The Mother/Sister Role

My father, my half-brother and my half-sister flew in from the the East Coast for a visit last week. My half-brother is 14 and my half-sister is 10.

I was 20 years old and away at college when my brother was born. I was in graduate school when my sister was born. Since we’re decades of age apart, didn’t grow up together, and live across the country from each other, I obviously don’t have a normal sisterly relationship with them. I love them as I do the sister and brother I grew up with, but it’s a very different relationship.  Over time, I have developed a dynamic with them that seems half-mother/half-sister. When you’re old enough to be the mother of your siblings (and often get mistaken for the mom…ugh), it’s easy to find yourself playing the mom role just as easily as it is to be the sister.

During our visits, I find myself shifting between this mother role and the sister role. I can ask my brother and sister to help with dinner, stop running down the hardwood stairs in slippery socks, or clean up after themselves just as easily as I can find myself on the couch with them playing DJ Hero, teasing and giggling with them as if I were their age.  At the same time, I need to monitor myself like I would with any other kids around, like watch my language and avoid inappropriate topics.  And when topics come up that aren’t necessarily inappropriate, but definitely on the serious side, it can be confusing as to how to handle it. For one thing, my sister and brother aren’t even half as sheltered as I was growing up. It’s not because of how they are parented but rather it’s due to the world they and their friends live in. Their access to the world is staggering and their precociousness is reminiscent of my young adult self and certainly not my tween and teen self.

As I walked along with my 10 year old sister one day last week, we got to talking about marriage. As we passed by a gay couple on the street, our conversation led to gay relationships and marriage. When I mentioned that gay marriage is not legal here in California, she stopped walking. Looking incredulous and surprised, she looked up at me and said, “Wait, gay marriage isn’t legal here?!?” I could only respond, “No, it isn’t.” She was silent for a few minutes, which is unusual for her, and pondered that.

Perhaps it was my tone that ended the conversation. It was a tone that took me back to my own youth when I asked questions of my parents that could not easily be explained. I became a mother in that tone, even though I wanted to talk like a sister. But I couldn’t do that. How could I possibly respond to a 10 year old that lives in a State where gay marriage is legal and explain why it isn’t legal everywhere? How could I explain to her that those of us who support gay rights and equality were outvoted by those who do not. I didn’t necessarily want to have that conversation, only because it makes me angry and upset. I didn’t want to put that on my 10 year old sister when, even though she is shockingly mature and smart, she’s simply not old enough to listen to what I have to say about the subject. One day, we’ll have that conversation. But, at that moment in time, I simply changed the subject and started teasing her like any other big sister.