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.


Lone W.
Lone W2 years ago

Although not always the case, when sisters get along, they are very happy persons.

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Virginia Reddin
Virginia Reddin3 years ago

makes me think of and miss my 2 big sisters very much!!

Anne F.
Anne F3 years ago

Best gift from my sister: a tiny book saying that we had proved ourselves helpful in emergencies, and that we could enjoy good times together. We have made art together, spent weekends with each other (no husbands or kids in sight), and even made an international, volunteer trip together.

.6 years ago

Big sisters holding little sisters not instinctual...unless it's about breed, and we need to allow for LARGE variations is what big sisters do to little sisters 'per breed'

But thank you very very much for sharing a positive experience with the lot of us.

I'm glad you have that experience to look back on. Awesomeness! :-)


Shirazeh T.
Shirazeh T.7 years ago

jewel s- i have 2 sisters, one 2 and a half years older, one 6 years younger. we're adults now (im 32), and the two of them are best friends, and i have almost no communication with the other 2. that's also heartbreaking. we live w/in 30 miles of eachother.

my best friend sabrina is my sister. she was an only child growing up, but she's the sister i need. you can find what you need as an adult, and appreciate the family you have, for better or for worse.

Jewels S.
Jewels S7 years ago

I have two brothers and they just could not give a darn. It is hard and I am learning to accept. It is one of the hardest things to accept. I really wish I had a sister growing up but it doesn't guarantee a close bond. I felt like I was mourning the absence of a sister while reading this.

Jennifer Hester
Jennifer Hester7 years ago

I am the oldest in my family. My sister is 7 years younger than me. When we were kids, i was just the protective big sister. Now we are best friends. I have always been there for her, and she has always been there for me

Donna Lindsay
Donna Lindsay7 years ago

What a wonderful story about sisters! I would have loved to have had a loving relationship with my only sibling, a sister nine years older. I adored her. She never reciprocated. She died near Christmas 2005 and left instructions that no one was to tell me (so I couldn't go to her memorial service)! I have an "unfinished" feeling sometimes and I think I'll talk with someone even though I have handled it pretty well all things considered. It's just that I have FMS plus I had three huge surgeries within 18 months (one was breast cancer) not too long before her end. No one came to me despite my closeness with my nieces and nephews when they were babies to young adults. One niece is nearby and is silent. I miss her (like she was when we were younger).

I hope no one ever has this kind of relationship. All I ever wanted was for her to just love me and accept me as I was. But I know it was not my fault and probably not hers. Emotional and/or mental problems wreak havoc and sometimes we just cannot bridge the canyons between us and our siblings.

Kerry Stuparitz
Kerry G7 years ago

I'm an older sister and a younger sister :)