Finding the Privilege in Responsibility by Ella Longmore
Ella Longmore discusses finding the silver lining of being the eldest through retrospective, even in the hardest of times. Ella is the eldest of 3 to a younger brother and sister.
I never gave much thought about the responsibilities I might have as an older sister. Being the eldest used to mean such a trivial thing to me - in my mind, it meant being used to set an example for my siblings in all sorts of ways: mistakes I made were chastised because I “should’ve known better” and the expectancy of always having to be the “bigger person” was infuriating. To add to the frustration, I also felt that I had stricter rules growing up in comparison to my siblings, such as how I always got things last; like the age I got my phone, and when I was allowed to get my ears pierced. Of course looking back it does seem superficial.
"I suddenly realised that I needed to be stronger for my family"
When my parents separated, I was 17. I had just finished my lower-sixth year, I was pretty miserable, suffering from anxiety, as well as eating-related issues. So, when my dad left my mum for someone else at the beginning of the summer holidays, I suddenly realised that I needed to be stronger for my family, especially my mum and little sister. My mum had met my dad when she was 19. Other than a brief split in their earlier days, my parents had always been together, meaning my mum's first real heartbreak was at the age of 50. Heartbreak, for anyone, is tough. But, going through it properly for the first time, whilst also trying to look after 3 children in the middle of New York City (where my parents had been living due to his job for the past year) without any family or friends for support is unthinkable. So, I kind of became a default adult.
Anyway, suddenly my mum was a single parent, meaning I had to step up and take on some more responsibility so she could have time to worry about her personal life, without worrying about us. I did more cooking, helped more with daily things - things I never even would have considered doing before the split. In a way, I immediately became so much more aware of what was going on in my family, rather than just being so self-involved. I began looking after my little sister more; I even began looking after my mum in some ways too, which was certainly new to me. My brother never had the best relationship with my dad and has always been pretty easygoing. He’s the type that deals with his own feelings privately, unlike my mum, sister and I, who deal with our emotions very vocally. So, we talked (my brother did some talking too), and we became closer.
I truly believe this time saved me.
My parent’s separation, and the tarnished relationship I suddenly had with my dad, made me realise I needed to go to therapy. Not only to deal with the trauma of the way my dad left, but also to deal with the other issues going on in my life. It made me understand that I had a responsibility to look after myself, not only for myself but also for my family and the people around me. My little sister looked up to me, so what example would I be setting if I was making myself sick after meals, crying in the mirror, and not dealing with all of this anxiety that had built up and caused so many issues? I knew I didn't want that for my sister, so why the hell did I want that for myself? Honestly, while this time sucked, it also made the four of us become so much closer as a family than we had been when we were a family of five. Most likely, it was because I spent more time with my siblings and my mum than ever before, we were looking after each other in a way we never used to.
"I became this sort of mediator between him and the rest of my family."
I’m not saying that I became this superhero sibling that took on all the problems for my family, I found this time tough, really tough. I was very close to my dad and seeing him let us down like that was heart-breaking. I had a lot of anger towards him, and sometimes I didn’t cope with it well. And when I finally did start getting on with him again, I became this sort of mediator between him and the rest of my family. It became conflicting when I felt like I was letting everyone down by starting to give him the time of day, but then also feeling ashamed for not trying to patch things up with him when I realised I only get one dad, and for better or for worse, he was the one I got. I’m also not saying that I didn’t need support from my mum, brother, and sister, because I really did. We also needed a lot of support from extended family and friends, and we got that. We were lucky to have so many amazing people around us, and we are lucky that they’ve all stuck with us and hopefully will continue to do so.
I am not entirely sure what the point of this piece is, but I guess what I'm trying to say is that my experience of being an older sister has been a weird yet wonderful one. Don't get me wrong, I still find it really irritating at times, but I think most elder siblings would agree with me on this one. Despite this, being an elder sister during that horrible time four years ago has made me a better person. The increased understanding of my responsibility has made me more self-aware than I would ever have been had everything not happened. I’m no longer as spoilt; I understand my parents are human too - they make mistakes and at times, need help, and that is ok. Most importantly, while the responsibility can be hard, it’s actually such a privilege knowing that even in the smallest way, your mistakes can influence your siblings to become better versions of themselves.