I was brought up in a family of five brothers and sisters. That’s a lot these days, so people often ask, “What was it like?” The answer is, competitive. Over everything – love, attention, what TV to watch, even who had the best-looking friends.
My parents made things worse by instilling competitive feelings in us. I’d bring home my school report only to be told, “Why have you got a D for maths? Your brother got a B.” Or: “Why don’t you want to be an accountant? Your brother wants to be an accountant.” This has continued into adult life: “Why haven’t you bought another house yet? Your brother’s got two.”
As a result of this encouragement of competition, we all became ambitious, always trying to out-do each other in an attempt to win our parents’ approval. Now, this can be a good thing, in that we always strove to achieve more, but there’s a hugely negative side since none of us ever feels totally content, and then there’s the jealously.
My parents would introduce us to others based on our accomplishments. “This is my eldest son – he got four A-levels. This is my second son – he failed maths twice, but passed third time. And this is my daughter, she works hard.”
This week reached new heights, when my mum rang all of us. “Your sister is VAT-registered,” she said. “Why aren’t the rest of you? It’s shameful: you boys should have been VAT-registered before your sisters. What am I going to tell people?”