Family Relationships, Part 1: Markers that Shape Us

We are all born into a family. Culturally, our family unit may vary but we each belong to a family of some description when we are born: two parents, single parent, extended, adopted, foster; there is an adult or adults caring for us.


It is in our early family relationships that so much of who we are is shaped and formed. Birth order is a significant factor, as is gender.


In some cultures, gender is a very important factor; boys often being preferred over girls. Spacing between children is also a factor.

In addition, in our birth family or adopted family we each experience “markers:” significant events that help shape us and influence our perspectives, our attitudes, our biases, our fears, our anxiety. Some examples are: family relocation and beginning a new school, loss of a parent’s job, divorce, unexpected illness, and financial setbacks are just a few factors that may be significant experiences for an individual and serve as a “marker” in how we embrace life.                                                                                     

Following are two “markers” from my early years that shaped me.

I was the fifth child of my parents, with three older sisters and an older brother who was nearest me by four years, and five years later a younger sister. I was four when my oldest sister married and six when my second oldest sister married so I mostly knew them as adults. Two major events in my family relationships that impacted me and which “marked” me to some extent are:

My sister who was five years younger than I, died when she was 18 months old. I then became the youngest, or as my family preferred to call me, “the baby:” a term I always found annoying. I preferred the word, “youngest.” Looking back as an adult, I believe that my parents tended to hold on to me emotionally as they walked through the grief of losing my sister.

The other dynamic or marker was that the “only son” was just above me in age. My two oldest siblings were already married and out of the house. My third oldest sibling, eight years my senior, was busy with her teenage life which left me mostly with my brother.

I sensed early on – this was in the ’50s – that there were two gender tracks; the “boy track” and the “girl track.” My three older sisters weren’t bothered by that, but I was. One way that it impacted me was that I became very competitive with my brother, and boys in general; “anything you can do, I can do.” The two-track system clouded my vision and limited my dreams. But developing a competitive style had its merits, too. I gradually learned not be daunted by gender limitations.  

As a young adult, I sought options that were less dominated by males. I chose to attend an all-girls high school, which I loved. I excelled at sports and joined a myriad of other activities. I grew through the gender preference perception. I also realized that having grown up in a “man’s world” – my father worked in a fairly exclusive “men only” labor union milieu – I was comfortable and confident with men on an equal basis. This served me well in my professional life.

While being comfortable and feeling equal with males, I also became pro-women and encouraged younger women to explore less traditional roles in adulthood; roles that were not options for me in my young adult years. In my era, the two main careers offered to women with a college degree were teaching and nursing; both admirable career choices. I loved teaching.

During the cultural revolution of the 1960s however, career choices began to gradually expand. Both women and men began to explore careers that had previously been gender limited – an expansion that has benefited both women and men.

Best wishes for a graced Thanksgiving holiday.


“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘Thank You,’ it will be enough.”

~ Meister Eckhart


For Your Reflection


What was your family of origin experience in terms of birth order or gender?

Were there experiences that “marked” you from your early years?

How have you worked through those markers so as not to be limited by them?

How or did those markers enhance your life?

3 thoughts on “Family Relationships, Part 1: Markers that Shape Us”

  1. Thank you for shedding light on the influence of birth order on a person’s perceptions and actions. It is so interesting because, of course, we are STUCK in the birth order we’ve been born in. So, outside information is enlightening!

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  2. Reflecting on the “relationship markers” questions, then letting go of those thoughts and ideas, contributed to having a good, peaceful and happy Thanksgiving gathering with my family of origin. Other contributors were an awareness and mindfulness of the recent and not so recent life struggles of the extended family members who were present and my own happiness over succesessful outcomes of my immediate family struggles, i.e. a son’s 3 year sobriety from drug addiction, a husband’s return to health following a “nervous breakdown”, a daughter earning a master’s degree and living her dream teaching at her alma mater high school and a teenage son who is doing well in school while being a part of the ‘nerd’ group. I am grateful for much and happy to be participating in the Annunciation Blog!

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