Navigating Changing Sibling-ships

When you’re a kid, your siblings may have been many things. A best friend, an adversary, someone to support your lie to your parents that you definitely didn’t sneak out the house last night, or the person who stole the last cookie from the kitchen cupboard that was meant to be for you. Maybe you didn’t like them all of the time, but you love them nonetheless. 

Sibling relationships can be many things, and I guess they’re a little different for everyone. But one similarity that everyone who has them has to face? At some point in time, you and your siblings will no longer be in the same place. It might not have felt like it when you were kids fighting in the backseat of the car, but eventually you all grow up, move out and start living more independent lives, often in completely different cities and circumstances. And this can be…tricky. There’s that old phrase, blood is thicker than water, and whilst that may be true, it’s not much to hang onto when you go from seeing your brothers/sisters every day to a few times a year. When instead of knowing the on goings of each other lives, you are catching up over Christmas dinner, and wishing each other Happy Birthday over WhatsApp. It can leave you feeling a little disjointed, because there’s a sense that you are now something other than your family label. You’re still a sister or brother, but you are someone else too now. You get the chance to figure out who you are as an adult, and whilst this freedom is great, it can be difficult to stay connected to who you were when you were younger. 

For me, having older brothers, I was the last one to move on out in every aspect, so it kind of already felt like I was playing catch up. 

I think I realised, not too long after starting university, that distance is a two-part conundrum. It is both a physical, and emotional thing. There’s the actual matter of the miles between my brothers and I that makes it harder to stay in contact, because trains are expensive, and time is more easily consumed the older you get, and especially right now, I’m navigating a 5-hour time difference. It’s not like I can pop ‘round the corner to see them whenever I want. 

But honestly, I think this kind of distance is a given. You prep for it, you know what to expect. It’s the second kind of distance that really leaves its mark, because nobody warns you much about how it’ll feel. 

When you’re a kid you never have to reach very far for emotional support in anything, because the people you trust, your family, are there to be your lifelines as soon as you trip up. It isn’t that when you get older you no longer have these ties, but they’re different. You have to reach further, through the telephone cord, to get that support that you’ll kid yourself you don’t need, but you still really really do (and there’s no shame in that.) Your immediate circle of support shifts, and it becomes your flatmates, your university friends, the people who are surrounding you day- in, day- out that help you out and know all the little things going on in your life. Just because it’s another inevitable- they’re there to experience life with you. 

And this is where I’ve found it can be hard to wrap your head around the way relationships with your siblings is altered. I think especially because I’m the youngest, my parents felt that immediate loss of me leaving home, but my brothers, who left years before I did, perhaps didn’t. Because they’d already flown the nest. So, unlike my parents who I still ring for advice on classes and whether I can eat the old potatoes growing new parts in my fridge, for my brothers and I, there is less of a constant flow of communication.

When we reach out to one another, it’s in more sporadic bursts, and whilst maybe this means you learn to appreciate your siblings in a way you didn’t when they were in the room next door, it’s hard not to feel a little displaced. You have friends they don’t know, and experiences they’ll never get to see first hand, and vice versa. It might be the case that you don’t recognise the faces in their social media posts anymore, or don’t quite understand the big serious office job they’re doing no matter how many times someone tries to explain it to you.

Being the last one to do all of these things means it’s taken me a while to accept that I’m not just playing catch up to my brothers, who are off being successful independent adults living their own lives; I’m learning how to do that too, myself. I remember my Dad telling me when we moved out of our childhood home, and I felt extremely upset whilst my brothers appeared unaffected, it was because:their lives have moved on. 

But importantly he also reminded me: you have moved on too, you just haven’t realised it yet. 

I guess, the best way to view it is as part of a larger picture. This shifting dynamic is one jigsaw piece of the whole confusing puzzle that is becoming an adult. (Guess they didn’t lie to us when they said it’d be difficult). 

You kind of just get plonked into the middle of this crazy adult world and the only instructions you have are so sparse or hard to understand that they may as well be in a different language. You just have to figure it out, step by step.  

Your siblings are always going to be your siblings, and seeing less of them doesn’t change that, even if it feels like it has. I don’t know that my relationship with my brothers will ever be the same as when we were kids, but hey, who said that was necessarily a bad thing. You’re not really the same people as when you were kids either, so it makes sense for there to be a slight change, and it doesn’t really have to be negative. It kind of feels like a constant weighing up of giving yourself space to grow, and picking up the phone to stay in contact with them at home. And I’m always worrying I’m not doing enough of one or the other. 

I’m not entirely sure to be honest what the resolve is here, other then to take it as it comes, and embrace every change that happens as an opportunity to develop. Natural changes like this are part of the process and I guess really, for me at least, I just have to trust, see where it takes me and keep up my best effort to stay in contact with my brothers and home along the way.