Absent Sibling Syndrome

Absent Sibling Syndrome

When a teenager leaves home for the first time the impact of their absence on a household is generally focussed on the emotions of the parents and particularly the mothers.  But what about the brothers and sisters left behind?  How does the sudden absence of a sibling affect them?

Some say that the departure of an eldest sibling can feel like the end of the world and I know some families who have really struggled to adapt.

In our case since our eldest left for university there is a noticeable change in the rhythm of our house.  The A’level years are a stressful time as anyone who has been through them will verify.  They are also – all consuming.  When you are in the middle of it all there is little room for anything or anyone else and although my husband and I were always conscious of the need for our youngest not to feel overlooked, it was hard for her to make her voice heard sometimes during the inevitable conversations about grades, university applications and back-up gap year plans.

In his absence the focus has inevitably switched to be all on our daughter.  No longer does she need to wait her turn to pitch into the dinner table conversations and interestingly those conversations have shifted gear a bit.  Hers is a more inquisitive mind than her brother’s.  Whilst he thrives in a world of black and white fact, she  consistently questions and challenges, never content to take something purely at face value.

It was interesting therefore over the Christmas holiday to see how they adapted to sharing the same physical and emotional space again after months apart.

From the offset there was a different dynamic.  She was excited to see him and hear his tales of university life.  He was nonchalant, basking in her semi-adoration but equally keen to hear her news since his departure, asking for updates on her end of year tests and the latest “beef” at her school. There was a level of mutual respect that hadn’t existed before.  They had both grown up and moved on a stage and were now flourishing in their increased independence.  Their relationship was noticeably more adult.

There were arguments too of course, but they were generally about the shift in physical boundaries that inevitably come from living apart.

Our daughter had become used to using his room as a separate study area, as well as having complete control of the TV room and no longer having to negotiate a slot.  He on the other hand having spent 12 weeks confined to one small room in which to eat, sleep, study and shower, relished having space and very quickly resumed control not only of the teen zones but the entire house.

In addition our daughter had enjoyed her privacy, something her brother is not very good at respecting. He is more of a people person than her and thinks nothing of just barging in and plonking himself down for a chat, whether convenient or not, which led to a few lively exchanges.

At the end of the day, however, the sibling relationship is an enduring one. My children are half brother and sister but there is a connection between the two, a secret pact of sorts.  We are an open family, discussing more than most perhaps, but there are some areas where only the advice and emotional support of a sibling will suffice.

Now that he has gone again we are all once more mindful of looking out for each other, recognising those moments in the day when we all might feel his absence more acutely.  For my daughter that is when she returns home from school, which was always their time to chat, share social media gossip, watch some rubbish TV before heading up to their rooms to do their homework.  My job now is to fill that void and put her needs firmly in the spotlight again.  The absence of an eldest sibling is if nothing else an opportunity to redress the balance.


If you have experienced the absence of a sibling either with your own children or as a child yourself, how did you find it?  I would love to hear from you in the comments below.    

Absent Sibling Syndrome



  1. January 27, 2018 / 4:26 pm

    My eldest daughter was in hospital for 6 months in 2016 and it was very weird indeed without her. Obviously it was in horrible circumstances that she was away but we all noticed her absence terribly. Every night we would lay a place for her at the table, never getting used to the fact that she wasn’t there. She was only 16 at the time and I’ve yet to experience one going away for university but I imagine it would be hard too but with the added bonus of knowing they are having a blast! My younger too really were affected by her absence. An interesting read here. Thank you.

    • Jo
      February 4, 2018 / 2:02 pm

      Suzanne yours was one of the first blogs I used to follow and I remember that period in your life and you writing about it very clearly. It must have been so tough for you all – 6 months is a long time, it makes 12 weeks look like a walk in the park. I truly hope that everything has improved for her now, your posts made a big impression on me. Thank you for joining us and hope to see you again. X

  2. January 25, 2018 / 10:50 am

    A very interesting angle Jo because we get so consumed with how us as parents will cope, that we don’t often think about the siblings left behind. I remember so well when my twin brothers went off to university – it was a double whammy because they obviously both went off at the same time and I was suddenly left on my own with my parents. It was a very quiet house and dull, and I missed them terribly. It made me desperate to leave home too and fast forward three years to when I could too. Love this post. My eldest is just applying to senior schools for September so I think that’s a big step, never mind going off to uni! #TweensTeensBeyond

    • Jo
      February 4, 2018 / 2:05 pm

      Oh wow Susie that must have been tough all round to go from a household of five to just three. The move to secondary school seems like only yesterday. It is such a big step and you will definitely notice a change, but in your capacity as teacher you are no doubt well versed in handling that. X

  3. January 22, 2018 / 7:26 pm

    I do worry about this. Our house has been the 5 of us for a decade now since we moved here, it’s our stable family dynamic and it’ll feel really weird without the eldest if he does go away to university! #tweensteensbeyond
    daydreams of a mum recently posted…An evening at HOME ManchesterMy Profile

    • Jo
      February 4, 2018 / 2:08 pm

      Kelly rest assured that your wonderful close knit family and stable dynamic will serve you well. Your children will always be mindful of each other and you and that is something to be proud of and grateful for because they will always come back. X

  4. January 20, 2018 / 11:33 am

    As I was reading your article, my thoughts drifted to the moment when my siblings and I were in that situation. All of us studied in schools far from home during senior high school, coming home only once a month. I remember when I was looking at the empty beds of my brother and sister, surprised to realize how much I missed our almost daily fights. But the long distance made us closer if you know what I mean. When we get together, we make the most of it. Fortunately for me, as a mother now, my sons chose a university near our home postponing the inevitable.
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    • Jo
      February 4, 2018 / 2:13 pm

      Absence makes the heart grow fonder Nena and is certainly true in most of these scenarios. it’s interesting that your sons chose to be close to home. Ours is far enough away to not be able to come home every weekend but close enough to be able to do so if he wanted to and has just announced that actually he is returning home in the next couple of weeks for a couple of days which I am looking forward to. FaceTime is all very well but nothing beats a proper hug! X

  5. January 19, 2018 / 2:23 pm

    I haven’t experienced this yet but I know that my youngest son will miss his brother terribly when he goes off to college. They are also 5 years apart so for a time it will probably cause a big gap of understanding but they are really close and I have no doubt they will remain so. As the oldest of four siblings myself, there is nothing like the sibling bond. #TweensTeensBeyond
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    • Jo
      February 4, 2018 / 2:20 pm

      Yes sadly I think you are right Michelle he almost certainly will, but it will make the reunions even better as a result and as you say if they have a strong bond early in their lives then that is unlikely to change. X

  6. January 18, 2018 / 10:55 am

    This is a fascinating subject to cover Jo and you do it so well. I am a keen observer of the evolving relationship that my three girls have and I agree that there are big shifts after one leaves home. Interestingly, daughters 2 and 3 get on a lot better when daughter 1 is not there. Also, daughter 1 is awarded more kudos because she has left. I can certainly see a shift to a more adult and, dare I say, respectful phase of the relationship although tempers can still flare! xxx #TweensTeensBeyond

    • Jo
      February 4, 2018 / 2:25 pm

      Being one sex makes the dynamic really interesting to watch. I notice that even between my husband and his brothers and can only imagine what is was like when they were younger but there is no doubt the eldest carries the burden of responsibility as head of the family and also the relationship between them all is so varied dependent upon who is present. I would love to have a house of girls to monitor! X

  7. January 18, 2018 / 1:32 am

    Due to the enormous age gap between our girls we avoided this. The youngest didn’t really know of a time when her sister lived at home permanently. Our difficulty was making sure they got to know each other, and the younger didn’t forget her sister during term times! We probably made a lot more day trips to uni than average families, but fortunately it was by the sea! #tweensteensbeyond
    Mary Mayfield recently posted…Last Day of Christmas at ChatsworthMy Profile

    • Jo
      February 4, 2018 / 2:26 pm

      Oh Mary I love the image of you piling into the car and just pitching up. My parents used to do exactly the same thing as they lived abroad so much when I was at Uni that when they were in the country they were always popping down, much to the chagrin of my house-mates sometimes but I loved it. X

  8. January 17, 2018 / 2:15 am

    Funnily enough I was the first child to leave home in my family of four where I was the youngest. I was the only one who went to University, and moved away to do so. In Australia not many university goers move away, they tend to stay living at home whilst attending a university close by. Even when they do move away from home to attend they usually rent a home with friends rather than board at the campus. I never thought twice about the impact it left on my siblings, I guess because they were all working. But now to stop and think about it I imagine it was very different given that I was the noisy one lol. My eldest is 13 now, I imagine if she were to move away when she is eighteen that her siblings would be very lost, she is noisy and fun, and spent endless time with the so when she goes on sleepovers or camp they miss her like crazy. Your children sound wonderful, it sounds like a lovely bond that they will have for life. #tweensteensbeyond
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    • Jo
      February 4, 2018 / 8:49 am

      It’s interesting isn’t it Mac because similarly I never thought about it when I was a teenager either and it is only now that my own teenagers are going through it that I have discussed with my younger sister how she felt being left behind. From what I have read about your family it seems very close and Aspen is a big presence in the household so I am sure your youngest children will miss her for sure, but in the short term they will still have each other. Family households go through several periods of change in a lifetime. Our eldest announced at Christmas that he is applying for a work placement in London in the middle of his degree so he could be home next year again and that will be a big shift for us all. X

  9. Sophie
    January 16, 2018 / 7:20 pm

    Oh I’m actually dreading this! I can imagine this is tough and actually isn’t something you read about much, so thank you. My daughter is taking a year out next year so this has been postponed for a year. I can imagine the younger child suddenly steps up into the role of the eldest. Really interesting list. I shared this on Twitter. #tweensteensbeyond
    Sophie recently posted…How to Maximise Space When You Can’t Upsize.My Profile

    • Jo
      February 4, 2018 / 8:38 am

      Oh Sophie aside from absent sibling syndrome the whole empty nest syndrome is so close for you too, I can’t even begin to think about how that will be. Definitely need lots of hobbies to keep us occupied and a surge in blogging activity no doubt. X

  10. January 16, 2018 / 5:32 pm

    Oh my 11yo was just asking when her big brother would go to college. At first, she was so sad when I told her that due to the 4 year school difference they would never be in high school at the same time. Then, she smiled and said, “So I get you and dad all to myself?!”

    • Jo
      February 4, 2018 / 8:34 am

      Ha ha Katy, this made me smile. I think there is always that desire by a child to be the centre of attention. Even my eldest was trying to reclaim his territory a bit when he was home using the excuse that he had been deprived whilst away and surely it was only fair. Xx

  11. January 16, 2018 / 4:35 pm

    my children have got on better since leaving home, however it’s never good when they get together, too much rivalry about who is doing what and how they feel they’re doing better than the other siblings, as each one left home, the others just filled the gap, taking over the rooms for their own use and then complaining like mad when their sibling came home for a visit and took up their space #tweenteensbeyond
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    • Jo
      February 4, 2018 / 8:30 am

      There will always be arguments, regardless of how much they might miss each other, there were definitely a few moments between mine over the festive period. Boys are always more competitive too so a bit of a one-up-man-ship is to be expected I suppose. My husband just has brothers and their mechanic together is very interesting to watch. Xx

  12. January 16, 2018 / 1:00 pm

    This is so beautiful, Jo, and something I can’t tell you how much I could relate to. You could almost be talking about both my kids except my elder son still has a couple of years to go before he may be off for an undergraduate course. But the relationship he shares with the tween, down to the dinner table conversations is so similar. I made my elder son read this post and he was nodding his head. I will be sure to watch out when the flying the nest happens. And you know, in my last post I am only focussing upon how I will miss my elder son, I think the blow will be much harder for the younger son. Sigh!

    • Jo
      February 4, 2018 / 8:10 am

      Oh Rachna thank you so much for your kind words. I am glad you and your son could relate to this piece and as the saying goes to be forewarned is to be forearmed. You have some time to prepare your tween for his brother’s departure, although there is no doubt that he will miss him – it sounds like they have a very close relationship. One tip is to make the most of FaceTime – it really helps to feel more connected. Xx

    • Jo
      February 4, 2018 / 7:59 am

      A lot of my youngest’s friends are really feeling the absence of their sibling too and when they chat about it amongst themselves they refer to it as their ASS moment. A great acronym – shame it took my daughter to point it out to me. Xx

  13. January 16, 2018 / 5:15 am

    You’re right Jo, it all about the parents and we don’t really think about the siblings left behind. I am noticing this in a small way with sonny and Tess in the sense that Sonny has just started to drive meaning that he no longer has to stay at home. I feel for the youngest, being the eldest child I never really thought about it. Lovely post xx
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    • Jo
      January 16, 2018 / 9:14 am

      I am the eldest and my sister and I often talk about what it was like for her watching me spread my wings and leave home. As a teenager obviously I didn’t give it a second thought. She is pleased to have twins and know that they will be going through everything together and no-one will be left behind. Loving your travel stories. x

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