To be an older sibling | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 08, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:51 AM, October 08, 2020


To be an older sibling

It started from the moment your parents sat you down and looked at you with glittering eyes, almost giddy with excitement as they delivered the news.

"You're going to have a little brother or sister!"

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In that moment, a few thoughts flitted through our young brains. One of which was dread. Dread of a little ball of drool and poop coming into our lives and stealing our parents from us. While the drool and poop were real, things changed for most of us drastically as soon as they did crawl into our lives.

They grew up to become our best friends, enemies, archrivals, partners in crime and a billion other things we'd never be able to summarise even if we tried. They grew up to become one of the most important parts of our lives. At times, even more than our parents.

Another way in which our lives changed is the responsibility. Our actions were now impacting the little people in our lives. Strangely enough, sometimes we were held responsible for what they did, by our parents.

This responsibility isn't exactly a bad thing. For one thing that it offers us is companionship in what otherwise could have turned out to be quite a lonely life.

"For one, we're never alone," explains Ahmed Afridee, a student of North South University and a big brother to two sisters. "The responsibility is never burdensome because it's one I gladly accept. For without my sisters, I'm not sure where exactly I'd be. They're my friends, my companions. So taking responsibility for them is no big deal."

And companionship isn't all that comes with it. Responsibility  can come with its own set of pressures, but it also greatly benefits us as individuals.

"Any sort of responsibility is good," agrees Rakeen Murtaza, a student of University of Texas at Dallas, as he discusses his role in his little sister's life. "She's a little devil, but I do enjoy sharing knowledge with her, trying to help her avoid some of the pitfalls that I so carelessly fell into growing up."

This takes some of us time to adjust to. Some of us have to grow into the role that we are chosen to play. Because, if you're the oldest, there's a good chance you have at times felt more than just someone with a few extra years on Earth. You decide how much of what they do to reveal to your parents. You're the one who stands between them and your parents backing them up while they sleep soundly in their rooms.

You have the chance to right everything that your parents might have done wrong when raising you. Because with you, they were first-time parents.

"When you're an older sibling you tend to be the guinea pig for parental experiments," says Rakeen. "The one pressure I feel is some of the earlier mistakes my parents made, the first time around. This time, I want to make sure that I can correct those mistakes by offering a different, more plausible perspective."

Apart from ensuring that they don't suffer from the same mistakes that we had to, we tend to take on a different kind of role when it comes to growing up with them. When talking to a few others who have little siblings, I noticed one thing in common in all of them.

The need to step up and take on the role of the parents when it comes to growing up with a sibling comes naturally. When talking to most of them, they didn't even notice they were doing it. They downplayed the role that they played because of how instinctive it is.

"I felt the need to step up when my father got into an accident," recalls Afridee. "You just feel it. The need to take on what they did for you. You're next in line for your siblings."

However, the role of a sibling isn't as straightforward as that of a parent. You're more of a friend than a parent. You have more of an insight into their lives than your parents do. This can make bearing the responsibility to look after them more complicated. It doesn't necessarily mean you know everything they're doing. In fact, some of the time, due to the constant buzz of the world and the mess of your own life that you're so busy trying to sort out, you have no idea what the little ones are up to. Yet, there's a part of them you know that they don't reveal to your parents.  

"Sometimes, you hardly exist in your siblings' life," explains Samiha Ahmed, a student of Independent University, Bangladesh; older sister to a pair of twin brothers. "But it takes just one conversation. One, that they take under consideration that changes their entire trajectory. It makes you feel like you've done at least something right and impactful being the eldest sister, other than having an influence in their great taste in movies and series, of course."

Samiha tells us about how she recognised the potential in her little brother. She was convinced that he was in the wrong stream of education. And she knew this better than what her parents did exactly because of the upper hand that we have as siblings. That insight into the part of our siblings that our parents don't have the luxury of getting to know.

"It was just a conversation in the car. That may never have happened had we not been stuck in traffic," she adds. "The fact that we had it was of monumental impact because he did end up looking into the matter. And now he's studying something else. Something that I'm sure he'll excel at."

However good it feels to be able to contribute to your sibling's life. We tend to have to take many things into consideration far earlier than we normally would. We're no longer just trying to study hard and become successful for ourselves. We do it so we can ensure the well-being of our ageing parents and the future of our growing siblings. We're next in line for who they depend on and we have to make sure we can live up to that. And that pressure can sometimes be crushing.

But that's not the only thing we feel.

It's also up to us to protect them from the pressures of society. Being the younger sibling sometimes means that you're crushed under the burden of having to live up to the older sibling.

Syed Afrid Iqbal, recent graduate from York University, was fully aware of how that would affect his little sister.

"I made sure to keep reminding her," he states. "Whenever my parents set expectations in comparison to me, I told her she didn't have to be me. In this situation, I was playing the role my parents should have played. I made sure to remind her that there were things about her that made her special. And that she would excel at whatever it is that she was meant to."

Older siblings can in no way replace parents. We're nowhere close. A lot of the advice we offer, we're not fully sure of and we make a lot of mistakes that affect the younger siblings more than we ever know. We sometimes act like know-it-alls and can be a real preaching pain to be around. And we're sorry for that.

Younger siblings play into every decision we make in our lives. And no matter the pressure of sometimes having to step in and play the role of a younger, very inexperienced parent, we don't know where we'd be without them.

Syeda Erum Noor is dangerously oblivious and has no sense of time. Send help at


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