The Sister Effect
Having an affectionate sister is good for you.
Young teens who have a sister feel less lonely, unloved, guilty, self-conscious, and fearful. A recent story in USA TODAY reported on a study of siblings by researchers from Brigham Young University. The study found that regardless of age, gender, or age differences, affectionate siblings have positive influences on each other, but that having a sister prevents depression more than having a brother.
Siblings also have twice as much influence than parents when it comes to performing good deeds for others, and it comes as no surprise that hostility between siblings has a negative effect.
That got me to thinking about my own big sister and her influence on me as a young girl.
My sister and I were not particularly close as children. But we were almost always in close proximity. We had to share a bedroom in a home with three brothers, two parents, and one bathroom. You get the picture.
Before we managed to score twin beds, we even had to share a sleep sofa. That kind of forced togetherness would test any sibling relationship, and we had more than our share of hostile moments. Despite the trials and tribulations, our relationship managed to survive.
I couldn’t admit it then, but I secretly appreciated having my big sister so close at night because I was terrified of the dark. Although she feigned indifference, she habitually gave in to my pleadings and put her arm around me in a protective pose until I fell asleep. For some reason, monsters could not penetrate that sisterly embrace.
The funny thing is, these days she says she doesn’t remember holding me as I drifted off to sleep. I suspect that’s because at the time, it was not as important to her as it was to me. She was just doing what big sisters instinctively do — helping out the little pain in the butt who sleeps next to you. The above-referenced study found that, “affectionate siblings have positive influences on each other,” and I think those late-night hugs influenced me a great deal.
Next: Walking in My Sister’s Shoes… Literally
As the younger sister by five years, I wanted to walk in her shoes. Literally. When I was in third grade, I was particularly fond of her black winter boots with the fake fur at mid-calf. They were about as close to the popular ‘go-go boots’ style as I ever hoped to get.
Mom was still insisting that I wear little red rubber boots that fit over my shoes, despite my protests that no other girls in my grade still wore those ‘baby’ boots. Sis’s boots were getting a little tight on her feet and I wanted them — badly.
When Sis finally had enough of the tight boots, Mom reluctantly turned them over to me, even though they were still way too big for my feet. Nevertheless, I proudly clomped off to school in them, feeling quite the fashion plate.
Unfortunately, my sister and I have spent all our adult lives separated by geography. On a recent visit, she informed me that she had some never-worn shoes that didn’t fit quite right and I was welcome to have them.
Like Cinderella after the ball, the shoes were a perfect fit and I claimed them as my own. It had been decades since I received hand-me-downs, but I was thrilled. It felt like third grade all over again.
The five years that separate us no longer matter, but the geography certainly does. We never got a chance to spend long periods of quality time together as adults. As the younger sister, I don’t know if I’ve had any kind of positive effect on her. The bonds we share are largely the bonds of childhood, with precious few adulthood memories of the sisterly sort. That childhood affection from my big sis is with me still; no study necessary.