I am twelve years older than my youngest sister. She’s also my half-sister, and her dad and I do not get along. And since moving out of my parents’ house when I was 17, I’ve struggled to find ways to be there for her and to connect with her. She just started middle school, and although her becoming a tween makes me nervous, it’s also why it’s so important now, more than ever, for us to build a strong relationship. Middle school, for me, was a full nightmare. And because I’m the oldest, I had to learn to navigate locker rooms, yearning for popularity, and a difficult home life mostly on my own. Her tweenagedom is also the perfect time to grow our relationship because the overlap between our interests and the media we consume is beginning to widen.

So I channeled Lorelei Gilmore in the episode where she throws tween April a birthday party, and I started to get to know my sister better. This is a list of things that worked for me.

Going out for sugary lattes

Tweens love Starbucks. It’s like a law of nature or something. My parents never buy her any because they fear hyperactivity, so I do. Better that I expose them to her now so she knows how to order them and how it will affect her so she doesn’t feel peer pressured into it when she’s at the mall with her friends like I did when I was her age.

All the makeovers

Since I started wearing makeup in the 7th grade, I’ve probably made every single makeup mistake that one could make. My aim is to show her that makeup can be fun, and a celebration of femininity. It’s not required, of course, but if she wants to get into it, hey, I’m here. And if she wants to wear makeup for practical reasons or on a daily basis, there’s a way to blend your foundation so you’re not orange.

We switched our favorite songs and shows

On a recent car ride home, we took turns playing each other songs we liked. I introduced her to artists like Lorde, Mac DeMarco, and Lana Del Rey. And she played me songs by The Weeknd and Nirvana that I hadn’t heard before. It’s important for me to reinforce to her how much I enjoy pop and hip-hop music because I can tell that she is easily shamed by her peers who don’t like those genres. I’ve also recommended her shows and movies like Unfabulous, Lizzie McGuire, and The Princess Diaries. So they can be her guides through awkwardness during the times that I’m not there.

Reminding her of her self-worth

“You can tell your friends no.” “You reserve the right to change your mind.” “What you feel is valid.” “You are enough.” All that stuff is what I wish I had heard at that age, so I repeat it to her. And hope it helps.

I used for feel extremely guilty when I was too busy to see her as often as I wanted to. But now I realize that just by living my life, I’m setting an example for her that it’s possible to escape a hard situation at home. And that it’s possible to leave the suburbs and chase after what you want.

You know what’s great? YA books

Because I didn’t have anyone around me that I could ask about sex, drugs, romance, and other things I was generally confused about, young adult books were incredibly helpful to me. Books like Girl by Blake Nelson, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, and Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli exposed me to a lot of new situations and viewpoints, answered curiosities I had, and made me feel a lot less alone. I want my sister to have that, too. So I’ve been recommending her YA books to read. She already loves If I Stay by Gayle Forman!

Talking to her as a contemporary

I want her to trust that I will not judge her for anything that she shares with me. So I don’t underestimate her capacity for understanding. I talk to her about how I want to quit my soul-sucking job before I even tell my mom. I share my writing with her, and trust that she can handle the sometimes mature topics.

[Image courtesy Disney]