Real Talk

The Great Divide: What It’s Like for Siblings to Grow Together With Big Age Gaps

One, two, three, four, five years…those age gaps aren’t too big for siblings! Let’s try doing a decade!

Some parents, especially those who grew up with siblings, want at least two kids so that the latter could experience the same joys they had. Someone would be there to watch their back when the parents are gone. Someone who can be a companion, confidante, friend, and loved one.

But how does that work when the siblings have a big age gap between them? Kids aren’t expected to look after adults—it’s the other way around! Plus, it doesn’t help that the parents may not have the energy they once had when they were parenting the eldest.

The teen, the toddler, and the troublesome transitions

If toddlers have their “terrible twos or threes” phase, then teens would have their “angsty adolescence” phase. Admittedly, both phases are, for lack of a better term, selfish. While toddlers are still figuring out how to put themselves in another person’s shoes, teens are too busy trying to make sense of themselves.

My sister, at 3 years old, couldn’t understand why we didn’t want to keep going to her favorite restaurant. On the other hand, I, at 17 years old, was just exhausted from eating in the same restaurant over and over again. I have already tried almost every item on the menu, save for the most expensive dishes and the ones that had peanuts due to allergies.

But my parents did try to satisfy both sides. My mom would bring my sister’s safety food in a thermos so we could go anywhere we wanted. On the other hand, my dad would remind me that we always frequented our usual “haunts” because they passed their standards of a clean, family-friendly, and healthy restaurant.

However, that was the most common clash. As a toddler, my sister needed routine. But as a teen, I needed novelty. As the older sibling, I had to give in because even I could tell that “negotiating” with a toddler back then was a losing battle and a waste of time. Plus, the last thing my family wanted was to have her throw a tantrum in a public space.

Filling the generation gap

Nobody knows how big the age gap needs to be to consider it a generation gap. Especially with technology evolving quickly, the generations feel shorter.

My parents, being baby boomers, were more familiar with mechanical and manual processes. On the other hand, my sister—a Gen Alpha—knew the digital processes more. As a millennial, I knew both. It then became my responsibility to reconcile digital processes with manual ones, while explaining the importance of both to both of them.

But that wasn’t the only thing I needed to explain. My parents at some point found themselves overwhelmed by the quickly changing concepts. Gender, internet slang, websites…there was too much for them to take in all at once! My sister was already finding so many terms they couldn’t figure out because she was surfing the web faster than them.

It may not be the traditional kind of parenting but, it was a bit of an overview of what my life would look like if ever I had a kid.

Modifying some old strategies

My parents didn’t think they’d have a Round Two on parenthood after two failed miscarriages. She just kind of popped in and now, we’re siblings with what many consider a big age gap. In some way, they didn’t have to deal with our conflicts as much because I was already at an age that believed in having “less things to deal with, the better.”

big sister and little sister, big sibling age gap

Some parents say that the second child is usually the one whom they don’t worry about as much because it’s not their first rodeo. Yeah, no—they worried more! Besides constantly hearing how both of us were “physiological opposites” of each other, it was a bit annoying to watch how she didn’t have to learn certain things the same way I did. While I always chalked their worries up to her origins, hearing the same “she’s not like you” explanation was kind of getting old.

Eventually, she did come to me, telling me that she felt “useless.” So, relying on whatever experience I had picked up from my parents and my limited skillset, I filled the gaps—while adding what I wished my parents taught me: cooking.

My parents, at their age, didn’t have the same energy to cook as much, so it fell to me to teach her. She kept harping about her craving for “salt and pepper tofu” from her favorite Chinese restaurant so I said, “You want it, you make it.” So, I showed her how to cut garlic, chili, and the like.

Although it didn’t look “pretty” because she “murdered” the tofu, it still tasted pretty good. She on the other hand learned how to satisfy her own cravings.

It really takes a village

Although kids are not supposed to “raise” each other, the age gap just made it happen. While my sister saw me as a blueprint of how to build herself, she gave me a glimpse of what kind of parent I could be. We learned from each other, which I think is what most parents want for their kids who have big age gaps with their siblings. The only thing I think they regret letting her pick up from me is enjoying head-banging heavy metal music.

When the age gaps between siblings are small, it’s easy for parents and kids to know who their “allies” are. But if the sibling age gap is big like mine, then it becomes the eldest’s job to modify some of the strategies. After all, not all parenting strategies used on the eldest may be applicable today.

More about siblings?

5 Reasons Why Having Siblings Can Be Fun!
A Parents’ Guide To Raising Loving Siblings
13 Tips for Fostering Positive Sibling Relationships

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