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Dear Elder One, Hear Me Out; Love, The Younger Sibling

As parental figures, we worry about the younger siblings and tend to advise them on what to and what not to do, somewhere down the line forgetting what they are internalizing.

As a toddler just entering kindergarten, I distinctly remember coming back home wailing, telling my mother about how all my friends had siblings. In fact, everyone I knew, my age or older, had a brother or a sister. Someone who they’d play with, eat with, and well, be constantly around with.

I wanted a sibling-like most others at my age wanted a toy. It was a demand I was stuck to, unwilling to budge. So well, being my parents’ ‘spoiled brat’ of a four-year-old, I was one day gifted with a younger brother, someone who I treated like my prized possession. But there was definitely one thing that I hadn’t taken into account – all the attention of being the only child for four long years was now going to be partly diverted to him, the cute little newborn.

Though the jealousy starts at a very young age, being older (and maybe wiser) we constantly feel like we’ve done and seen it all. “I got my first firsthand smartphone at age 16, how does he get one without even asking?” comparisons get the better of us and we become unaware of things like technological advancements, and even necessities in the prevailing times.

Since we take the high school board exams first, apply to college first, our parents’ expectations from us are also relatively higher. It’s definitely scary to go out there in the real world without knowing what exactly is coming our way, and even for our parents, it’s their first time doing all this from our eyes too. They learn from the mistakes we’ve made on our paths, and well, they ensure that the younger ones don’t go through the same.

Bossing around your younger sibling definitely has its perks over the years, but the relationship definitely evolves once they reach high school. In some way or the other, while relating to their everyday struggles (since we went through them not so long ago ourselves) we assume the role of guiding them through these crucial decisions while sharing our experiences, ensuring that they don’t make the same blunders.

While I find it easy to relate to all older siblings around, I was curious to know what it actually feels like to be ‘someone’s younger brother/sister’ during the stressful years that high school puts you through.

Being a younger sibling means having the weight of an older sibling and their successes over your shoulders. They sometimes overwhelm you, overshadow you, or even overpower you. It isn’t as much like being jealous of them, it is more so being tired of the incessant comparison that unconsciously one’s parents indulge in.

Sakshi, an undergraduate student at Delhi University
A still from Taare Zameen Par (2007) of young Ishaan with his over-achiever elder brother.

We always have this perception that the younger siblings have it the easy way. Being referred to as the ‘baby’ of the house, they are forever treated as children, and in many cases, made to walk in the footsteps of their older ones.

The older siblings act like they’re born to boss around. From holiday planning, to important household decisions, we are made to take a lead in most situations. Being the “lab rat” of the pack, the oldest child syndrome is prevalent in more cases than talked about. Since they are the experimental children, firstborns act in contrasting manners when told their parents are now going to be shared by a new human being. They either take the lead and become strong willed, or acquire a more compliant personality trait.

In either case, they are the first role models and influencers to their siblings. Constantly observing and admiring them, younger siblings more often than not feel overshadowed by the doings of their older ones. Though being older we’re always told to set a ‘good example’ for them, our unsolicited advice many a times turns into a beating drum providing constant reminders to the younger ones that maybe they’re not as great as we ever were at their age, which might not even be true in most cases.

Though my parents never say anything, the pressure comes in naturally. The bar is preset for you, whether high or low. You just always want to do better than what came before you. She always knew what she wants to do in life and that’s very hard for me. Having an older sibling doing well and having their lives sorted is enough to make you question yourself.

Ayesha, an undergraduate student

Though expectations and pressure might not be visibly put and seen, the younger ones more often find it to be a game of comparisons even if it doesn’t come from external factors. It’s something they internalize looking at the growth of an individual right before their bare eyes.

“Oh, you’re her younger brother.” The feeling of constantly being called someone’s shadow is a feeling of utmost pride, to see your older one doing well, but most younger siblings end up questioning their own abilities. The comments and comparisons are inevitable and are mostly made unconsciously – and if your older sibling is the perfect role model to offer, it becomes even harder.

The older sibling is sort of the benchmark till the younger one grows up. Not just with parents, but even in school. The concept of it not being the norm at their age is still there, but for me, my sister can understand the concept of the passage of time. The pressure to do well is still there, no matter what.

Manit, a high school student

Since siblings are our closest to kin and mostly our first friends, most relationships follow the same patterns, wherein the younger sibling idolizes the elder one, eager to consciously or subconsciously follow their customs. On becoming of age and entering the post-adolescence period of decision making in life, they wish to be treated with the same equal stature as their older ones. They too want their opinions to be considered, to be the ones their parents turn to when they need help, and well, for once in their lives, have normal indulgent conversations with their siblings.

Though they might be more spoiled, younger siblings hate to be treated as followers. They scream for a break free moment to tell the world they as individuals are different. They have an identity of their own and are more than capable of paving a path for themselves. Even if siblings have the same ulterior goals, that doesn’t mean that they should merge their paths and maybe one should lead and the other should blindly follow. This is the stark difference and can be seen in cases as the ‘younger child syndrome.’

Having an older sibling is like having another mind that keeps pushing you to your limits. Though people around might not be expecting anything, you always have this mark to cross. You basically do things and work harder so that you feel satisfied and it’s just your sibling who’s talked about. So, achieving things is not you living up to your parents’ expectations, it’s you trying to feel content with what you have done and not feeling disappointed when you compare yourself with your sibling.

Author’s brother

Believe it or not, this hit me harder than it should have. Trying to guide them through the hard ships one faces growing up, we often overstep or make them feel like they need to push harder. Though the constant motivation is great, I think all of us elders should make it a point to know and understand exactly what they are feeling. They look up to us with pride and our words are what mean the most to them, so let’s make a constant effort to not make them feel like they’re nothing but our shadows. Yes, we mean well, but that doesn’t mean we wish to turn them into replicas of ourselves.

A still from Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na (2008) between Genelia D’Souza and Prateik Babbar, who play on-screen distanced-but-re-bonded siblings.

Being a younger sibling, my parents had more knowledge, things like even the fee for colleges. I found it easier. In terms of the areas that I could get into and to be ready for what is going to come family was more prepared way before I was even going through the entire stage. I was ready just because my elder sibling went through it. She’s insanely smart so she has definitely set the bar high for me & I feel the pressure to match up to her most of the time. But honestly, this has helped me to stop slacking and push myself a little extra.

Mehak, an undergraduate student

Many believe that the pressure is not necessarily because of the sibling relationship. It’s more about the personality, and if there is some pressure every time to do something, it will always be there. Depending upon the age gap, parents seem to be more liberal, less paranoid and much more aware about the whole transition from school to college, and decisions that come along the way. Older siblings are seen as more understanding, and easier to approach since they themselves struggled with many of those aspects.

To parents and elder ones around, know that the sibling dynamic is also dependent upon many other gendered, age related, and cultural factors and every younger sibling has a different insight to it. Through these years of guidance, it’s important to keep in mind that everyone is different. The goals, aspirations, attitudes may vary no matter what, so let’s not hamper their demeanor and let them pave their path – their way.

Feature Image Credits: Unsplash

Sara Bhasin

sarabhasin@gmail.com

Author

Journalism has been called the “first rough draft of history”. D.U.B may be termed as the first rough draft of DU history.Freedom to Express.