E has often remarked how my siblings and I have turned out so differently, despite being raised in the same home environment. One doesn't need to spend much time with us to notice our differences. To that, I have my own theories, which could probably also explain why E is so different from his siblings.
I have been pondering a lot lately. I figured being able to attribute our differences to some tangible causes may offer clues to some parenting issues that I have been grappling with.
Other than caning and scolding us when we misbehaved, I don't remember my parents spending time working on character building and instilling values. Just handling the daily grind was already more than they could bear. Though there were 'life lessons' in the form of nagging from my mum, it is hard to say how much of it really influenced us.
But there were several factors in my early childhood days that may have played a big role in shaping my character vis-a-vis my siblings'.
Notably, being aware of my dad's high expectations of me from a tender age gave me a sense of direction and a goal to work towards, even though at first, I was more motivated out of fear of being scolded by him than any genuine interest to do well academically. Oddly, my dad did not have the same high expectations towards my siblings. Perhaps he did at first, but when he realized they did not produce the results he wanted and was too tired to persevere with them, he gave up and just let them be.
By the time I topped my class in upper primary, I no longer needed him to motivate me with fear. I found the 'hunger' I needed to fuel my effort. I set goals for myself and began to work real hard just to defend my 'position' in class. From then on, there was no stopping me in achieving academic success or whatever I set my mind on. The competitive streak stuck with me even after I left school.
Having the opportunities early on to hone my skills through various childhood experiences is another factor that may have made the difference. From being the leader of the cousins pack to the copious amount of time I spent creating games and imaginative play with my siblings (as we had no real toys nor money to purchase any), it was fertile training ground for those precious life skills for sure.
I don't remember my siblings ever assuming any roles, other than being followers who played along. So I must have learnt to be persuasive or was just outright domineering. But I can't stop wondering: was it because they have mild temperaments to begin with, hence they could just easily play along and content to be followers or were their characters shaped during all those early years as a result of our shared experiences.
And once we are labeled as 'clever', 'blur', 'witty' or 'messy' or begin to think of ourselves as such, it may be hard not to form expectations of our own behaviour to reinforce the labels. A self-fulfilling prophecy indeed.
There are so many lessons for me as a parent, just reflecting on our past. The question is how can I translate these valuable insights into usable opportunities for the boys and for me to be a more effective parent.