[Two Pronged] I’m the eldest child. My parents make me discipline my siblings, so now I have a dysfunctional relationship with them.

Margarita Holmes, Jeremy Baer

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[Two Pronged] I’m the eldest child. My parents make me discipline my siblings, so now I have a dysfunctional relationship with them.
'As much as I want to bond with them, I feel too overpowered by my anger because I’m still the only one who’s expected to help my mother with chores, while my siblings get to just lay around on their phones'

Rappler’s Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr. Margarita Holmes.

Jeremy has a master’s degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in three continents, he has been training with Dr. Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives

Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.

I am now 24, the eldest child among three siblings. Growing up, I have experienced being hit and scolded by my parents whenever I misbehaved. I have a 5-year age gap with my brother and 11 with my sister. My brother only experienced punishment until he was around 10 even though he was worse than me. I got hit for accidentally breaking a glass and a plate. I got slapped for not welcoming the “visitors” downstairs but they were just my cousins who will go up to my room anyway. They made my lips bleed for uttering a bad word as a 3- or 4-year-old child who didn’t even know what that word meant.
But. my brother, who tried smoking in 4th grade, who had failing grades in his card, who had been called to the guidance office for misbehavior, and many more, had only received scolding. They did not even take away his gadgets nor prohibit him from playing outside.

Meanwhile, my sister only receives a bit of scolding and more on the silent treatment when she makes my parents mad. While I don’t believe in hitting one’s children to discipline them, a part of me is upset that they are both growing up with no manners. I’m quite annoyed with my parents also that they don’t have the guts to discipline them, and would pass that responsibility to me.

My mom would say, “Pagsabihan mo nga ‘yan, s a’yo lang naman nakikinig ‘yan (Reprimand them, they only listen to you anyway), or “Hayaan mo na, ganyan na talaga ugali niyan. Wala na tayong magagawa (Just let it go, that’s how they are. We can’t do anything about it). Now I have a dysfunctional relationship with my siblings. I only talk to them when needed. As much as I want to bond with them, I feel too overpowered by my anger because I’m still the only one who’s expected to help my mother with chores, while my siblings get to just lay around on their phones.

I am disappointed with how they grew up to be. Is there a way I can change my perspective to allow myself to work on our relationship?


Dear Ate,

Families worldwide are influenced by culture and sociobiology. Just consider these few examples, in no particular order: The rights and burdens of birth order, particularly as they affect the eldest; differing expectations for boys and girls, especially in the area of sexuality; the expectation that unmarried daughters take care of their parents in old age; the expectation that the first child starts work as soon as possible to pay for their siblings’ education; the burden on an OFW sibling to support their immediate family and often the extended family as well; in some countries the restrictions placed on the rights of women, including being married off as child brides.

Your experience, Ate, illustrates how these influences have impinged on your life. As highlighted in our column last week, parents have little or no experience when they start the long process of raising their children. As the eldest, you have had to bear the brunt of the learning curve your own parents went through. Like so many, they started strictly but as the family grew pragmatism and experience supplanted discipline and they became more relaxed with your siblings, a mindset that has continued to this day. Not only have you had to live with the hard line your parents imposed but the 5-year gap between you and the second born means that you have been forced to bear a responsibility that never fell to your siblings. As they are younger by a considerable margin, their lives have been comparatively carefree while your role has been to set an example.

While your frustration with the disparity in treatment is understandable, it seems your anger towards your siblings is misdirected. Surely it is your parents who are responsible for this situation and your parents who at least theoretically could do things differently if they so chose. However, few and far between are those parents who take kindly to receiving advice on child rearing from their own offspring, especially in a culture which values filial piety. This does not mean that you would not benefit from a calm and rational discussion with them about the differences between the way they treat the three of you.

You could also consider rebooting your relationships with your siblings, basing them not on their failures to be mirror images of you but on what you have in common and how you would ideally like to interact in the future. If you need external guidance with any of this, family therapy is an obvious option.

All the best,


Dear Ate:

Thank you very much for your letter. I am so sorry about all you had to go through. Many would call it physical AND emotional abuse. There is so much I want to say about your past, but with the space I have available I shall concentrate on your present life, okay? BUT not without asking you to learn about Adverse Childhood Experience/s (ACEs) and seeing how much of it refers to you. After, you can write us again if you wish and we can talk about your past, vis-a-vis ACEs or not, at greater length and in greater depth.

For now, let’s just say (because it is also true) that yes, you may have had trauma during your childhood that needs healing, but what is more important now is to focus on your present as much as you can. You can still change your present, you can do more about changing the trajectory of your relationships (especially with your siblings) than you can with your past which will have to start merely with analyzing, taking care of your “inner child” and (if able) forgiving your parents.

SO, just for this column, let’s hearken to the past only as it affects your present. Hopefully, you will have other opportunities to heal your past either with us, or with someone else, and/or through other means.

Yes, it will probably be extremely difficult because: You have been trained – with the slaps, physical punishment and most probably emotional abuse – to obey everything your parents told you to do, often without question. Disagreeing and thus changing your way of communicating will be frightening as hell, but worth it. Your siblings may be suspicious, even resentful, of your initial attempts to be their Ate, instead of the policeman/mini-me parent that your parents groomed you to be.

Despite these difficulties, I have no doubt you can do it. This isn’t bola (flattery), okay, Ate? This is based on what your letter tells me: You are honest enough to admit being overpowered by your anger. This is no small feat. First, it goes against what you have been groomed to do: never question your feelings (since your parents know best, and they have the fists to prove it). Even more than that, you also recognize that currently, you may not have the necessary resources to deal with it, hence the feeling of being overpowered. Not many people have the smarts and humility to admit that, especially to themselves.

The first step is to cut all unhealthy communication that concerns you. From now on, tell your siblings only things that come from your own brain and heart. No more speaking for your parents. From now on, your parents will have to take responsibility for scolding their own children.

They will probably ask: What happened to you? Why have you changed, all of a sudden, from an obedient child to the monster that you are now? These are questions tyrants ask when they notice they can no longer control their underlings like they used to. First, you are not a child. Second, this did not happen “all of a sudden,” Your anger grew, then festered, as you saw the injustice going on in your family not once or twice, but as a regular pattern in your family.

Your siblings will come round once you stop being the mini-them that your parents trained you to be. Once they realize that you were mainly the foot soldier and not the one issuing all the orders, they will want to bond with you. This fits in with the natural order of things.

This also serve you in good stead. Most parents who parentify their children (get them to do what ought to be their duty/responsibility) usually do it in not just one area, but also in others. The sooner you stop their attempts to mold you into being their mini me, the better for you. You are starting to become your own big me, and what a joy that will be (once the pain and the guilt start receding).

All my love and care,

MG Holmes


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