like toothpaste). But at this rate, we're going to be forking over for her future assisted living needs...

Of course, I'm happy to help out my parents--they've always treated me like an adult and our mutual obligations were always clear. I also know that they will never OD on glucose and make me pay their medical bills.

More a rant than a comment, really.