I used to think Elder Sibling SyndromeTM applied only to me. No one suffered the way I always did. No one understood the mental manipulation, the weight and sense of responsibility, the inability to indulge selfishly—never truly like I did. Boy, talk about missing the mark. It started a few years ago when more and more people started posting on Instagram about scenarios they went through as the eldest sibling.
I felt hope.
You know how every college application asks if you consider yourself a first generation college student? I always answer that question with a bit of misery. Joking, obviously. You can’t deny though that a question like that really reminds you of the weight on your shoulders. Weight that always existed there because you came out as the one who needed to set the example. You needed to set the first foot forward. I don’t deny our siblings carry some pressure, but does it compare to the pressure we endured, and continue to endure? I don’t think so.
Listen. In our parents’ eyes, and I know some of you will know what I mean, we set the standard. Not always a great thing, by the way. Imagine a class in which everyone needs to give a presentation. On the one hand, if you worked anything like I did, then you aimed to present first. That way, you would get the hardest part over with first, and get to rest while everyone else sweated under the professor’s critical eye.
Now, in theory, that sounds like a good plan. However, take that example and apply it to almost everything you do, every day. Everything, every decision, every grade, every career choice—it all becomes one big presentation that you signed up for before everyone else. Still sound like a good plan? Yeah, I thought not. Our siblings don’t realize that if our parents seem forgiving, merciful and supportive, it comes down to us. Yeah, I’ll take credit for my sisters’ much easier route. Your siblings think they argue with your parents a lot? Their arguments feel like battles compared to the wars we waged.
Look, I don’t think younger siblings don’t carry their own set of problems.
They absolutely do. What I do think, however, comes down to this; our set of problems not only feels immensely different to our siblings’, but they unite us in a way younger brothers and sisters around the world could never understand. Well, most of them most likely couldn’t. Only we understand the phrase, “Watch our for your sister/brother.” Only we understand the anxiety of a younger sibling staying out too late or hanging out with friends we don’t know. You think Little Suzy cares who her older sister hangs out with? No! Why? Because Little Suzy never carried the weight of parenthood that parents so often push onto their eldest child in their stead. Someone to guard their younger children and worry when they couldn’t.
What about other issues, you might ask? Well, think about how your parents raised you to limit your requests. No dessert before dinner. No fast food except on spare occasions. No going out on school nights. Do your younger siblings follow the same rules? Or do you find that the restraints loosened gradually over the years until you find your sister joined Choir Club and the other one got onto the basketball team. You know, those extra curriculars your parents considered a waste of time and a distraction from your studies, so you never got to join? Yeah. Those.
Now, a few years ago I thought no one else would really know how any of this felt.
No one would understand the stress of feeling like you needed to monitor and worry for your siblings like a third parent. No one understood the struggle of overcoming those years of mental manipulation—which, despite good intentions, left us with some concerns. I know better now. And I wish to share this with anybody who might not know yet. Whatever you think your situation as an older sibling, however unique it feels, however alone you assume yourself—believe me, you do not stand on your own here.
We all feel it. We all remember. We all constantly find differences between our lives and the ones our younger siblings lead. Because we all belong to the Eldest Sibling Club. A fellowship, if you will. Might not be as cool as the one taking the Ring of Power to Mordor, but by god, don’t we come pretty close?