More Culture:

January 27, 2016

Conversations with kids: older sibling, bigger responsibility

Lifestyle Parenting
Syreeta Martin daughters Sean Lassiter Photography/Courtesy Syreeta Martin

The author's daughters, Arionna and Gabrielle.

Although I was a full 10 years younger than her, I was always extremely protective of my big sister. She taught me so much, and still does ‘til this day, and I wanted nothing more than to be the little sister who always had her back.

When mom was working hard full time to provide for us as a single-parent while attaining her bachelor's and master’s degrees, my sister held down the fort and took care of me. And while she, at times, was frustrated that I seemed to have more freedom as the youngest child (though it was often just that times and circumstances had changed) while she bore the responsibility as the eldest, she provided solid support to my mother. She was there to help raise and guide me. 

Between my mom and sister, I saw what women were capable of accomplishing when the world was for them and against them. Furthermore, they constantly showed me what I was made of, giving me a deep sense of pride and the ability to face life and all of its blessings and challenges. 

So, when I went on to have my own two daughters, Arionna and Gabrielle (who are 3 years and 6 months apart), I paid special attention to the development of their sisterhood because I knew how great a role it had played in my life. While their age gap is much smaller than the one between my sister and I, there are similarities between the role my eldest daughter serves within this household and the role my sister served in ours.

Have there been times when Arionna expressed frustration about her role and responsibilities (consciously given or not) as the elder sibling? Absolutely, and rightly so, because she didn’t ask for this. Has she experienced moments where she felt like her sister received better perks and passes? Absolutely, an age difference will do that.

Thus, my eldest daughter’s perspective and experience as a big sister matter to me. I want her and her sister to have a special relationship that they know I will respect and nurture, but that also includes her knowing that I understand her journey in particular as the first born.

NoneSean Lassiter Photography/Courtesy Syreeta Martin

The author's daughters Gabrielle and Arionna.

I recently chatted with her about her experience as the eldest sibling, and big sister, in hopes of doing just that. She’s grown so much and contributes to this household greatly, so if nothing else, I want her to know that mom acknowledges and appreciates her perspective. And if you’re a parent or caregiver, an elder or younger sibling, hopefully you can too. 

To all the big sisters and brothers, this one is especially for you. 

Syreeta: Do you remember what life was like pre-big sister status?

Arionna: Before I didn’t have [any]one to play with, but that meant that I could probably get more stuff because you were only paying for one kid. Now I have someone to play with and we like to share our stuff, so we both get what we want and…it’s not so lonely.

Syreeta: I’m glad it’s not as lonely…and that you all are maximizing the fruits of mommy’s labor. Haha! What’s been the most challenging part of sisterhood? And the best?

Arionna: [The] challenging thing is arguing, and the best thing is being able to trust her … and playing around with each other.

Syreeta: What’s been the most special thing about sisterhood?

Arionna: Being able to put all your trust into your sister…[plus] you care more for her and love her a little bit more because that’s your sister and you all can get along and make up, but with some other people you can’t always do that. [You’re] able to trust and forgive [your sister] easily … but you’re still going to have your arguments so it’s not like you got out of that situation, you’re still going to have more to come.

Syreeta: What are your thoughts on forgiveness within sisterhood? 

Arionna: If I stay mad at her then I won’t have as much fun. There’ve been times when I told her I wasn’t going to talk to her for a week or for the rest of the day, and when we got home I forgot so we ended up talking. I was like, “Wait I’m not supposed to be talking to you,” and she was like, “Well you are now!”

Syreeta: And what about the experience as the elder sibling versus the younger?

Arionna: The good thing is that the older [siblings] get to do more and are trusted more. The bad thing is that they’re responsible for their little brother or sister, and sometimes the younger sibling gets to get away with more stuff than an older sibling would, because the older sibling “knows better” and the younger sibling might not.

Syreeta: That’s always a tough line to walk for the siblings and for the parents. Essentially, what do you think the older siblings out there might want parents to understand?

Arionna: They want to be treated older but…they want to be treated equally.

Syreeta: What advice would you give to parents?

Arionna: Pay attention to them both.

Syreeta: And to siblings?

Arionna: Don’t stay mad, you never know what can happen.

Syreeta: And lastly, what are your closing thoughts about sisterhood?

Arionna: You need your sister in your life. She can help you keep some secrets and she’ll be there for you when you need a shoulder to cry on.