What being the "perfect" older sister is really like
For as long as I can remember, it’s been my responsibility to look after my younger siblings. It’s something most kids who are the oldest in their family are familiar with. We become another parent, in a way, because that responsibility always weighs on us. They’re our responsibility. In a way, they’re ours.
So it’s rough when your siblings take this “parent” role as a way of thinking of you as an idealized, imaginary human. Just as parents become seen by their children as parents before they’re seen as people, you become the “older sibling,” not just another kid in the household.
It’s hard when your siblings think you’re perfect. Especially when you’re not.
As the older sister to my younger siblings, I’ve always tried to lead by example. When I was in school, I had nearly perfect grades. I didn’t drink, or smoke, or do any of the “bad” things that you’re not supposed to do as a kid. I tried to be the best I could be, and to advise them to do the same. I wanted to be a fantastic role model, someone they could look up to, maybe even aspire to be like — not out of cockiness or selfishness, but out of a desire to help them be happy, healthy adults.
Unfortunately, this backfired. While I lived my middle and high school (and, mostly, college) years as a boring rule follower, my siblings didn’t treat me like a role model, but sometimes viewed me as The Enemy. While we got along extremely well and totally loved each other, sometimes my “perfection” came to haunt me. I became a great excuse for their struggles. Why would they aspire to do the things I was doing if I already had those bases covered?
It was hard for me because I often felt like when I was struggling, I had to keep things hidden. After all, I’d spent a decade creating this facade of perfection, and it was totally coming back to bite me. If I was “perfect,” could I really struggle with my mental health and have really real flaws and be, well, less than perfect?
I stressed out about this a lot without realizing that my siblings knew who I really was all along. While they definitely see me through rose colored glasses, neither was shocked when I came out as queer, or admitted to struggling with my mental health. Because they’d been paying attention all along.
I hope that my flaws have showed my younger siblings that it’s okay not to be perfect. I hope they grow up to be happy, and healthy, and most of all, I hope that they know how adored they are. As the “perfect” older sister, I spend so much time thinking about them — what they need, how they’re doing, who they really are when they’re not trying to be “perfect” for me. And I hope that one day, we can let our guards down and be who we really are, flaws and all.