Today is National Siblings Day, a perfect time to reflect on all that I’ve learned from my little sister, even if I didn’t realize it in the moment.

Having a little sister is tough. It is especially tricky if that little sister happens to be ten years younger than you. When she first came into this world I was excited to take on the challenge of being a much older big sister, but the novelty wore off rather quickly. She cried too much and she ALWAYS had to be all up in my business. This little kid drove me nuts until I became a teenager. Once I reached those peak years all of a sudden I was little miss bossy pants constantly trying to tell her what to do.

A few years later when she became a teen and I was off to college — everything changed. Suddenly I was worried all the time and out of nowhere I began warning her about everything from “mean girls” to dating. You can imagine how this turned out—I went from the cool big sister to the girl trying too hard to be mom.

Things have evened out now. I have become an adult (sort of) and she is off to college and what I have come to realize with our worlds now so far apart is that my little sister has actually taught me a lot about life. I know I am not the only sister to experience this so I figured what better time than now to appreciate all of the things little sisters teach their big sisters without even realizing it.

Just because someone is older, it doesn’t mean they know everything.

I thought I knew everything when I was a teenager, which is of course, typical. I walked around the house preaching to my kid sister like a boss and all I ever got in return was her infamous eye-roll. The older we got, the eye-rolling turned in to back-talking and from there I realized I was hitting a nerve. Once I hit my late 20s I began leaning on her for advice and it was only in those moments that I understood her eye-rolls. The tables had turned and somehow this bright young teenager was able to teach me what my BFFs couldn’t. She knew just as much, if not more than me, and frankly, I felt a bit silly for all those times I tried to tell how to “do” life.

Having fewer rules comes with a price.

We hear it all the time and it is so true, the younger siblings always have it easier with the parents. If you are older, you are the test vehicle for parenting and when the next one comes along your parents are over their rigid rules. I have found that this method was actually way harder on my little sister. It seems that all the decisions she made came with the price of judgement or having her every move critiqued. She got in trouble more often and was constantly having to explain herself. I wouldn’t trade my early curfew for that headache, ever.

We don’t need to be the same age to enjoy each other.

Ten years was a really big gap. We didn’t go through our teens or 20s together, so trying to relate to one another was often a bust in the early years. And, though I tried to expose my sister to all the “cool” things she missed while in the womb, the gap eventually became too big and my “cool” stuff was actually kind of lame. Our communication was sometimes lost in translation and yet, despite these minor hiccups we still managed to make an effort. As a result, it was my little sister who helped me understand that even though she wasn’t listening to the same music as me or watching the same TV shows, we still shared a lot of common ground. She was still a really awesome person to be around and once I realized that — everything was icing.

Little sisters can be just as protective of their big sisters. Who knew?

The natural will to protect my little sister has not yet warn off, in fact it is likely something that will always be there. I always want her to be happy and safe and I fear for anyone who tries to mess with her. Well, little did I know my kid sister has that same feelings towards me. She is always asking questions about my happiness, my work, my romantic prospects—and if any of my answers do not meet her standards for my well-being we immediately fall into a therapy session. In those bonding sessions, she quickly reminds me what an old soul she really is.

Sometimes you just need to let people make mistakes.

I have spent a lot of time and energy trying to steer my little sister down the right paths. When she was in high school I was no longer living at home, so I was always trying to make up for my absence by bestowing my “I know better than you” advice upon her. All this did was frustrate and annoy her, and in some cases, it divided us. My sister made mistakes (like we all do) but she never apologized for them and now I finally see why. She needed to make those mistakes in order to learn, because just telling her about my own mistakes really held no weight. Seeing her live out her teens with no regrets made me come to terms with the fact that all the people I care about are going to make mistakes, and at the end of day, I simply can’t change that. I just need to be there to support them in the aftermath.

You can go your own way.

I like to say my sister is rather traditional. She has a firm five-year-plan that includes getting married and having babies as soon as possible. When I came into my 20s I had no plan and very little hope for marriage and children, and as it turns out, not much has changed since. I used to think she was rushing things and wasn’t going to have time to find herself and do all those cliché things one does when they’re in their quarter life period of experimentation. But, I was wrong again because this sister I have been talking about is actually a mature lady trapped in a nineteen-year-old’s body. She is confident in her decisions, and perhaps the most important thing she has taught me is the strength it takes to do your own thing, especially when confronted with all sorts of “I know better” advice. You can always go your own way, because it’s your life and nobody else’s.

There are a million other little things this incredible young woman has taught me, but these are the lessons that stand out the most. We now know what makes each other tick and because of that we have gained the respect needed to love each other unconditionally. So, keep your little sisters close to your heart because you never know when you are going to need a wise kid to lean on.

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