The Parent Trap by Georgie Dibbo
Georgie Dibbo reflects on the influence of the age gap and how that's shaped her hybrid role between sister and parent. Georgie has a younger sister, Aggie.
I’m writing this in the evening having spent the day on a beach in Scotland. At one point, Aggie dragged me to a rocky area where she commenced to climb higher and faster than I could keep up with, but instead of being annoyed like an irritated sister, I found myself worrying that she’d fall, and I heard myself calling out to her, “be careful” and, “okay that’s far enough now” like some kind of anxious parent. I think that summarises the impact of our six-year age gap well, in that I’m not just her sister, but I’m also her third parent. It’s not a role that was forced upon me by our parents, nor is it a role I consciously chose to take on, but it’s a role I find myself in nonetheless.
“she got that from you!”
I like to think that Aggie depends on me in a way I have never depended upon anyone; even when she was younger, she used to get upset if she had to play on her own. She needed me there to come up with the story of what the Barbies were doing that day, or how to arrange the Sylvanian furniture, whereas my mum always says that I was perfectly happy to play on my own before Aggie came along.
Then as Aggie got older, she began to pick up some of my phrases and behavioural traits. My parents’ classic phrase was, “she got that from you!” and although I think this imitation of older siblings is a common trend, what was not necessarily as common is that I think Aggie is more sheltered because of me. Although at times she seems so mature for her age, there are many moments where I help her or do something for her, even something as simple as carrying her bag, that I think afterwards “I should have let her do for herself so that she can learn to be independent.” In my eyes, and in my parents’ as well, she will always be the baby of the family, but as she grows up I have to remind myself not to treat her like the six year old that she will always be in my head.
Anyone who knows both me and Aggie well can likely spot personality traits in each of us that stem from our relationship, as well as from how our parents have treated us differently. I’m fiercely independent, and I prefer to lead and be in control. Meanwhile, Aggie likes to have support behind her in new situations, and for someone else to take the lead. But she nonetheless flourishes once she’s comfortable and is by far the kindest and most tolerant person I know – something that no one will ever say about me. But I think the biggest cause of these personality differences is not necessarily how Aggie and I treat each other, but how our parents treat us comparatively. I think there were more expectations of me when I was her age, but I’m sure if you asked Aggie she’d say that there is more pressure on her because as the younger sibling she will inevitably be compared to me. I don’t think either of our positions affect us negatively, rather they are a force for good, motivating us to succeed.
On a more humorous note, I was having a conversation about boys with Aggie. My dad always asks me about my love life and loves joking about boys with me whereas when I asked Aggie about boys he promptly shut down the idea of dating at all. Admittedly because I’m 20 and she’s 14. His attitude is understandable, but I wouldn’t be surprised if my dad maintains that attitude for many years to come.
"I’m not quite yet ready to let go of the idea of her being my baby sister."
As much as I’m aware of the responsibility I have to my sister, to influence her for the better and not for the worse, it’s not something I have ever begrudged or considered a burden, but rather it’s one of my favourite parts of myself. In fact, I’m almost sad to see her growing up over the past couple years as she’s become a teenager. She’s now tall enough to start borrowing my clothes, and I’ve been able to help her through the shift from child to teenager by being the person she can talk to about anything without judgement, which is something I know I would have loved to have had growing up. But as much as I love the new aspects of our relationship, I’m not quite yet ready to let go of the idea of her being my baby sister.
Having a younger sister is without a doubt the best thing that ever happened to me and although at times I find her annoying (and she finds me bossy) I can’t imagine how my life would be, and what sort of person I would be, without her around.