Why it’s important to maintain sibling bonds in college


A.J. Newth

Staff writer A.J. Newth has two biological siblings, brother Bryce (left) and sister Sienna (right), both juniors in high school.

A.J. Newth, Staff Writer

Every time my sister sets a new track and field personal best, I get a text message. The same goes for my brother scoring soccer goals, because instead of being on the sidelines to support them, I’m missing everything while at college.

Moving away from home comes with many difficulties. Among them is homesickness, making new friends and adjusting to an unfamiliar environment. The most difficult thing about departing for college is leaving younger siblings behind.

Technically speaking, I am one of eight siblings, a combination of bonus children that come with divorce and remarriage. I have two full biological siblings that are currently juniors in high school and having to watch them grow up from afar has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

My siblings and I have a three-year age gap and participate in many of the same sports and our common interests have always made us close, especially as we grew older. Towards the end of high school we were on all the same athletic teams and having to hear about their successes instead of being there to celebrate is a unique kind of heartbreak.

No matter the dynamic of sibling relationships, it’s essential to try to maintain them throughout college. For me, this means answering phone calls and reaching out whenever I can. When my schedule is busy, I try my best to make them my priority.

There are many other ways to maintain sibling bonds. Some suggestions include scheduling a time to call every week, creating a new routine and staying in touch through social media. Other options to maintain a good relationship include sharing goals and accomplishments as well as verbalizing appreciation to one another, per The New York Times.

One of the biggest struggles I faced when moving out of my home was coping with oldest child syndrome, which is a name given to a combination of characteristics possessed by the oldest child in a family. Choosing Therapy, a mental health blog, said these characteristics include responsibility, ambition and a drive to care for younger siblings.

A 2008 study in The Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment said younger siblings tend to feel sadness more than older siblings once it’s time to separate for college. The younger children can actually feel a sense of empty nest syndrome, which is typically experienced by parents or caregivers and is described as experiencing sadness, anxiety and loneliness after a child leaves home. My older siblings never lived with me full time, so I never experienced what it was like to have them grow up and leave and only come home for holiday breaks.

I felt guilty for being the first to leave home and for a long time I struggled with the thought that I was abandoning my siblings. I was there for their whole lives, only to disappear as they reach the age where they start learning who they are. I wanted to be home to give advice and work through struggles, but instead I have to support them over the phone.

Most sibling relationships grow strongest during late adolescence and early adulthood. The transition into college is proven to be the time period in which siblings discover a newfound appreciation for one another, coincidentally just as they are about to separate, according to the National Library of Medicine.

Watching my siblings grow into their own people has been a difficult transition for me. I only hear about their achievements when someone remembers to message me and I just watch social media. I sit there waiting for my mother to upload pictures of their milestones, like homecoming dances and driving their first cars and I have never felt so isolated.

Growing up is inevitable and the realization that we aren’t children anymore is sad. Separating from siblings as we become adults is just another example of things we go through as we grow. I find peace in the thought that although I’m not with them, my siblings are growing into their own people and no longer need me, and I couldn’t be more proud.

However, in some cases, the distance is not an easy adjustment. Trying to manage a long distance bond with siblings may be hard, and it’s easy for younger siblings to feel hurt and confused. In an article for the U.S. News & World Report, child psychologist Susan Bartell said the best way to handle this is to be patient and give them space to work through their feelings and adjust to change.

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to stay in touch with your siblings while at college. It’s easy to get caught up in our own lives while we’re finding independence and creating new memories, but it’s also crucial to remember where you came from and appreciate those who have been by your side throughout childhood.

Everyone looks for a solution to handling long-distance sibling bonds and in truth, there is no easy answer. In order for a relationship to succeed, it needs to constantly be worked on. So I will continue to work on it. I plan on always answering the phone, reminding my siblings that I’m proud of them and acknowledging that I should not feel guilty for leaving. I’ll always be a little sad that I’m missing out, but what’s important is that they’re doing great things and growing into their own people, even if I’m not there to see it.