A great number of newcomers have to join a family that has functioned as a unit for many years before their arrival. As parents came to the new country and established themselves, new children were born. These “lucky” children received all the care and attention that the parents were not able to give to the children left behind. When the older brother or sister comes, sibling conflict erupts. The newcomer feels the parents love the little ones more than they could ever love him/her. Their mere existence opens the wound of unanswered questions in their mind: “Why was I left? How come they couldn’t bring me but, yet my parents came here and had other children?” In consequence, the arriving youngsters suffer intense feelings of jealousy towards the younger siblings born here. Many parents report constant quarreling among the children and sometimes, physical aggression towards the younger ones. One mother used to tell me: “I don’t understand why Manuel is so cruel to the little one. Pablito wants so much to get his attention and is always trying to play with him, but Manuel pushes him away or hits him”.
Señora María would tell me, crying, how she was at the end of her rope with Violeta, her 14 years old daughter just arrived from Central America. She would break things and then try to blame it on the younger sister, even though it was clear to everybody that she had done it. At times Violeta would say to her mother that she wanted her to leave her sister with the father and move away with her.” This younger sister who had always been a good student was starting to get poor grades and went to her elementary school counselor to confide her problems at home. The mother, torn by the strong guilt she felt about leaving Violeta, who as a young child had been very close to her, was at the brink of giving in to this very irrational request.
At times, it is the younger one who becomes jealous and threatened in her relationship with the parents. A counselor was telling me how difficult it had been for Jesica when her older sister came. The parents were dotting her attention on her and she turned out to be “Miss Perfect,” always doing everything the parents requested and making them proud in school. Jessica had always struggled with academics. Her counselor felt very worried about how Jessica could cope with this situation and continue to feel loved and appreciated by the parents.
In some unfortunate cases, the parent chooses one child over the others to bring with her, leaving the others wondering forever “why not me? That was Blanca’s case. Her mother had come to the U.S. bringing her oldest boy with her and leaving three daughters behind, in separate households. Blanca suffered a lot of physical abuse and could not forgive her mother for what she had gone through. She felt special contempt and anger towards her older brother “the favorite son”. Her relationship with him was always defiant and provocative, ending at times in physical confrontations with him that she initiated. Needless to say, the other sisters also felt angry with the mother for choosing her oldest son to come with her and they felt rejected as well. Even though these girls were very capable and came from excellent schools in their country, they were failing all their classes and were involved in truancy. They were punishing the mother where it hurt the most: they would not fulfill her dreams of seeing her daughters reach for a wonderful future like she would have loved to have for herself. In the meantime, the oldest son was successfully attending community college, while no attempts from the mother to motivate her daughters made any difference in their performance until the feelings of rejection were allowed to be expressed openly.
Mariana had come at 12 to join her mother and younger sister and the mother’s boyfriend. Her mother had left when she was 3, trying to get away from an abusive husband. She took the youngest of the girls with her, as she was just a baby then, and left Mariana with a very loving grandmother who made her the center of attention in a household of adults. When Mariana arrived she became moody and difficult, initiating fights with the younger sister and accepting the mother’s attempts to become closer to her only when the mother was alone with her. As soon as the rest of the family got home, she would change into an irascible youngster, never satisfied with anything. When the mother came to school, things had gotten intolerable and Mariana was constantly demanding that she buy her a ticket to go back to grandma. The mother was about to give in although sending her back was very painful for her. As Mariana started talking to the mother about her feelings of mistrust in the mother’s love for her because she had left her, the tension between them started to subside. The mother was able to tell her with tears in her eyes that she loved her and didn’t want her to leave. However, Mariana’s doubts still lingered and would stare into the mother’s eyes as if trying to decide whether she could trust her or not. In the meantime, mother’s boyfriend was very patient with Mariana as well, assuring her that he wanted her to stay. Finally, there was a breakthrough when in a very emotional session, the mother was able to say to Mariana that she had left her with the grandma out of love, because she knew she would be very well cared for there, while she knew that she would go through very difficult times with her baby daughter. In fact, she added, they even had times when she and the baby had to go hungry, because she did not have money for food. Therefore, the youngest daughter had gone through a lot of misery and the mother now wished she could have left her too, but she was just too young for the grandmother to take care of her. Following this exchange, Mariana decided she was going to stay and try to make things work out and the tension at home went down considerably. A year later, she was still in school and there was no more mention of wanting to go home.