13 Pivotal Life Lessons Your Big Sister Teaches You (Without Even Trying)

Big sisters are the CliffsNotes of life; they are this world’s way of saying, “here, she will do it first, and you will learn from it. You’re welcome.” They help us deal with everything from profound grief to unbridled, gloating, smiling-with-all-your-teeth joy. Here are a few things they teach us without ever having to hold a formal lesson.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffy the Vampire Slayer

1. How to deal with negativity

My sister was always smart and studious; she liked everything that she liked without a single care for what was cool or what anyone thought was lame. We used to eat Pocky and watch Sailor Moon (the version with the subtitles, no less) and name our cat’s kittens after Greek gods and goddesses. I thought all of this was normal…because it was. Your big sister teaches you that the coolest thing in this world is to like what you like and forge your own path, no matter what some asshole (who will become the town drunk someday) thinks.

2. How to juggle

Big sisters are second moms, best friends, and people with lives of their own to manage. They let you sleep in your bed when you’re scared to be alone after a scary movie. They sacrifice their high school German homework to help you with grade school PEMDAS. They do everything they have to do and everything you want them to do at the same time. They show you how to prioritize and participate in multiple passion projects, but they never sit you down and say, “this is how you do it. It’s easy.” They show you how hard it is while making it look easy.

3. How to treat your mother

Your big sister will fight with your mom and slam her door, only to show up at your recently slammed door to call you out on how you were wrong. She knows when you’re being a brat because she’s been there. She’ll be the one hugging your mom during the hard times, after the funerals that you don’t even get to attend because you’re too young. Your big sister is the Robin to your mom’s Batman.

4. How to deal with your father

If ‘mother knows best,’ then father thinks he knows everything. The truth is that, while our dads usually mean well, sometimes they are completely off base. They don’t know what it is to be a young woman in this world, and you’ll watch your big sister look your dad right in the eye and say, “no, you’re wrong.” She’ll teach you how to pick your battles, and how to love someone even when they’re being awful, because in the end, your big sister teaches you that your dad isn’t awful, he is who he is and he is an adult who is just as sensitive and confused as the rest of us.

5. How to apologize

You’ll watch your big sister do things that you never thought she’d do, and you’ll think they’re the coolest goddamned things in the world. She’ll abruptly stop doing them, and you’ll think, “oh, I guess that was wrong.” You’ll hear the stairs creak when she sheepishly descends them to apologize to your parents after a snotty remark, or hear the muffled noises and relieved laughs of her making up with a best friend over the phone. Your big sister will show you that it is okay to be wrong, as long as you can recognize it and make amends.

6. How to take care of your other siblings

I watched my big sister get spit up on by my baby brother so many times that I lost count. I couldn’t deal with the smell for the first few months of his existence. As he struggled as a kid on the Autistic spectrum, I watched my sister tow the line between dealing with a frazzled mom and being a frazzled caretaker herself. She always knew when to step in and when to back off. In the end, big sisters teach us all how to be there for the other members of our family, especially when they need it the most.

7. How to share

How many things have you taken from your big sister without asking? How many screaming matches were had over something as trivial as a pair of her shoes? As you get older, you realize how valuable these things can be. She’ll teach you how to respect property and share what you can, and you’ll thank her for it when you hear the horror stories of having an only child as a roommate.

8. How to give without expecting anything in return

My sister used to throw parties for every single Harry Potter book release; she would slave for hours over the perfect pastries, drink concoctions, and cute homemade decorations (and all before Pinterest was a thing, no less)! She was a wizard (lol, I know) with making others feel comforted and cared for, and she never once said anything like, “I wish my friends did things like this for me.” I’m sure she thought like that from time to time, but on the outside, she just showed me that one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself in this life is giving to other people.

9. How to be a good friend

My first real hangover happened before I was even 16 years old. I came home, completely disgusting and sick, and cried in my room while I waited for it to be over. Your big sister will be the first one to Google “hangover cures” and show up at your door with saltines, ginger ale, and the blissfully distracting question of, “so, how much fun was last night, though?” She will show you what it is to be a best friend and a responsible helping hand. You’ll watch friends fall out of her life and ask, “but don’t you miss them?!” Her ease with welcoming new friends into your home and not speaking ill of the ones who fall away will teach you that being a good friend is, at its core, about just being there for the people who are actually there for you.

10. How to understand when it’s not ‘just kidding’ anymore

There is nothing in this world as shame-inducing as making your big sister cry. Once you see it happen at any age past 10 or 12, you will know what it is to feel like a total asshat, and you will know where the line of going to far lies.

11. How to take care of your own things

There’s a pivotal moment in your life where your sister will be old enough to drive a car, or buy alcohol, or have a job, and you will still be focused on exactly which lyrics to post on social media to get your crush’s attention. She will break things and have to replace them, and you will take her things with reckless abandon and then be dragged through hell for doing so. Big sisters teach you that objects have the value we ascribe to them, and that you need to respect the property and priorities of others in the same way you’d want your own respected.

12. How to keep going

You will see your big sister cry. You will see her break down and say she cannot do it. You will see her fall short of the high mark she set, and then you will see her get up, set a higher mark, and achieve it. Your big sister will not teach you that nothing is impossible; she will teach you that some things are impossible, and that when you find those things, you must work as hard as you can to make your own possibilities.

13. What it means to be a role model

Big sisters are our future selves, living lives we envy and try to emulate from day one. We want to do what they can do before we can even begin to understand what it means to do it. Without my big sister, I would never have been interested in cool books, writing, wearing dope patterns, or basically anything that I could name; she did it all first, and she did it in a way to which I could aspire. Big sisters show you how to show things to someone else. They’re the heroes that teach us how to save ourselves. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

About the author

Crissy Milazzo

Crissy is a writer living and lol’ing in Los Angeles. She’s on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, for better or worse.

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