Guilty Until Proven Innocent: Only Older Siblings Will Get This!

Modern Family

Guilty Until Proven Innocent: Only Older Siblings Will Get This!

Illustration: Arati Gujar

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nyone with a younger sibling will be able to tell you, “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” By the haunted look in their eyes, you realise they mean their bedroom, the lion’s share of mithai, and their parents’ love. I was only seven years old when my parents introduced my sister into the family, turning me into the elder brother without my consent. Even back then, my child’s brain could tell that the arrival of a younger sibling would only spell trouble for me. I had a sinking feeling that whether I liked it or not, I was going to be held up as a role model.

As it turned out, I was right. My parents missed no opportunity to remind me of that in explicit terms.

Before my sister arrived, if I were to return home any later than 7 pm, my mother’s standard reaction would be to hurl a kitchen implement at me. If I forgot to complete schoolwork, my mother would do what my teachers did in class and make me stand outside the house. It didn’t work at school, nor at home; I would often use this time to watch TV with the neighbours, until my father came looking for me and dragged me away by the ear, to my mother’s waiting chappals.

Ever since my little sister was born, it feels like she’s strolling down a path I’ve had to gruellingly blaze with my blood, sweat, and tears. Instead of being showered with pots and pans when she came home late, she would be treated to a freshly cooked meal. My mother would treat her incomplete homework as a personal affront, and finish it herself, while ordering me to stop watching TV so that my sister could watch Hannah Montana in peace. The punishments, rules, and regulations that controlled my leisurely activities never seemed to apply to her.

My parents greet my sister’s crestfallen face with sympathetic oohs and aahs before offering her a choice between their spare phones.

Which is why I’m always looking for any opportunity to land her in trouble. Whenever my sister returns home with an unfinished lunchbox, I will be the first one to bolt toward mother dearest, urging her to check my sister’s bag. If I catch her using her phone late at night, then I will invariably ask my dad to check her bill. My latest chance to strike was when she lost her new iPhone during a cab ride home. Before you judge me, remember younger siblings can behave like the devil’s spawn. And if you’d lived in my shoes for the past 14 years then this wouldn’t even be up for discussion.

Unfortunately, I think my parents have grown bored from years of forcing me to toe the line, and now have no interest in doing the same for my sister. A study conducted by researchers at Duke University, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Maryland concludes that parents punish older children more harshly. Titled Games Parents and Adolescents Play, it states that “parents have an incentive to punish their first-born child if that child engages in risky behaviours in order to deter such behaviour by younger siblings.” Yay for me! Except the study also states that by the time the second child reaches the rebellious phase of adolescence, the deterrence motive for parents is not as strong.

This is why, when she gets off the couch to reveal the loss of the second phone in as many months, I begin to experience the same sinking feeling I experienced when I was seven years old. Sadly, this time as well, the feeling is appropriate.

My parents greet my sister’s crestfallen face with sympathetic oohs and aahs before offering her a choice between their spare phones. To my horror, they then turn their attention to me, and my out-of-control credit card bill. The last I see of my sister for the night is her flashing an evil smirk at me as she closes her door to shut out the deafening sound of my parents screaming, “Is this the kind of example you want to set for your sister?”

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