Why It's Important to Allow Your Younger Sibling to Choose Their Own Path

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We all know that becoming an older sister should come with an instruction manual and our younger siblings should come with warning labels. Built-in responsibilities like daily babysitting and taking the blame are part of the package deal as much as we hate to admit, but for most of us, there’s nothing we wouldn’t do for our younger siblings. You want your brother or sister to succeed in the future, even possibly follow in your own footsteps. It’s always helpful to offer advice and lay down bricks for an easier journey to adulthood, but it’s also important to realize that your sibling might want something entirely different. If you’re struggling to accept their assertion for independence, here are few things to ease your mind.

You’re two different people

Even if you and your sibling aren’t close in age, there’s a large chance an embarrassing photograph of the two of you in coordinating outfits exists. During childhood parents often lump siblings together. From matching bowl haircuts to competing on the same soccer team, you’ve probably had similar life experiences and will be able to laugh about it  Of course, interests tend to diverge as age increases and that’s a fact both parents and older siblings tend to miss. Julie Plummer, a sophomore at Stanford University, has an older sister on campus studying biomedical engineering, a field similar to her dad’s but completely opposite her desire to study the humanities.

“My dad has always been interested in engineering, and yet I’ve never felt any pressure to follow his path like my sister did. Even though I attend the same college as my older sister, we’re still very different people despite being mistaken for twins,” she says. “It’s important to have engineers and writers and historians and scientists in the world. We need people to do anything and everything to keep society functioning and diverse.”

If it’s difficult for you to imagine your sibling going to trade school, skipping college altogether or just pursuing a unique major, think about the other differences between you two. Do you like all of the same foods, movies and music? Chances are you don’t and will still fight about these things when you’re (mostly) functioning adults. Maddy McCullough, a sophomore at Boston College, appreciates having interests opposite from her siblings.

“As cool as it would be to have a younger sibling who shared all of the same interests as me, it’s much more exciting to hear about their varied passions and interests,” she says. “I don’t take it personally that my younger sibling has little to no interest in politics, just as she doesn’t take it personally that I will never be invested in biomedical engineering.”

While your genes are basically the same, you have to remember that every person is an individual, including your younger sibling.

You can still have a close relationship

You’ve probably made some of your best friends in extracurricular activities. Bonding over draining soccer practices or nerve-wracking debate competitions is typical. For siblings participating side-by-side in the same sports and hobbies, becoming closer is an understatement. You both experience the struggles of perfecting the impossible dance move, memorizing hundreds of lines or trying to reach the high note.

When your younger sibling gradually drifts away from your interests to their own, it can be difficult to maintain the connection you once shared. It’s also possible you two never shared a close interest in the first place. This was the case for Iesha Ismail, a junior at the University of Florida.

“I think my little sister didn’t just follow whatever I did [because] she wanted to try the things I wasn’t the best at or interested in,” she says. “You could say it was competition or curiosity or both, [but] now she wants to follow a path different from mine because whatever I did made her want to try something different.”

Even though Iesha enjoys writing and her sister is into technology, they’re both still very close. Allowing your sibling to be in their element and travel their own journey is one of the hardest gifts to give. You can imagine how parents feel when their eldest child transforms into a person they’d never expect; it may have even happened to your parents! There’s no rule that says people with opposing interests can’t be best friends, so embrace your sibling’s desire for independence and give them the support they deserve.

Related: 19 Things Only Older Sisters Will Understand 

They’d want the same for you

Sometimes it’s easy to forget to put yourself in other people’s shoes, especially your younger sibling’s shoes. Whether you’ve grown up with a brother, a sister or a few of each, you know that most of the time they idolize you in ways you wish they wouldn’t. From stealing clothes without asking to annoying the heck of you, younger siblings can be an absolute terror, but they love us anyway and want our support. However, there’s a major difference between receiving advice and feeling controlled. Zaynah Javed, a freshman at the University of California Berkeley, recognized this fact when her younger sister wanted to pursue a new path.

“I was always high-achieving and academically oriented, and therefore tried to help my sister be the same way. I kept thinking it was the best for her, but in reality, everyone needs to choose their own path,” she says. “As an older sister, you have to guide your younger [sibling], but you can’t control what they want to do.”

One of the first steps to accepting your sibling’s new path is to look at your own. Instead of following that one, imagine being forced to follow after your younger brother or sister. It’s entirely possible you’d hate being an engineer instead of a writer or a musician instead of a doctor. Even if music or medicine is in the family blood, that doesn’t mean your sibling destined for it. Encourage any dreams they may harbor because you never know when you’ll need their support in the future.

Having your sibling follow in your footsteps can be exciting, You get to share experiences, make memories and support one another in every aspect. When they dream up something new and set out on an entirely different direction, it can take time to adjust to the idea. Just know that your relationship will still exist and continue to strengthen as long as you support the decisions like they were yours.

About The Author

Emily Schmidt is a sophomore at Stanford University, studying English, linguistics, and a variety of modern languages. Originally from the suburbs of Philadelphia, she quickly fell in love with the Californian sunshine and warm winter temperatures. Emily writes a hodgepodge of pieces from satiric articles for The Stanford Daily to free-verse poetry to historical fiction. Just like her writing repertoire, her collection of hobbies are widely scattered from speed-crocheting to Irish dancing to practicing calligraphy. When she is not writing or reading, Emily can also be found jamming out to Phil Collins or watching her favorite film, 'Belle.'

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