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Teenworthy: How I Dealt With Being the Sibling Left Behind

A teen reflects on the family shifts that occurred when her older brother left for college this fall

Published on: October 30, 2015

 

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” — Viktor E. Frankl

Just over a year ago, I was really scared about the change that was occurring in my life. I had even started counting down the months until the end of the life I knew. That may seem a little melodramatic considering this big change in my life was my brother’s departure to college.

But it was a huge change. I am no longer driven to school by him, or hear him moaning when he wakes up early, or hang out with him after school when I need a little break. These may all be little things, but added up they composed a lot of the life that I was used to.

Before my brother left last fall, I wanted to be prepared. I figured that, other than missing him, adapting to family dinners would be the hardest part because I was going to have to talk a lot as the only child available to field my parents’ questions about my day. I thought that in situations like that, with all of the attention locked on me, I’d feel as if I was an only child. A friend I talked to confirmed that yes, this does happen. Tyler told me that when his talkative brother went to college, the family dynamics changed. “I felt like I had to fill my brother’s shoes” especially at the dinner table, he said.

Before my brother left, I talked to some other friends of mine who had gone through this, trying to prepare.

Jackson was in a similar situation ― his sister was about leave for college, too. He confessed that he felt like he would have “more responsibility, especially around the house.” On more of a positive note, he expected to be able to use the car whenever he wanted to. Like me, he also worried about all the alone time with his parents. So he had a plan: to “be mindful that [my sister leaving] is sad for [my parents] so they will want to be around me more, but at some point I will tell them that I need my space.”

Another friend, Gina, whose sister had already left for college, actually opened my eyes to a new perspective on being the second child to leave home. “I am going to be more prepared to leave because it has started as me getting more used to being alone and so then when I have to leave I feel like it will be easier for me to be alone,” she told me.

Gina’s other advice for siblings left behind: Don’t freak out. “The first two months are the worst and you worry about your sibling a lot. But, your sibling is going to fine and you are going to be fine and while you may not like it, you will get used to it. It becomes your new normal so that having her home for a visit is, like, wow.”

Sometimes, it turns out, the space created when a sibling leaves is really great. It turns out a lot of siblings have complicated emotions about watching older brothers and sisters leave the house. Often it’s a combination of sadness, nervousness, and later excitement about a new kind of relationship that can form.

Sometimes, it turns out, the space created when a sibling leaves is really great. My friend Kendra, whose eldest brother had left for college, said that her brother was really protective and he picked on her. “When he left, it was like a weight lifted off me. That sounds bad and I love my brother, but after a while it is just like, ‘leave,’” she said. After he did, she felt more independent.

It turns out a lot of siblings have complicated emotions about watching older brothers and sisters leave the house, and that I was not the only one to feel this way. Often it’s a combination of sadness, nervousness, and later excitement about a new kind of relationship that can form.

“What bothered me the most was thinking it would not ever be the same,” Tyler told me. “That is true. It is saying goodbye to being a kid and playing around with your sibling … [But] remember they will come back … it is better when you see them again because you are not frustrated that [you’ve] been living with each other the whole time. You just get to hang out … and you really just become friends.”

Now that I have gone through this experience myself, I have to say that it was painful, especially because my brother went to school far away from me. While this has become my new normal, I still miss him a lot of the time

Last year after he left, I dealt with missing my brother by texting and video-calling him, but mostly just by keeping myself busy. I was so busy dealing with everything that comes with junior year of high school that most of the time I did not have time to think about how much I missed my brother.

I do have to talk a lot more at the dinner table. On the other hand, I think my relationship with my brother has improved. I attribute this change directly to the fact that we are no longer living together. This means that now when we are both together we want to actually talk to each other and hang out because we do not see each other every day.

Finally, I have been able to step out of my brother’s shoes. My brother has had a huge influence on the person I have become, but this year I have been able to develop even more as my own person. I think this is really great — not only does it allow me to become more independent, but also I love talking to him now because we have so much more we can discuss; we have developed our own opinions and into our own people.

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