Essay: Sister parents
Being an older sibling is a unique experience on its own. During the pandemic, though being an older sibling has come with a whole new set of roles, challenges, experiences, and joys.
January 25, 2021
Part One: Pandemic problems
There have been many challenging aspects over the past year as the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the lives of people across the globe. Everyone has faced their share of disappointments, struggles and grief, but we have also been graced with new experiences and outlooks on life. If any one thing could be held responsible for pulling us to the other side of the pandemic, it would be that notion that we are all in this together and we will get through it.
This sentiment has been at the forefront of my mind through the entirety of the pandemic, especially when navigating being quarantined with my family, the less than the ideal reality of digital learning, and helping my younger sister through it all as well.
In many aspects, being an older sibling during the pandemic has meant stepping up and taking more responsibility. Older siblings everywhere have had to navigate varying degrees of staying on top of their own schoolwork while simultaneously caring for their younger brothers and sisters. From babysitting them all day to helping them with computer issues, older siblings have had to step into the role of parent, teacher, and caregiver on many different fronts.
Part Two: Big sister, little sisters
As an older sibling myself, I have faced these same situations. I have three younger sisters, the oldest is a sophomore at West Campus and the other two are both in middle school at Montini.
In March of 2020, when we first went into lock-down, I was fortunate enough to my parents working from home with my sisters and I. We quickly settled into a new routine and my only real role was to finish my junior year.
With the beginning of a new school year, my two youngest sisters, fourth and sixth grade, went back to school with masks and social distancing. My mom, a speech and language pathologist at District 15, stayed home with my other sister and I as we fulfilled our school responsibilities digitally. At this point, I did not have to play a very different role as an older sibling.
Things really changed when my youngest two sisters had to be at home and learning 100 percent remote in late fall when there was a surge in COVID-19 cases. With my mom working from home and all four of us learning from home, we all had to settle into a new routine and learning how to work together in a way that would be beneficial to all of us.
All of my younger sisters are older and therefore generally self-sufficient, but I have still had to take up responsibilities to help them get through their days successfully. From helping with internet or computer issues to making lunch, adjusting to yet another new routine was not as challenging as I first thought it would be.
One of the most different parts of my day, is constantly making sure I am available to help one of my younger sisters when they need it. Sometimes they need help with an assignment while I am working through my own assignments and other times they need a snack or drink while I have a break between classes.
But despite this sometimes benign a challenge, I have learned a lot form the experience. I have learned to more fully appreciate the work that teacher put into helping us succeed in our lessons and the opportunity to be able to go to school. The saying, “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone” has never been more relatable.
More importantly though, I have learned the importance of working together. Although I have taken on a bigger role in helping my younger sisters during digital learning, they still help me. We all help each other get through the day through words of encouragement, small gestures of kindness, and the ability to enjoy afternoons together that we normally would not have had.
Through all of this, I have had the opportunity to spend a lot more time with my younger sisters and that is something that I am very thankful for. I have grown closer to all three of them and created memories with them that I never would have if we did not have all this time home together. As much as I have helped them through the pandemic, whether it is school work or entertainment, my sisters have also helped me through the pandemic.
Part Three: How we help
I am not the only one who has had to play a bigger role for my siblings during the pandemic nor has my situation been the most challenging. Older siblings everywhere are being forced to step up and discover a little more intimately about what being a parent entails.
Chris Agaton, senior at West Campus, has three younger siblings, a brother in eighth grade, a sister in pre-school, and a baby sister who is barely two years old. Agaton, who had been used to helping take care of his siblings before the pandemic, has stepped into a similar role of caring for them despite having his own set of responsibilities.
“One of the more challenging things would be just helping my siblings with their homework when I already have my homework to work on,” said Agaton. “I also go to work so sometimes after working eight hours, I come home and help my sister with her homework. Or I play with my sisters and brother to just pass the time for them.”
In addition to having to help with homework, older siblings have had to play a role as teachers making sure that their siblings get logged onto their next classes at the right time and stay on top of their work.
East Campus freshman Jakub Pietkiewicz has stepped into that role for his younger brother who is in second grade.
“I have had to keep more track of time by watching for my brother’s next class and sometimes helping him within classwork,” said Pietkiewicz. “My biggest challenge is to focus on my school and his at the same time.”
Helping keep younger sibling occupied and entertained has been yet another crucial role that older siblings have had to play during the pandemic. With most activities and social gathering being cancelled, siblings have become a constant source of entertainment for each other.
Logan Freid, West Campus senior and older brother, has also had to navigate the ups and downs of digital learning. Freid has played a role in getting his fifth-grade brother through math assignments and boredom.
“Sometimes he struggles with math assignments. Right away he goes to Mom, and she says to go to me since I’m better in the subject,” said Freid. “[I’ve also been] trying to keep him motivated to stay fit with normal and fun fitness. He is a soccer player.”
Part Four: Hometown heroes
There are older siblings everywhere that are home all day independently caring for their siblings while their parents are at work. In some cases, this unexpected situation has led to older siblings creating deeper bonds, better relationships, and closer connections with their younger siblings. In other cases, taking care of younger siblings has been nothing but a chore that comes with ample amounts of stress, anxiety, and frustration. And still, in other cases, it is a bit of both.
No matter what the situation is, however, older siblings have become heroes under the spotlight of the pandemic. Their adversary and determination to take care of their younger siblings is admirable.
There is no doubt that the pandemic has been difficult for everyone. We have all watched as our houses became not only homes but also schools, churches, workplaces, gyms, and restaurants. We have watched people take up different responsibilities and build different relationships.
Everyone had had their own experiences throughout the pandemic. There have been times of distress, loss, grief, and uncertainty. But also times of clarity, gratitude, and celebration. Through it all, the one reliable notion we have clung to was that together, we will get through this.