The Big Sister Syndrome

I’ve gradually been noticing my little 4-year-old daughter C develop symptoms of  “The Big Sister Syndrome”.

It probably started when we announced to C that she would be getting another younger sibling.  She began to point out things that she could do independently, such as pick out her own outfits in the morning, go to the bathroom without assistance, and read/draw quietly without disturbing us.  She was constantly asking for positive feedback about how she was being a great big sister and a good example for her little brother.  When my OB advised me to stop lifting anything over 25 lbs and we were explaining to my son why I could no longer carry him on the stairs, I even noticed big sister C would frequently offer to hold his hand or show him the art of quickly scooting backwards downstairs.

There are funny examples of this “Big Sister Syndrome”, such as the morning when I found my 2 year old son half-naked, running around without his diaper, as big sister explained to me that she wanted to help me change E’s diaper but he was too wiggly. Or when I walked into the kitchen to see my petite 3-ft-tall, barely 30 lbs-daughter struggling with all her might to open the refrigerator door as she attempts to prepare a snack for her and her brother.

But more than the funny instances are the tenderhearted moments…a few months ago while I was walking around the neighborhood with 2 kids in the double stroller, my daughter asked me urgently, “When the new baby comes, we won’t have room in the stroller!  Where is the baby going to sit?”  and before I had time to answer, she quickly offered, “The baby can sit in my seat, I am a big girl, I will walk.”   Tell me that doesn’t make you just say, “awwww.”.

I recently decided that during the next few months, I would cut down the hours at daycare so the kids would have more time at home with me.  When I told C about this new change in her schedule, her eyes brightened with excitement as she responded with, “I like spending time at home with you, Mama.”  However, she also thoughtfully followed up with, “But why?  Why do we get to stay at home with you?  Because you need my help with taking care of the baby?”

During each of these moments, my heart melts with gratitude and love for my beautiful, sweet, little daughter, but a little part of my heart breaks as I feel that she shouldn’t have to shoulder such a great burden of responsibility.  I struggle with the swell of pride as I see my daughter maturing so quickly versus a sense of sadness as I want her to simply be playful and carefree.  Perhaps I am projecting too much of my own experiences of in the role of the Responsible Big Sister, but there were definitely countless times in my  childhood when I just wanted to be silly and NOT feel like my family was constantly expecting me to be the perfect example for my younger siblings. My parents often jokingly recount the time when I was about 7 years old and broke into tears as I  bitterly complained about how unfair it was that I didn’t have a big sister to take care of me.

As I continue to grow in my experiences as a mother and a big sister, I really hope that I can convey clearly to my daughter that I am so proud of her and how much I appreciate every ounce of her sense of responsibility. But most of all, I want to remind myself and my daughter that it’s okay to enjoy being goofy and playful and not be afraid to be the Fun Big Sister too!


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