Connecting From a Distance: The Challenges of Being a Sib While at College

From Alexandra Grinfeld, a college-age sib: 

Every time I Skype my younger brother Danny, he asks me where I am. When I say to him that he already knows, he always asks in the same tentative tone: “Ireland?”

“Yes Danny, Ireland.”

My decision to apply to college an ocean away from home was more of a spontaneous decision than anything. I knew that I wanted to experience a new country and culture, and the college I had in mind just happened to have a great reputation, a beautiful campus, and a really easy application process. When I received my acceptance letter, brought it to my parents, and received an “absolutely not” in reply, it only strengthened my resolve: Dublin, or bust. It took months of pleading, negotiating, and budgeting to convince my mom and dad that it was the right choice for me. I was so set on turning their no into a yes that I didn’t even properly think through how difficult it would be to be so far away from them. Even more than missing my parents though (sorry, Mom and Dad), I didn’t imagine how painful it would be to be away from Danny.

Growing up with Danny was sometimes difficult, often stressful, and always chaotic. Danny was born with Dravet Syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy that causes significant developmental delays and behavioral issues. For me, and for many college-age siblings, moving away from home is the first time we have an opportunity to be the center of our own world. Even though the prospect of living on my own was daunting, I was looking forward to taking care of myself, and not my brother and my parents as well.

Yet I soon realized that even from three thousand miles away, the stresses and responsibilities that come with being a sibling stick with you. Phone updates about hospital visits and medication changes and seizure activity, and trying your best to provide some kind of support through emails and text messages. Even while they still live at home, siblings struggle with feeling like their efforts to help fall short, and being away exacerbates that feeling. Often it’s also accompanied by a sense of guilt for not being around to help out in the way you used to. It’s certainly something that I’ve struggled with, wondering whether I’ve made a selfish decision whenever I hang up the phone.

Another common problem that siblings face is how to communicate to their brother or sister that they are going off to college. Moving to college is a big transition for anyone, but for siblings there is the added responsibility of ensuring that the transition for their sibling is smooth as well. Following from that, the next challenge is just trying to make the distance seem as small as possible, with frequent phone calls and visits home whenever possible.

Unfortunately there is a real lack of resources for college-aged sibs who need help navigating the transition to college, but that is hopefully something that we can fill the gap for in the near future.

In the meantime, college-aged sibs who are interested in meeting other sibs and talking over these issues and more can come to the Sibs’ Journey Conference, taking place at Brandeis University this June-coming up this weekend!  Please see the link below for more information and to reserve a space.

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