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.