‘What the hell does birth order have anything to do with it?’ asked a close friend.
Exasperated I replied, ‘well a lot! Trust me when I say that.’
Some years ago, we sat discussing daughter-in-law issues that we were facing. Some sounded similar, some felt ridiculous while still others felt like it couldn’t happen to us. But mostly they reflected our experiences – direct or from people we knew.
As the eldest son, with a brother six years younger, my husband always had to be careful about what he said and did – a fact imposed on him during his growing up years. He was informed that ‘your brother will emulate you so you must be careful about how you behave, react, respond and manage situations.’
As for me, I was the youngest in the family. I was my own person – didn’t want to emulate my sister, had an opinion about everything, did as I pleased (of course within certain boundaries as I didn’t always rebel without a cause). Before her marriage, my sister loved to cook new dishes, take care of the house and decorate it. She was adept at managing complaining relatives, her quick wit ensured that as a family we always got out of sticky situations with relatives. I was nothing like her – which means that after the marriage too I didn’t have any of her skills to manage the new situations that arose.
I did live up to most of my parents’ expectation of me but mostly they weren’t very demanding so life wasn’t difficult. While dating too, I was able to be ‘me’ as my would-be-husband was always accommodating and accepting of me as a person. But of course life changed after the wedding!
We both had a strong attachment to our families. I think the difference was that his sense of responsibility to his family clearly stood out. Growing up in a nuclear family meant that I’d seen my parents always taking care of themselves as there was no one else to depend on. That gave me the sense of being very independent minded too. During a crisis, I always felt like we didn’t need anyone else, we were capable of managing it by ourselves. My husband didn’t see it that way. He had no qualms about depending on family or extended family. His justification was that they were family, after all. To a large extent he was right. On numerous occasions I had seen the family come together and shoulder responsibilities. Simultaneously he proactively sought out instances when he offered to help the family. I, on the other hand, even if it had anything to do with my family waited for them to ask for help. I wasn’t being rude, just that I wanted them to be comfortable about asking for support before I extended it. And, of course, there have been times I’ve misunderstood someone’s inability to ask as not requiring my help!
Growing up years I had my sister to pick up where I’d left off. It took me a while to realise that ‘that assumption was baseless’ as at my in-laws the expectation was from me direct! There was no one and even my husband couldn’t always do it. After all, we were a team and had to do this together. Initially it was really difficult as I had to behave contrary to who I really was.
Now when I look back and think about it, I feel, perhaps it is best to marry the most opposite birth order position – like us as we’ve both complimented each other’s failings. His practicality balanced my impulsiveness. But not to say that it exempted us from adjustments and compromises!