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They're Siblings, But Alike? No Way

Families: As many parents have observed, their children's personalities can vary widely. It's partly due to genetics, experts say.

April 10, 2001|NADIA LERNER | THE STAMFORD ADVOCATE

When Jeanne Hosinski gave birth to her first child, Helene, she says the easygoing infant was "a little lady who did everything perfectly." The baby even slept through the night as soon as she came home from the hospital.

Then, "I had Will," says the Stamford, Conn., mother, whose son, William, was born two years later. "It's as though God said, 'No, I can't let you get away with this, Jeanne.' "

Will, she says, was far more inquisitive and outgoing than his older sister. "He had to interact with every soul in the world." It soon became clear, Hosinski says, that even though her kids had the same parents and were raised in the same way, they were quite different in temperament.

Now, in addition to 13-year-old Helene and 11-year-old William, Hosinski's brood includes Peter, 10; Claire, 8; and Patrick, 5. The girls, she notes, are more similar in personality than the boys, but still, they're all different.

Quiet Helene, Hosinski says, is "a pleaser." William remains "boisterous and social." Peter tends to be "more disciplined" than the others as well as "social and self-critical." Claire is "even-tempered, social and quite self-confident." Patrick "is very straightforward, stubborn and all boy."

"It's a roll of the dice," she says. "They are little gems the way they are given to us. Our job is to polish and enhance them the best way we can, but we can't change their nature."

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Most anyone can relate--that is, anyone who has siblings or is the parent of more than one child. Not only is it likely that siblings raised within the same family will be different, but they may be complete opposites. Remember President Jimmy Carter--a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, nuclear scientist and governor of Georgia--and his younger brother Billy, a buffoonish character remembered best for his struggle with alcoholism and ties to "Billy Beer"?

"Everybody comes into the world with different dispositions and personalities, and a great deal of it is genetic," says child and family psychologist Dr. Jerome Brodlie, chairman of the Department of Psychology at Greenwich Hospital in Connecticut.

But, notes Brodlie, a child's distinctive personality is further molded by parents who respond to that child on the basis of his or her disposition.

Some parents fare better than others, he says. Often it depends on the age of the parents when the child is born and how much patience they have at that stage of their life.

"If there are three kids and the third one is more active, then the mother's patience to deal with that child [may] be a little thinner because she has the other two to deal with."

In probing personality differences among siblings, Greenwich child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld agrees that even though they might live under the same roof, they don't face the same environment. The environment that counts is the micro environment, notes Rosenfeld, who co-wrote "The Overscheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyperparenting Trap" with Nicole Wise.

Even though parents try to act the same toward each child, Rosenfeld says, "any of us who have been a child--which is a universal experience--knows it is not true."

As the mother of three sons, Stamford mother Jane Spiller is more than familiar with the tugs and pulls of her progeny. She describes her oldest, Chris, 17, as a very low-key and "careful" adolescent who "looks before he leaps."

Her middle son, Matt, 14, is "very intense, full of energy and very exuberant." He's a "complete opposite" of Chris--though "not in a bad way," she says.

Eric, 10, is a friendly boy who gets along well with each of his older siblings, sometimes better than they get along with each other, admits their mother.

Sometimes Matt "drives his older brother nuts," she says. "They didn't click a lot when they were younger, but my older one is more tolerant of him now."

Partly the problem is that while Chris does well in school and is artistic, he doesn't possess the athletic skills of Matt.

"I remember my older guy going through these lulls saying, 'Why does everything always come easy for [Matt]?' "

Spiller tries explaining to Chris that his academic skills come easier to him than they do for his brother.

It's hard sometimes, she says. "I think you do an injustice if you try to compare them." Also, because of their different personalities, she says even though she tries to be consistent in dealing with them, sometimes the rules are changed to be in line with "who they are. You finally accept there is no one way of doing it. You have to adjust as you go along with each personality."

As for Hosinski's children, she says that while they have their moments fighting and wishing each other out of the family, it comes down to the usual give-and-take among siblings. Basically, though, they all get along.

"They are who they are," she says. "I have not tried to change any of that."

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