Large age gaps add challenges to sibling relationships

September 10, 2018 — by Esha Lakhotia and Selena Liu

While her parents were away at work on Halloween, sophomore Grace Wang, then age 3, went trick-or-treating around the neighborhood with her oldest sister, Sue.

This was one of the few fond memories Grace shared with Sue, who is 13 years older. After Sue went away to college at UC Berkeley, Grace, then 5, began to feel more distant from her oldest sibling.

“I don’t really have a strong relationship with Sue,” Grace said. “I’m not really sure what she likes or what she dislikes and her personality in general.”

Although Grace enjoyed spending time with her sister when their family went to visit her at college, she does wish that she could have stronger connections with her.

“I think we missed out on just being able to talk about simple things like schoolwork or hobbies or books and really getting to know each other,” she said.

In contrast, Grace has many more fond memories with her middle sister, senior Kaitlyn Wang, who is a mere two year older. After Sue began attending college, Grace would often walk to Cupertino with Kaitlyn to buy frozen yogurt and cream puffs.

Since Sue left home, Grace believes that her relationship with Kaitlyn has gotten much closer, especially since they are similar in age.

“We know each other’s personalities and interests because we’re only two years apart,” Grace said. “The fact that we go to the same school is beneficial since she helps me with homework, and I get to see what life will be like in junior year.”

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine states that the average age gap between siblings in America is about two and a half years. 

In addition, according to clinical doctor Angela Oswalt from the newsletter “MentalHelp,” siblings with too large of an age gap are less likely to be close because they do not “share similar experiences, joys and stress.”

But there is a certain benefit to the large age gap, Oswalt says. Older siblings with a larger age gap understand the struggles that their younger siblings go through, allowing them to empathize with their younger siblings more.

One student who sees the benefits of having such a large age gap with a younger sibling is senior Neo Chen, whose sister Angelina is currently in first grade. 

Neo, having gone through most of what his 7-year-old sister has, can relate to her in many ways that his parents cannot, such as understanding her experiences in an American elementary school, something that his Chinese-born parents cannot.

“When she gets in trouble, she just comes and talks to me instead of talking to our parents,” Neo said. 

Neo also tells stories about his own elementary school experience to Angelina, and he gives advice to help Angelina solve problems related to academics.

However, Neo can tell that the way Angelina is growing up now is different from when he was in elementary school, because of her easier access to technology.

While Neo had less access to Apple products during elementary school, his sister, who is in first grade, uses her iPad to access many mobile applications such as Khan Academy, and he feels like he can guide his sister through the use of these applications.

Despite the large age gap that separates Neo and his sister, he feels that they are close and share a strong bond.

“Even when I go to college, I feel like it will be the same,” Neo said. “Distance isn’t really a problem.” 

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Sophomore Isaac Sun leaps over other sophomores during their quad day on Sept. 19. Photo by Alan Zu.

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