I was fast asleep when my mother woke me up saying, “Darling, get up. We need to go to the hospital, baby is on the way.”
I jumped out of bed in excitement to get ready. I still remember that day. There was a gentle drizzle that early August morning, as if Nature was blessing the arrival of the baby. After reaching the hospital, mother went into delivery while Dad and I waited outside in anticipation.
The doctor came out and announced, “Congratulations! It’s a girl!” I rushed in and saw her for the first time. A tiny bundle wrapped up in hospital towels. I had a strange sensation in the pit of my stomach but I didn’t really understand what it meant. It was only when I held her for the first time that I understood that the weird sensation was that of love and tenderness, mixed with a little fear.
Throughout the pregnancy my parents had told me that the baby is my responsibility and I was extremely excited about it. As a 9-year-old that I was, I had not anticipated it to be very difficult. How difficult can taking care of a baby be after all? But I was in for a surprise. Being an older sister was far more challenging than I ever thought it could be. Or was it? Maybe I had it all wrong. It has been 13 years since that rainy August morning and my little baby doll has grown to be a beautiful (pesky) teenager. In the process teaching me the importance of the being a big sister.
I would like to share 7 lessons that I’ve learnt over the years:
1. You need to learn to balance out your actions.
It’s common knowledge that kids learn more by noticing our actions than by listening to what we say to them. As elder sibling we need to remember that, because believe it or not we are their superheroes and they will imitate EVERYTHING.
It was the most annoying thing for me was having a tiny human following me everywhere and copying my every act. But knowing that she is keenly observing my every move I balanced out my actions. Goofing around with her so that she is comfortable around me. At the same time also being an adult and making sure she minds her Ps and Qs. The balancing act was difficult at times but definitely worth it.
2. Constantly remind yourselves that you aren’t their parent.
As elder siblings we feel that it is our duty to protect the younger ones. At times, this makes us a bit overbearing and almost dominant towards them. We need to stop that. It is important for them to take their own life journey. It doesn’t mean that we don’t tell them when they are wrong, or we don’t help them when they need us. We just need to strike a balance.
3. Being their friend will help more than trying to be their mentor.
One thing that I learnt while “mentoring” my younger sister is that trying to get her to follow my philosophies never really works. I had to constantly remind myself that I’m NOT her parent, I’m her sibling, her partner, her friend, all combined into one. While it’s my duty to show her the pros and cons of her choices, I cannot make those choices for her. I’ve learnt to be patient and to trust that she’ll make the right choice. I also learnt that it’s important to let her know that I’ve always got her back, whatever her choice.
4. Strive to be their Go To person.
Last night she came up to me and began narrating the teenage drama unfolding in her life. I was tired and desperately wanted some sleep after a long day. I was tempted to be blunt, tell her to shut up, snuggle down and sleep. But a tiny voice told me otherwise. There are times when being brusque is the only way. There are also times when you need to listen to that silvery voice and stay put. And communicate with them. Just listen and get to know what’s going on in their life. Because that’s what everyone is craving for, right? For someone who listens to them. I loved it when at the end she hugged me and said, ‘I love you. You are the best!” I realised that spending those two hours sitting in the balcony, with the cool wind blowing and listening to her (even though I was tired) was a very small price for the bind we share.
5. You are always there for them. Let the message ring loud and clear.
It hasn’t always been possible for me to be physically present for her. But to be a good sibling being physically there at all times isn’t necessary. I’ve always made sure that she knows that I am just a call or text away.
My preferred choice of communication has been the written word. I express myself best through my writing. So, whenever I wanted to communicate something important to her I have resorted to writing her letters or e-mails. It just feels more personal and heart-warming to both of us. As the saying goes, “Side by side, or miles apart. Siblings are always connected by the heart.”
6. Don’t let your ego get the better of you.
There will be times when your sibling will get the things that you always wanted or they will be better than you at something. You need to be cautious and not let that turn into an ego trip for you. Remember, as siblings you have to encourage each other to be a better version of yourself.
My sister and I love Bharatnatyam, and I am proud to say that she is much better than me. I will be lying if I say I wasn’t jealous of her because of it. But then, one day while conversing she said, “I’ve come to love Bharatnatyam because I saw how passionate you were. It was something that I copied from you… again.” That’s all it took for me to realise that it’s not a competition, never has been and never will be. Even if at times the world might paint a different story. You are in it together. The more you help each other the better your lives will turn out to be.
7. Be the role model they need.
By now you would’ve understood that we are their role models. They look up to us. Sometimes with adoring eyes, and at times discretely. But they are always watching us and learning from us. What do you want them to learn from you? Whatever the answer, make sure you act in sync with it. They might not always show it, but they need us to encourage them and we’d be lying if we say otherwise about ourselves. Be accountable for your actions. How can you come up with sound advice if you are in a hot soup yourself? There is nothing worse than hearing: “You were once my role model.” Don’t ever let it come to that. If you want to see them succeed, which I know you do. You need to give life your best shot too. Don’t give up. Show them that anything is possible.
I can keep on about the lessons learnt on how to be a better sibling and in turn how it has shaped me to be a better person. But the best advice that I can give is, be all present in every moment you spend with them. That’s how miracles happen. Because even if we don’t realise, we are making memories. And when the tides go high or low in our lives these are the memories that help us get through.
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