The unspoken pressures of sibling relationships

The varying expectations between an older and younger sibling.


My brother and I, at ages 16 and 6.

Tabitha Mendez

My brother and I are almost 10 years apart, but people often say, “For an age gap so big, it’s surprising how much time you spend together.” A comment like that always seems weird to me — there were so many years when I was a single child, anxiously waiting for a sibling that it felt like I had to make up for lost time. I kept thinking that college was approaching sooner and eventually I would be away for the majority of the year, missing out on experiences with my brother that most siblings with a smaller age gap get to cherish.

Since my brother was born, my mom has always told me that I would be one of the biggest role models in his life. This put a lot of pressure on my nine-year old self – I automatically started thinking about what kind of person I needed to be and what kind of person I wanted to help my brother to become.

When I’m around friends with older siblings, I realize how different the expectations are. At school, my friends often tell me the stories they’ve heard or the advice their siblings passed down. The younger sibling might mimic their older siblings by taking the same classes, or joining certain extracurriculars that they know worked well for their older sibling and shoot for the same goals possibly in terms of colleges, jobs or sports.

With their older siblings off at college, or making a life for themselves, it’s often a question of whether or not the younger sibling will live up to taking on the same responsibilities and capabilities of their sibling. I started comparing this enhancement of pressure that others’ experienced to my life to see if I faced any similar expectations.

As the first child in the family, I didn’t necessarily have an expectation for me to live up to. There might be an outline or a goal for my future, but where I want to go and what I chose to do won’t be affected by who came before me because there is nobody to compare myself to.

Instead of focusing on being just as successful or ambitious as someone else, my goals were to be a good sister. I wanted to be someone he could feel comfortable talking to and someone he could look up to for inspiration or help when needed. I started to focus more on how I talked with my parents and my friends after realizing how easily my brother Talon was influenced by what I said and did. I would find him saying phrases or using an attitude that I would, like complaining about going to school, or saying things like, “But sissy does this so why can’t I?”

I feel like the example of a brother or sister shapes the way you live your life despite them being younger or older. With an older sibling, you want to make everyone in your family equally proud of what you’ve done (even though parents should be proud of more than what you achieve academically). And with a younger sibling you make efforts to be a better person, to lead by example and to take responsibility for more than just yourself at times.

Nevertheless, the one thing they have in common is the push to be a better person. A push to lead by example for those younger than them, a push to work hard and achieve the goals and expectations siblings set before them.