I’m not sure how to be a better sister and no one ever talks about it

There aren’t that many articles about how to work on your relationship with your brother.

There are all these articles about making things work with your romantic partner. Are things falling apart? Does he really like you? Are you a good match? What 10 habits of yours will drive him away (for god’s sake woman, do not leave your tampons lying around!)? What 237 sexy things can you do to remind him of how sexy you are?

There is a lot of information and commentary about parents and children. Babies, young children, teenagers, adult children. Elderly parents. Parents of my generation, who might think we can still get jobs when we can’t, and are trying to kick us out of their house. How is your relationship with your mom? How is your relationship with your kid? Whole memoirs about how your mom’s OCD and her collection of porcelain frogs shaped your entire life.

But what about siblings? They don’t make headlines as much.

And I find myself wondering about how I’m supposed to act with my brothers, now that we’re grown up.

(look how cute and simple they used to be!)

(everyone was so happy back then)


It’s strange. I am the oldest, so obviously, I was the most important. And also, for a glorious while, the tallest. And then one day someone thought I was my little brother’s little sister. And then that didn’t stop. And then one day, my brothers went beyond me. They did things I’d never done. And I saw in them people I had never been close with.


I wrote about how my brothers are cooler than me. They are. Both of them, too. Which is a lot of people in my immediate family who are cooler than me. They are both better-looking and cooler and funnier and smarter than me. I am not putting myself down. That takes a lot of all of those things. And they are. It’s like my parents’ genes worked out all the kinks on me and then they started hitting home runs. BAM! BAM! We could do this all day!

Since my brothers have become cooler than me, I have seized up a little. Sometimes I’m not sure what to say around them. I try to be funnier than I actually am, which usually goes really amazingly well. As you can imagine.



(“seriously, Kate? Are you trying to be funny right now or something?”)

Recently, one of my brothers was going through a tough time. College stuff, second year. But totally different college stuff than me. Second year, my college stuff was like “Oh god!! I got a B instead of an A! I need to go talk to the professor about this. Why is everyone drunk? People are so gross. I am so much more evolved than these children. I am going to go meet with my professor again now and we’ll talk about life and he’ll be really impressed with how mature I am.” Yeah. So a bit of a dick. But in this really dorky way.

My brother’s college stuff is more like, “I am the most popular person in the world and everyone wants me to party with them all the time and I’m pledging for this frat and I just changed my major because I can’t figure out what I want to do and now I’m taking totally different courses that I have no experience in and I’m not getting good grades and I don’t want to ask for help because I have too much pride. But also I am the most popular person in the world and I’m not sure if this is good or bad or just distracting.”

Every time I talk to him, I remember that I didn’t drink any alcohol in college. And that I called it alcohol. I remember that I didn’t even try pot. I remember that I was the kind of student who my brother would have felt sorry for if he even noticed me for a single second.

And that is a weird thing to realize about your little brother.

I want to be able to give advice. I want to have some answers for him. To guide him. But I also sort of want to sound cool while I’m doing it. And I don’t know exactly how to do this.

I keep meaning to call him. To see how he’s doing. How’s the pledging? How does that even work? Am I using the right word? I should probably try harder to hide my deep-seated but ill-informed disdain and fear of all frats. I should probably not mention how I used to feel, when I walked by the frat houses in college, right by the bus stop. The guys would be out on the porches, shirtless, slouching, leaning back as far as they could. Sometimes they would call things at me. The air felt heavy with danger. I wanted to disappear. Sometimes I both wished that they wouldn’t see me and wished that they would say something nice when I went by. If they didn’t notice me at all was that worse? What did it mean?

I want to call him and be there for him. But I feel awkward, so I don’t call.

And then it occurs to me that the reason why I am not calling is that I feel like I shouldn’t feel awkward. I feel like I should be good at this. At my own brother. I feel like we should be automatically comfortable together. We were for so long. We have always been close. We should have something to say to one another now. We grew up together. I was there when he was born. We used to play “moving to New Hampshire” together and dress in flannel and puffy vests, because I had convinced him that New Hampshire was the best place in the world, if very cold. I should know him so well that I should know exactly what to say, all the time. I should understand him better than anyone. I should be great at being his sister.

(look how great at it I was!)

And I’m afraid I’m not. So I’m ashamed. I’m embarrassed. I feel a little like I’m failing.

How do you get better at being someone’s sister? What if they have grown up to be so different from you that you’re not even sure that they want to hang out with you?

I think maybe you have to just call.

Maybe we need a catchy list. 5 Totally Essential Tricks You Need to Know About Making Your Brother Like You:

1. Be there. Set up a time to skype once in a while (I still haven’t done this).

2. Listen. Even if you never  went to a frat party, you’re both still human. Humans have ears.

3. Tell him why you think he’s great, even if you don’t say “I love you,” because that would be awkward.

4. Tell him the truth about what’s going on with you. No sugarcoating or showing off. Grownups can talk like this. It builds trust. And it’s fun. Tell him the truth about what you think about his situation if you think he needs help. Just say it, don’t lecture.

5. Remember that it doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to know the latest word for “guys! this is really cool!” You don’t have to understand his music, which goes on forever and seems to never have any vocals. You are his sister. That’s special, automatically. You get a special pass. So use it, already.

How’s that? Is that a good list? I’m not sure how catchy it was. I keep trying to get better at writing catchy lists, and I’m not sure how that’s going. I think I’m bad at sequencing, because I don’t know what should come next. I don’t know much. I just have a feeling. I just know I want to be close with my brothers.

It feels really important to me to get good at being a sister. Because I love these guys a lot:

And in honor of this, because we were really badass together, as crayon people:

*  *  *

Do you have siblings/a sibling? How is your relationship with them? Have you worked on it? Has it always been a certain way? I’d love to hear about it.

Unroast: Today I love my thumbs. They happen to be perfect.

P.S. I totally leave my tampons (you know, unused. I’m civilized) lying around. Haven’t driven Bear away yet, somehow.

Reader(s) cake pic!! This was for a 26th birthday and I’m told the picture was taken with this blog in mind. Which makes me crazy happy, of course. Send me yours!


Kate on April 26th 2012 in family, fear

44 Responses to “I’m not sure how to be a better sister and no one ever talks about it”

  1. Melanie responded on 26 Apr 2012 at 12:05 pm #

    I think your list is perfect. The “listen” part most of all. Your brother probably doesn’t want your advice, but call and just ask how he’s doing in general and be present. That’s really all you can do.

    I am not close with any of my siblings, and I have my reasons for it. It is unhealthy for me to try and have close relationships with any of them. So I am kind to them at family outings, and I occasionally call to say hello, and that’s it. They are all quite a bit older, and the one my mom adopted that is close in age, is just a really ugly bitter person I want very little to do with.

    Great cake pic.

  2. Loren responded on 26 Apr 2012 at 12:17 pm #

    You should know by now. Bears are attracted to tampons ;)
    Also, yes to this, yes to all of this. I feel a lot the same things about my sister. We are siblings, but we aren’t really ‘friends’ and I try to be nice & listen to her and be good to her, but I can’t tell if she annoys me so much *because* she is my sister, or if she only does annoying things in front of me *because* we are sisters. I love her always, but sometimes it just takes SO much energy to keep in touch with her. And we are very much the same type of nerdy almost out of touch person. I think if one of us were more extroverted it might be easier to get along, but from your account maybe that wouldn’t help at all.

  3. Kate responded on 26 Apr 2012 at 12:26 pm #

    I’m sorry that’s the situation, but it sounds like you’ve come to terms with it, at least. So that’s good. I guess I can’t help hoping that somehow, later on, you all develop closer relationships.

    I think drifting away from my brothers until we never talk would leave my life feeling a little empty. which I guess it part of the reason I want to figure things out now.

  4. Katherine responded on 26 Apr 2012 at 12:28 pm #

    Yes, yes, yes. When I left home to go to college, my little brother and sister were awkward middle schoolers, and we didn’t totally understand each other. I feel like while I was gone they grew up into these really cool people and I missed the whole thing and now I live on the other side of the country. I’ve gone through so much they don’t know about, and I’m sure they’ve gone through so much I don’t know about. And we live in this comfortable space where we don’t get to explore that. Sometimes I fantasize about us all getting together and getting really drunk and talking all night and having a breakthrough. I’m not sure why I think we need to be drunk for that to happen…

  5. Kate responded on 26 Apr 2012 at 12:29 pm #

    I hear you. I have a similar fantasy. The three of us have to be somewhere together for awhile, with no significant others or parents or friends, and we stay up really late goofing off, the way we used to some nights in the kitchen.

  6. Sooz responded on 26 Apr 2012 at 12:44 pm #

    Kate: My siblings and I “grew apart” when we became adults. It felt weird to talk to them b/c we didn’t have much common ground. I felt pressure to be the “big sister”. But then one day I realized that I didn’t need to do anything much but love my siblings and to let them know that I am thinking of them now and again. They don’t call me or let me know what is going on in their lives but I try to call them once in a while to check in and let them know I love them. I don’t put pressure on them to do or be anything other than what they are. It isn’t my ideal relationship but it works for now. As long as I feel they know I care…the rest I just let slip away.

  7. Elly responded on 26 Apr 2012 at 1:02 pm #

    Thank you for the list and the reminder…this is definitely something I’m aware of with my younger brother as well. How do you deal when someone you grew up with and used to spend so much time with goes off on his own and then becomes incredibly sophisticated and mature and business-savvy and cool and even more different from you? How do you find common ground as adults, as your paths become even more divergent? (And I do wonder if it’s harder on those of us who homeschooled, who were used to always being around our siblings until college or whatever time that suddenly we no longer even lived nearby?)

    So. I agree with your list, especially the “be there.” And maybe even extending that to “make sure you’re actively reaching out to be there.” I think I have to email my brother now.

  8. Haley responded on 26 Apr 2012 at 1:08 pm #

    I’m in the same sort of situation as Loren – my sister and I are actually very similar but we don’t keep in touch. Really at all. Not because we don’t get along, just mostly because we’re both antisocial. I wish we could develop the sort of relationship that I hear sisters are “supposed” to have, but I don’t know how likely that is, especially considering we don’t live close enough to get together in person. :-/

  9. San D responded on 26 Apr 2012 at 1:30 pm #

    I had the opposite upbringing with my sister. We were literally brought up a separate children as if each of us were an only child. (ask to see our individual picture albums with the other sister cut out of the pictures…I kid you not) Perhaps my mother wanted to squash any conspiracy, but I doubt that was it. My sister was younger by three years, and definitely the favored one. So, there was no sisterly connection until…..our mother died. When she died, my sister and I were given the task of cleaning up her things, and we talked during that time. It wasn’t until she looked at all the pictures around the house and noticed that one of us was on the brink of crying in every picture, no matter what age. My sister was having a great time being the favorite, and the only child, she didn’t notice the “other” only child, me. That was in 1996. We are very close since then, but I have missed her children growing up in the years prior to that. We keep in touch daily now, and see each other at least once a month, and we even ditch our families and go to Paris for 1 week to giggle like 12 year olds while eating Nutella crepes. I realize all family dynamics are not the same, and for whatever reason, we two sisters, orphaned now in our 60′s since our parents are both gone, have been “introduced” later in life, and the love we feel for each other just makes me weep.

  10. Blair responded on 26 Apr 2012 at 1:31 pm #

    Crayon people! Great pic. For me, the hardest part about being a good big sister is resisting the urge to try to co-parent her. My mom loved to say “Blair, I’LL be Alice’s mother, okay?” because I used to (okay, and sometimes still do) get very bossy and authoritarian with her.

    These days I’m just impressed with with an incredible person she is (a writer! an artist! a phenomenal singer!) and so my struggle now is 1. not to be jealous and 2. to keep up with her now that we’re time-zones apart.

  11. Kimmy Sue Ruby Lou responded on 26 Apr 2012 at 1:59 pm #

    your brothers are totally hot :) do they like older women?…and by all means tell them you love them…i have a bad history with my sister, but despite everything when i talk to her i always tell her i love her

  12. Sheryl responded on 26 Apr 2012 at 2:23 pm #

    I also have a much cooler younger brother. Who was the favourite, undeniably, and who has a much easier time with traditional “success” and people skills than I do. I was the geeky, bookish, somewhat anti-social older sister to his athletic, popular, smart and easy going younger brother. And we have VERY different relationships with our parents, which can easily turn into a source of conflict.

    But dude my brother is awesome. He’s also responsible for the action that I believe has enabled us to have a real, healthy adult relationship: he followed me to university. He started attending my school during my last year there, in a city that was a good three hours from our mother’s home.

    We started leaning on each other a little bit then: me meeting him in the halls between classes and work to drop off a meal, or a surprise, him rushing out of a bio exam to be with me during a very scary emergency room trip. It allowed us to really start to learn about who our adult sibling was.

    Now we call to talk about all the shit in our lives that we don’t want to scare our parents with, or requests to please edit his grad school applications or can he come and dog sit for a weekend. I don’t think I have a “friend” relationship with my brother …. we aren’t the sort of people who fit easily into each others lives. But we like each other, and we support each other.

  13. Sunny responded on 26 Apr 2012 at 2:25 pm #

    My brother and I did not really develop a great relationship until a few years ago. I was the older sister, the nerd, the overachiever… and he was that cool kid that everyone called by his last name (our last name) who would say “um, yeah, that’s my sister.” We fought at home, we hung out in separate circles, and he would complain that “all you do is read!”

    Then a few years ago, I went through a really bad break-up. Like the “hey hun, glad you’re home, can you pack up your stuff and move out?” conversation. I was suddenly back at my parents’ house that night with all of my stuff. They were away on vacation, so I called my younger brother who still lived at home at the time, just to let him know I was home. This was so he wouldn’t freak out when he saw my car in the driveway at the time he stumbled in around 2 am. I figured I would leave a message, since he NEVER answers his phone…

    The unthinkable happened! He answered, I started crying, and he was suddenly telling his friends he had to go home to be with his sister and to go on without him. And he meant it! He grabbed a pizza on the way, we stayed up watching movies, and we talked. A lot.

    Now we have some form of communication (whether it be by text or phone call) at least once a week. My mother complains that “you live three hours away, and he lives across town from us, but you guys still talk more than we do!” We talk about his job, my job, his girlfriend, my lack-of-boyfriend (he forbids me to use a dating site through, as he states this is how his friends meet girls to hook up with), the news, our family… you name it. I think you find your relationships with your siblings grow when you go through the tougher experiences in life. There is no “cool sibling” versus “the nerd” anymore. It’s just the two of us against the world.

  14. Diana D responded on 26 Apr 2012 at 2:36 pm #

    I have 5 brothers and sisters. My husband has 6. He doesn’t call or email his siblings, but when they get together every couple of years, it’s like no time has passed. They laugh, tease, jostle for food at the table and have a really good time together. You can actually feel the love they have for each other in the room!

    I don’t call or email my siblings either, but we never get together. Ten years ago, my mom asked for a big extended-family photo; it was hands-down the most awkward day ever to see people I hadn’t spoken to in years, and having pretend-chit-chat conversations because they don’t want to do anything but “surface” talk instead of being real.

    Many years ago, my siblings showed their true colors when they chose money over family and ravaged my dad’s estate. They were shocked when I found out, (I was living overseas at the time) but not enough to apologize for their behavior. I’ve forgiven them a long time ago, but I also know they are completely capable of doing the same thing to my mom.

    I wish my relationship with them would turn out like San D’s story, but I just don’t think, given my history with them, it will ever be a happy ending. But I’m ever hopeful . . .

  15. lik_11 responded on 26 Apr 2012 at 2:41 pm #

    I’m the youngest, with 2 older brothers. Growing up, my oldest bro constantly tried to act like a dad… which drove me INSANE! As we got older, we’ve grown closer. He has lived on different continents for the past 13 years, so we’re not really close. But- the family gets together at least once a year and I really enjoy our time together.
    My middle brother is one of my best friends. Most of the time, when we talk, it is not about anything significant. I don’t (usually) call him with my problems, and he rarely calls me with his. But- we talk at least once a week just to say hi and let the other one know we’re thinking about them. We talk about our life’s current highlights. It’s a shallow relationship (probably sugarcoated) – but one of my favorites!

  16. Dinner at Christina's responded on 26 Apr 2012 at 3:15 pm #

    I totally could have written this- I feel the same way. I just have one brother- 3.5 years younger. I was the home-body, nerd, A student, anti-social one. And he was the hip, good looking surfer with 203 friends and rad stories and parties to attend.
    But, needless, we were still close until we moved. Then phone calls just were awkward. But I miss him- just don’t know how to bridge the gap or fix it.

  17. Frankie responded on 26 Apr 2012 at 3:23 pm #

    I’m in the same boat with my siblings. My brother and my sister are a lot closer to eachother than either of them is to me. They have a ton in common, similar personalities, and I just feel like the odd one out all the time even though it feels like I should be close w/ both of them because I’m the middle child. I try and make the effort to connect with them by doing things with each of them we both like. For instance over the summer, my brother and I went to the Museum of Natural history together. It was fun.My sister and I have a harder time getting along. Mostly because she’s stubborn and nasty. I wish I was closer to them both. Perhaps I’ll use your handy list to build the relationships. :) Nice post.

  18. teegan responded on 26 Apr 2012 at 3:24 pm #

    I have a little sister and, like apparently many of your other readers, I was the bookish older one and she was the cute, friendlier one. I was the “golden child” because of my grades, but I knew that everyone liked her better.
    I left home for a state boarding school when I was 16 and she was 13, and it seemed like my sister switched modes in high school. Her best friends circle shifted a bit and also she became really close to my dad (when everyone had considered him and me to be the similar ones), which meant baseball and sarcasm and needing more time to herself, leaving my mother stumped. The two of them had a terrible relationship for a while, and I was the mediator between the two – partially because my father is useless at mediating so I was the only one who could do it, and partially because I grew up a LOT when I went away to school, and I could more rationally view our family dynamic.

    But while I thought my sister was trying to be just like my dad, I realized she was just learning to be herself and balancing ALL of the things she loved, not just the boy bands and fashion she loved when she was ten, and we found the things we had in common. She and I both like to write letters or leave little notes on each other’s facebook walls. We’re both shy around strangers (there was nearly bloodshed in deciding who would have to call an order for pizza delivery when we were kids) but completely loyal to our friends, even though we don’t understand why they make irrational choices in their own lives.

    She calls me when our parents are driving her nuts (she’s got a great job in our old home town, so she’s living with them for a while) or when she has a boy problem or a friend problem or just because she saw a goofy commercial that made her think of me. We still connect over the things we used to – quoting ‘anchorman’ and ‘toy story 2′ and how random our father is and all – but since college she’s slowly realized that I know a thing or two, that I’ve done a thing or two, and it’s great to finally be the older sister who’s looked up to in a positive way. Especially because I was certainly never any help with hair or make-up or any of that stuff. And meanwhile she keeps me connected to all of them – my dad, my sister, my grandparents who are nearby.

    It’s pretty nice, actually.

  19. teegan responded on 26 Apr 2012 at 3:29 pm #

    oh, and i totally agree with your handy dandy rule list.

  20. Also Kate responded on 26 Apr 2012 at 3:32 pm #

    Yes to this – navigating your 20s with siblings is weird. You’re not living in the same house; you’re not going through the same life experiences; you’re becoming people in your own right, and it’s kind of like having to get to know them all over again… while still acknowledging that you have a special bond since you grew up together and did all sorts of adorable/funny things as children. I’m in the thick of it myself, and it’s hard to figure out how to communicate, and when, and what to say (since I’m not used to picking up the phone to just chat with any of my siblings… we used to be able to do that by just wandering into one another’s bedrooms).

    It’s funny – I’m all for communication and explicitly stating things and asking questions in romantic relationships, but with my siblings, even “I love you” feels weird and awkward somehow. We just used to never need that kind of communication, and I’m not even sure it’s what we need now, although we live in four different states.

    I have to say, I LOVE that you played “Moving to New Hampshire” with your brothers, because I grew up there and it is, really, the best place in the world, even if it occasionally gets cold (not all the time, though!) I have tried to explain to my girlfriend that growing up in NH has spoiled me for all warm, sticky climates, and that I can only live in places where there are moose, but she’s not buying it. (Her family is Cuban and a lot of them live in Miami, where I am told they have beach weather in December! In related news, I am spending most of Christmas vacation with them this year, and am completely terrified.)

  21. Jess K responded on 26 Apr 2012 at 3:46 pm #

    Oh my God. This is EXACTLY what I was thinking about the other night! My brother is almost 21 (yikes) and in college while I’m almost 16 and finishing my graduate degree … in the same department. He joined 2 of the same clubs as I had, making my “young’uns” his “elders”. We have that in common, at least, but I want to be able to help and guide him without pushing my prejudices and slants on him. Outside those clubs, he’s everything I WASN’T during undergrad.

    He’s shut out our parents and they keep pushing me to “help” him, but I don’t want to at the risk of what little relationship we DO have. I don’t know HOW to help him without … well, without everything going to hell. But, he knows I’m here if/when he’s ready or needs me. And I just have to be ok with that for now.

  22. Jess K responded on 26 Apr 2012 at 3:47 pm #

    *Almost 26. Crap. I WISH I was 16 again! lol

  23. Emily responded on 26 Apr 2012 at 4:51 pm #

    I love this post, Kate, because bro-sis relationships are so rarely discussed! My brother is 4 years behind me. A few months ago, I wrote this letter to him for another publication (The Good Men Project) and I thought you might like it: http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/you-can-get-laid-without-being-a-jerk/

    It’s about the very specific topic of college sex and intimacy. It’s one of the harder things to discuss, but I really think it’s super important for brothers to have hear the female perspective (if they’re straight).

  24. Sara responded on 26 Apr 2012 at 5:48 pm #

    Hey Kate, such an interesting topic! My sister and I have been best friends since birth (she’s one year older than I am) but my brother, who is six years older has never been as close with us. As kids we all fought and played together but because of the age difference, we just didn’t share as many of the same activities. The other thing is that my parents can be insane at the best of times, mostly my dad, so at the moment none of us have great relationships with them. Due to that, my brother, who is the only one done school and working has become a greater support for both us us, both financially and emotionally. I live close to my brother now, about an hour and a half away and I feel like I’m better friends with him now than ever. I’m hoping that one day we can have good relationships with my dad too, but until them it really has been a comfort. :)

  25. Molly responded on 26 Apr 2012 at 6:09 pm #

    My brother left for college when I was 14. I felt like we grew apart during his first 2 1/2 years of college. Then, in spring of his Junior year, he was diagnosed with cancer and had to take the semester off to be treated (he’s fine now). He was living at home, and I feel like we became closer that semester, and we no longer argue about stupid little things (like how the cats should be fed). Now, he’s in grad school, and we’re not close but we get along well. When I think about contacting him, I feel like that would be bothering him. He didn’t much want to be in contact with us when he started college. But he called me back right away when I texted him last time, so maybe that has changed.

  26. Megan responded on 26 Apr 2012 at 6:20 pm #

    I have a sister. She’s two years older than me. I’m actually not sure we’ve ever really been that close. I mean, I’ve always wanted to be. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be with two sisters? You’re supposed to be best friends! But we’re not. I’m way closer to my mom, which I suppose isn’t a bad thing.

    My sister and I are just so different. I’m the type of person that has to talk things out, and if I must, I will confront a person if we are having a problem. My sister is the opposite. She refuses to talk about problems. She hates confrontation. For that reason, I feel like we’ve never resolved anything—ever. Unfortunately this has led to resentment on my behalf, and I doubt she’s aware of it.

    Plus, I’m the competitive one. I always played sports, had to do well in school. She danced and was popular. Because of my competitive nature, I have always felt like I had to compete with her. She’s always been skinnier than me, more popular, more poised. Now that I’m older I realize I’ve never had a healthy relationship with her because I created a competition between us that she was never even aware of. And she always wins.

    She’s getting married in a few months, and I’m getting married a few months later. We live in different states, soon will be married, and eventually have families of our own. Perhaps we’ll be able to bond now that we’re older and will have marriage in common. I just hope I haven’t missed my chance to be a good little sister.

  27. Jenn responded on 26 Apr 2012 at 8:09 pm #

    My little bro is 3 years younger and was exceedingly annoying when I was in high school and he was in middle school. There was a chance for commonality when he became a freshman and I was a senior… but then we went to different high schools, and he got a social life. Then I left for college, and I feel like he grew up while I was gone.
    I went to college out of state, and by the time he moved back to our home state, I had moved out of it. Now we see each other once a year at holidays, and we have nothing to talk about because we have no similar interests. I’m impressed with the things he’s accomplished, but I disagree with him on virtually every subject, so we do a lot of smalltalk to avoid fighting.

  28. Emmi responded on 26 Apr 2012 at 8:18 pm #

    I have one sister, older by four years. She and I did not have happy childhoods. She got the brunt of the Bad Stuff from my parents, and she in turn dumped as much of it as she could onto me. I can’t blame her – what else is an odd, overprecocious child to do? Only in her 30s did she finally get diagnosed as having Asperger’s. It was such a huge relief for her – she wasn’t weird or broken, she was actually physically, chemically different.

    We weren’t close as children. I adored her in the way littlest siblings often do, but she resented me for a lot of reasons. We bickered all the way through our teenage years. When she went away to college 1000 miles away, things got better. Space was good for us. Somehow our relationship changed – I still can’t put my finger on exactly how. Now, I call her every workday during my afternoon commute, and I go out and visit her and my parents every other weekend. It’s nice, we know each other so well despite being complete polar opposites in a lot of ways.

    My husband has two half-brothers, who are 14 and 16. They are awesome. My husband and I have been together almost ten years, so they’ve pretty much grown up with me in their life. That feels more than a little bizarre, but in a good way. My mother-in-law tells me that they love me like crazy, which makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. I adore them in return, but have little clue on how to really deal with them. I do the best I can though, and I think I’m fumbling through okay.

    You wanting and trying to be a good sister, that makes you one in my book. Even if you have no idea how, even if you feel like you’re failing – it’s going to mean something to them, even if they don’t consciously realize it. Good on you, dear :)

  29. melissa responded on 26 Apr 2012 at 10:33 pm #

    Interesting. So far I have avoided most of this stuff…. my siblings and I were born far enough apart to be pretty much individual “only” children. My brother moved out before I even got to high school and I moved out before my sister was even able to put sentences together. Because of the frosty coldness each of us got from our parents, we never really “went back”. It wasn’t the kind of household where we spoke to each other or hugged each other or even felt like a family, so us siblings hardly know each other at all.

    There’s definitely a bit of a bond there, though! A bond that is probably made out of pity for each other, lol. So luckily, none of us feel any pressure to be “good” sons/daughters/siblings/aunts/uncles/whatever.

  30. melissa responded on 26 Apr 2012 at 10:41 pm #

    My relationship with my cousin, however, might be more relevant to your post!

    She and I were SUPER CLOSE growing up, despite all of the bullheaded arguing. We were pretty sisterly, it seemed like we had our own language! Bathed together as children… I stayed at her house just as often as my own, I’m pretty sure!

    But around the high school time, our differences became kind of obvious. We stopped liking the same things. I struggled a bit with home related stuff and bad emotions and couldn’t talk about them with her. She was probably having just as much stress during puberty as I was and couldn’t talk to me, either.

    Soon, there were no longer any “safe” topics that we could both appreciate (didn’t like the same music or the same shows or same fashions… nothing! it was weird). Were too embarrassed to continue playing with our dolls like we used to.

    So I do feel… negligent as a family member because I think we spoke maybe once in the past year???? Awful. Sure, it cuts both ways, takes two to tango etc etc. But the disappointment is still kind of there.

  31. Anna responded on 27 Apr 2012 at 1:04 am #

    My older brother and I were best friends before he moved out. Now that sometimes I go a month without talking to him I don’t know what to say, but then there are other times where we can spend five hours talking about nothing like we used to. We might not be best friends anymore, but he’s still the person I feel like I can confide in about anything.

    Your list is perfect; listening and being honest are very, very important. I think that if you give your brother advice that has good intentions and a good background, he will appreciate it because it’s coming from his sister, someone who is irreplaceable in his life.

  32. Amber responded on 27 Apr 2012 at 1:44 am #

    Isn’t it crazy how common it is to be so distant from the ones you spent the most formative years of your life with? I look back on my childhood and can’t believe that I used to live, play, laugh, and pretend with my two sisters.

    We are pleasant and considerate when we see each other now that we are all in our 20′s, but we never make an effort to call/stay in touch on our own volition. I’m quite different from my two sisters, and coincidentally, they are quite similar in personality/characteristics. They are best friends and will go on vacations to Mexico and L.A. together, while I only find out minor details about their trip through photo albums on facebook. I have definitely come to terms with the fact that our differences prevent us from being friends/close, however it’s still strange in contrast to where we came from…our childhoods together.

    I’m not sure if it’s right/wrong/good/bad. It just is this way. And learning to feel comfortable, while not complacent, seems to be the best answer for me at this point in my life.

  33. Penny Ellen responded on 27 Apr 2012 at 2:25 am #

    My sister is 18, I’m 24 and we barely know each other. We have each other added on Facebook and we talk about my bunnies when I bring them for a visit to the ol’ homestead, but aside from that, I have no idea how to interact with her.

    She is everything (talented, gorgeous, Christian, etc) my parents wanted in a child, and I’m pretty opposite (working a menial job, fat, not Christian, etc) what they wanted. It seems like the oldest child always feels alienated around their siblings… I see it all the time. We pave the way for them. All the difficult arguments with out parent? We have them first. It’s hard to be close with family when they are SO different from you. Especially siblings.

  34. Iris responded on 27 Apr 2012 at 3:05 am #

    I have two brothers who are significantly (7 and 11 years) younger than me. They’re both growing up to be entirely different people from me, and because I moved to another country for university two years ago I don’t see them very often at all. I’m worried I’m missing their formative years, that when they find out who they are there’s not going to be a place for me in their identities. So I try to connect with them as much as I can. The oldest recently came to stay with me for 3 weeks, which was lovely – he’s 14 now, and going from child to teenager so quickly it’s freaking scary, and I found while he was here that he’s actually a pretty fun guy!

    His life in school is very different from mine – I was an outsider who, like you, watched my peers in puzzlement and had no interest in scrabbling around the social hierarchy or doing “normal” things like drinking. I was bullied when I was little, which earned me a very individual attitude and a thick skin. My brother is right in the middle of the hierarchy, unwilling to have the attention that comes with being popular while scared of the discomfort of being unpopular. He cares a LOT more about fitting in than I ever did (which I now realise, knowing people who were more “normal” as children, was abnormally little). There’s a lot of situations he finds himself in that I can’t relate to. But I try to tell him about my own experience, hoping to give him some of the benefit of the individualism and assuredness I developed without having to go through the ordeal of getting there. I know he doesn’t participate in bullying, because of me. He doesn’t stand up for them either, but he tries to be nice to the people at the bottom of the pecking order. He also knows that not doing the same as everyone else is actually fine, that even if school isn’t awesome all the time life afterwards can be great. I try to talk to him frankly about using his own compass in making decisions like whether to go to parties, and drink, and talk to him about his problems while making it clear that I don’t judge him for not getting as good grades as me or going along with the “mainstream”. And I’m honest with him about my own experiences, thinking the fact that they’re so different from his might actually be good. It’s difficult and we may never be as close as sibling pairs who are best friends and close in age, but I’m trying.

    As for the youngest, he’s only 11. The gap between us might make it difficult, but I hope that as he grows up I can try to build a stronger relationship between us, too. He’s both more and less like me – the most popular guy in his school, rebellious even at 11, very “cool”. But he also has a big interest in reading books and writing, so maybe there’s hope.

  35. Cathrine responded on 27 Apr 2012 at 4:08 am #

    Crayon people! Yes!

    I love this post so much. SO much. I’m the oldest and I have two younger brothers as well, and I’m close to both of them, and sometimes I prang about whether we’re as close as I think we are, and if we are, great, but if we’re not, whether its something that we need to work on. And its NICE to hear about another big sister who also has two younger brothers who she (on occasion) isn’t sure what to say to. this whole thing is just plain nice. So nice. Great post.

  36. anya responded on 27 Apr 2012 at 5:18 am #

    Now I want to call my brother. We were close as kids, even though I’m 7 years older but after I moved out for college 6 years ago ( 4 year tech scool, then MD , now working in a city 4 hours away ) , I felt like I abandoned him. I just didn’t make time to call, and when I got home (once or twice a month for two days) sometimes we spent the night talking , but sometimes we just didn’t have the time, because I wanted to also talk to mum and dad. We speak sometimes now, and he calls me more often than I call him, but now I find out about his girlfriends and such after mom and this feels sad.

  37. Kristen responded on 27 Apr 2012 at 9:43 am #

    Your post brought tears to my eyes, it’s amazing how relevant it is to what’s going on in my life right now. Please call your brothers. Even if it’s just for two minutes of chit-chat, void of meaningful conversation. Just the fact that you called them to say hi will say the things that weren’t verbally said. I’m the oldest of three with two younger brothers- we’re 25, 27, and 29. I was surprised to read how common it is that the oldest children are the bookish ones while the younger ones were more into sports, better in social situations, and were more popular. We fall into that category too.

    I’m closer with the youngest brother, but the middle one and I share something no one else in our family does- an addiction. His is with drugs, I’m struggling with an eating disorder. Unfortunately he’s not doing as well as I am, and we’re thousands of miles apart. I never know where he is or if he receives my texts or voice mails (which I don’t feel are often enough anyway), because it depends on if he pawned his phone for drug money that day. We know about each other’s battles, and have talked here and there about it briefly, but never gone in depth. Maybe we don’t have to because we know what the other is going through, on some level. There are times when I know I can’t talk to him no matter how much I want to (detox, rehab, etc), just to check in, and it makes me want to talk to him even more. I feel regret for not reaching out to him more often, for not saying things I wanted to say. I’ve never experienced missing someone so much in my life. Although we aren’t very close, I know siblings have a bond that others don’t.

    Anyways, the point I’m trying to make is that we may not have the kind of relationships we’d like to have with our siblings, but I believe that actions can speak louder than words. There’s nothing wrong with small talk. For all you know, they may feel similarly about you- that they’re not sure how to communicate effectively with you because of your different lives growing up.

    Try not to over-think things, because all of that over-thinking is taking away from time you could be spending talking to your brothers. We’re all adults and can handle difficult situations, so even if the first conversation or two is awkward, it’ll pass. We’re not getting any younger. :)

  38. Reckless Housewife responded on 27 Apr 2012 at 10:27 am #

    If you can’t say “I love you” out loud to your brothers, mail them an actual paper card every once in a while and write “I love you.” We all love real mail, right?

    I’m convinced that boys & men need to hear/read “I love you” even more than we do. And since you won’t be there when they read the “I love you” there is no awkwardness. :)

    I love that you are concerned with the quality of your relationship with your brothers! My sister is one of my best friends, and it always saddens me when other people don’t get to have that relationship with their siblings.

  39. JessB responded on 28 Apr 2012 at 12:58 am #

    That is a great list. I will try and keep it in mind when I’m thinking about my brother. We don’t live that far apart, but we don’t see each other very often at the moment because he has a lot going on. He’s looking for a new place to love, spending a lot of time with his girl friend, and he’s spending 3 days a week in another city for his work.

    But we just spent a fair bit of time together during the Comedy festival that happened here, so I know we still get along great. That’s a good feeling.

  40. Jenny responded on 28 Apr 2012 at 8:40 pm #

    I just came across this blog, and I love it! (It’s like you are me… but much better at getting your ideas across. And also, you are slightly older and so have covered territory that I am blindly stumbling through at the moment.) I know EXACTLY how you feel about cooler younger siblings– wary of their disdain, but wanting to recapture the love-and-protect-and-boss-around relationship you pulled off so thoughtlessly before all this adolescence stuff started. I used to think that I could just wait out the time when my brother and sister were teenagers, and get in contact with them again when they came out the other side, say, around age 21. But reading your post and all these comments, I’m thinking they might come out the other side as people even harder to relate to! You have scared me into making contact. I can put up with a few years of snarky disdain if it means I don’t have to spend my adult life without them. Thank you (:

  41. Yet another Kate responded on 29 Apr 2012 at 12:14 am #

    I recently started reading your blog and have really been enjoying it. I felt compelled to comment on this post because I’m also an oldest (and least cool) of three siblings. I’m 28, my sister is 26, and my brother is 24. My sister and I have always been close friends, but it hasn’t always been easy. We were in the same school at several points growing up, and she had some popularity, while I was always about as nerdy as possible, with a small group of equally nerdy friends. My brother is incredibly nerdy, but also incredibly personable, and he has always had tons of friends. Growing up, my brother and I weren’t as close; I think it was some combination of the age difference and our personalities being too similar in some ways.
    As adults, in some ways it has taken more effort to be close. I got married at 21 and have been working full time at a job I care very much about since finishing college, and have also been in grad school part time for most of the last several years. My siblings have both worked at jobs they didn’t like, then quit and went to grad school. Neither is anywhere close to being married at this point either. What I think solidified our friendship as adults was a vacation we took together. My brother did a summer study abroad in Germany about three or four years ago, and my sister and I flew there and spent a week with him. I think she and I would have always been close anyway, but with my brother, it gave me a chance to see him as an adult. Also, it gave me a chance to see him vulnerable, out of his element, and without his many friends. My sister and I were able to give him some support and comfort, just by being there and talking to him and making him feel less alone. He’s cooler than me, but cool people can feel alone, even if they have a gazillion friends. The vacation was also a shared experience that I know they three of us will always look back on fondly (and as a bonus, each of us did at least one stupid thing that the others can make fun of for the rest of our lives).
    Anyway, all that to say, I think you can make a difference by just being there for your brother. I also think that shared experiences are worth their weigh in gold, when it comes to trying to re-establish the connection you want with your siblings.

  42. Kate responded on 30 Apr 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    @Reckless Housewife
    This is something I’m honestly just not sure how to approach. I feel like if I just suddenly said “I love you” to my brothers, they’d be all uncomfortable. It feels like there’s some code in place. So I sneak it in on birthdays and stuff.

  43. piper responded on 11 May 2012 at 1:06 am #

    I love my younger siblings
    (my sister is my fav ;p she’s 2) but the way i see it is that, who says that just because you share the same or one parent means you have to be close? why can’t it be okay to be “strangers” in a way. I have an older half brother that i havent seen in ten years due to fam issues on my father’s side,i recently found him on facebook, but, to be honest, he probably couldn’t care less. And all these years i’d wonder what it would be like to have a big bro as protector and what not, i’d even cry sometimes because i missed those times from when we were little, but, thats in the past. And now we’re strangers.

  44. NJ responded on 31 May 2012 at 5:26 am #

    I know what you mean! I think especially as older siblings you feel that pressure to be cool and you want to help them and want to make your younger sibling(s) happy.

    I’m having a problem with that in that I’m the older one, but somehow my younger sister has always been the more mature one (when it comes to living your life in a way that most people do it). She’s the one who always concentrated on school, had savings, got a car, got a job, had boyfriends, bought a house… and I’m the “irresponsible” one (I’m sure there are people who would call it irresponsible WITHOUT the quotations, ha. It’s been a long road but I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I don’t have to be a grown up in a way that everyone else is a grown up, it’s my life and I can live it in a way that makes me happy) who travels instead of saving, who didn’t really care for school but did alright anyway, who lives at home (participating in living costs), who doesn’t have romantic relationships (because they terrify me), etc. etc. etc. (In a bizarre twist, sometimes my mom will tell me my sister envies the way I am – when I spent so many years wishing I could be more like her.)

    Long story short: My sister and I are completely different. Our problems are different. I love her probably more than I love anybody else on this planet, but I have absolutely no idea how to talk with her. I don’t do hanging out well and I know my sister would also like us to spend more quality time together when she comes to visit, so it’s not just me who would like the relationship to be better. Maybe it’s something that comes with age? When we were both at home (with only a couple of years between us) we fought constantly, and then it got a little better (after we went off to school and only saw each other occasionally).

    Maybe I should just pick up the phone sometimes and follow your list.