As the oldest of four kids and the oldest child of divorced parents, I’ve done a lot of caregiving for my own siblings. And as I’ve grown to embrace my sibling’s expectations, I realize how much I’ve learned from caring for them. Here are the top 5 lessons being a sibling caregiver has taught me:
1. Growing up (and apart) can be really difficult.
Between the four of us, our age differences are pretty sporadic. Me (the oldest) and my brother (the youngest) are eight years apart, and I’m three and a half years from Guen, who is the second oldest, and six years from my youngest sister, Victoria.
The hardest thing I think I ever had to do was move into my college dorm freshman year. I was the first one to move away from home, and even though I still lived there, it wasn’t the same. I was still growing up, but I was missing my siblings growing up too. For us, this was so weird because we spent so much time together as children and, until I went to college, we were very close and in each other’s spaces constantly. This, I think, is the hardest lesson I’ve learned.
2. They come to you first (usually).
Since I was the oldest person close to all of my siblings for most of our lives, we relied on each other. When it comes to looking for advice, especially about things like college, my siblings tend to come to me before they go to our mom. It can be scary from my end because sometimes I barely know what I’m doing! How am I supposed to give advice on things I still need advice on?
But even though it can be stressful, the moments where we can talk about the things that are important to each other and the fact that they trust my advice and experience makes it worth it.
3. Shared experiences and memories are sometimes the best motivators.
My mom is a big reader, so my siblings and I really grew up reading a lot. However, the Harry Potter series is almost common knowledge in our house. My mom read them as they were coming out, and I’ve read them all more times than I can count! My siblings have read and seen the movies pretty sporadically (because ABC Family’s Harry Potter Weekend was a must-watch in our house, even though it was almost every other weekend).
When The Cursed Child came out, my siblings and I went to the midnight release at our local Barnes and Noble. Even though none of us experienced Harry Potter in the same way, it is something that continuously bonds us together. The positive experiences we share reminds me that we actually get along pretty well.
4. Spending time together is the best way to become friends.
This one sort of goes along with the last one, but as soon as I got my driver’s license and a car (it wasn’t a good car), slushies from Turkey Hill became a thing. I say thing because I think it’s halfway between a ritual and tradition at this point.
There’s a Turkey Hill gas station close to our house and their slushies used to be 89 cents in the summer, and when you bought 10, you got one free. We became slushy maniacs–after dance classes, after the pool, after school, after rehearsal, after going to the mall and even at 11PM, when our mom was asleep. This was something that was our own.
5. Emotional responsibility is important.
Emotional responsibility is something that I have learned more recently than anything else. Taking care of my own emotions and mental health so that I can be there for other people, and especially my siblings, needs to be a priority.
It also means knowing when I’m not having a good day or being aware when I’m not in a good moment to be able to call or talk to them. While this is sometimes very difficult and doesn’t always work (emergencies are always a priority, no matter how I’m feeling), it has definitely allowed me to grow and enabled me to pass them along to our mom.
Are you responsible for a sibling—or many siblings’—care? Share your story in the comments below!