There are three of us: my eldest sister, my middle sister, and me. The relationship I have with my eldest sister is like a snow globe; it stays dormant for most of the year but gets shaken up during the holidays.
My childhood memories of her are patchy, most of which were of her babysitting me and holding my hand while we crossed the street. By the time I started kindergarten, she was a pre-teen thinking about what career she wanted to pursue after high school. I was learning my ABCs.
For as long as I’ve known her, she’s been a busy bee. She skipped a grade, volunteered, participated in tons of extracurricular activities, and checked off every box under the description of an “overachiever.” She was rarely home after school. While my middle sister and I binge-watched cartoons and daytime talk shows, she was out learning something.
I was her youngest sister whom she viewed as a child. She was my parent’s guinea pig and prized possession.
Family dinner conversations often revolved around her because my parents wanted to know what she did during the day. From how her classes were, conflict with friends, to interpersonal issues at her part-time job, she shared and shared while my parents listened and offered advice. I silently seethed at how my parent’s attention to my day of playing dodgeball with friends paled in comparison to hers.
When I was in University, she got engaged and moved hundreds of miles away from home. I was becoming a young adult, ready to enter the workforce. She got married and started a family. Although she’s only 5 years older than me, the difference in our life stages made it feel like we were worlds apart.
For most of my life, I felt like everything and anything I accomplished, my sister had already done it.
The novelty was long gone for my parents; no matter how hard I tried to outshine her, my achievements never seemed to pique their interest. It wasn’t fair. Playing catch up to someone who had a head start before I was even born is a losing game because the only prize I won was a chip on my shoulder.
My parents’ firsts will always be held by their firstborn. And I didn’t truly appreciate that until I became a parent.
When I had my daughter, my life was turned upside down and inside out because all my time and attention went toward this small bundle of flesh. My priorities weren’t just about me anymore. I had to consider her needs in every decision I made.
As I entered my journey into motherhood, my first-born was my partner in crime. She was learning, exploring, and digesting everything it meant to be a tiny human. And I was fumbling, stumbling, and juggling everything it took to be a mother. The memories I share with her are special because we both didn’t know what we were doing. And we still don’t. Every parenting experience is a new one with her.
I now understand why my parents were so focused on my eldest sister’s life. They entered uncharted territory with her, uncertain of how their efforts will turn out. From deciding to let her walk to school by herself, allowing her to go to sleepovers, putting her in art class, teaching her to drive, guiding her to choose a meaningful career … all the parenting decisions they’ve made started with her.
And because these were firsts for my parents, I realized there was a lot of pressure on my eldest sister to set a good example for her younger siblings.
She was always busy because she was doing her best to lead the way.
She wasn’t at home much because she was making strides and paving the way for us. She wanted to explore as many opportunities as she could so that her sisters knew that anything is possible. She wanted us to learn from her mistakes.
She tried her hardest at everything she did because she didn’t want to disappoint us.
She got to do things first because she was the first. And the responsibility of going first can be both a burden and a blessing.
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Watching my daughter play with her brother in the living room made me wonder how their relationship will unfold as they grow up. I don’t know how they’ll be as adults or where life will take them.
As my son chases after her, tripping over his own feet several times, I can see a unique bond forming between them. I don’t want their connection to turn into a competition. I don’t want him to feel like he’s playing catch up, to compare himself to her, to feel like his accomplishments are less worthy than hers.
From the day she was born, my daughter has been a leader. She is headstrong and knows exactly what she wants in life. I can see my eldest sister’s determination and perseverance in her. But I don’t want her to feel pressured to set an example or carry the burden of being first.
I know sibling rivalry may be inevitable; however, I’m hoping that by letting go of the expectations I set for myself and for my kids, loving them unconditionally, treating them as unique individuals, and appreciating them for who they are … I might just transform that rivalry into revelry.
Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP, is an author of 3 books and a Top 30 Vancouver Mom Blogger. Her blog, Sum on Sleeve is a raw and honest look at self-love, relationships, and parenthood. She’s appeared as a guest on CBC News Radio and Fairchild TV News and contributed to HuffPost Canada, Scary Mommy, and CBC Parents.
This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.