I moved away from my hometown a long time ago. I haven’t lived there for 12 years. To me, leaving one’s childhood town was always an important part of growing up, standing on one’s own two feet, and forming one’s identity, separate from the family. I know that someone doesn’t have to leave home to do these things, but maybe due to the movies I watched and the books I read as a child, leaving home was, in my mind, a necessity of growing up. So I left. I never thought that that made me evil. I really thought that’s what people do at age 18. And maybe my leaving wouldn’t have looked so bad if my sister hadn’t stuck around—so now everyone is able to compare us. She lives in the same, little town that our family does and that obligates her to a lot of family events and tasks from which I’m spared. It has, perhaps, caused a little rift between us, and made me look like the “bad child.” Here’s what it’s like being the sibling who left town, leaving the other with all of the burden.
Your sibling does all the house care
My sister has to go water the plants, bring in the mail, and take care of their dog when my parents go on a trip. She has to stop by their house several times a week, for various reasons, to help out with things.
You just vacation at the house
When I come to town, I just get to enjoy the house. My mom doesn’t see me often so she wants me to relax—she doesn’t want me spending time doing any work around the house. I can see how that might make my sister a little resentful. But, also, on the flip side, it’s normal that when a child goes home to their family, they relax. My life where I live is busy and exhausting.
She’s required at weekly family dinners
My parents expect my sister to have dinner with them once a week. She does live just a five-minute drive away, after all. But the reality is that they rob her of one of her only free nights she could spend with her fiancé. That being said, if she skips family dinner, she is made to feel guilty.
You get an award for visiting three times a year
While my sister is expected at weekly dinners, I receive an award for visiting three times a week. I’m thanked for taking time out of my life to travel to their town to see them. This, again, I’m sure makes my sister a little bit peeved. She gets no trophy for being at family dinners. She just gets berated if she doesn’t go.
She must take daily logistics phone calls
My parents call my sister at least every day, if not several times a day, to talk about all sorts of logistics. Who is taking grandpa to his appointment? Who will be at the house to let in the plumber? If she misses one of these calls and takes too long to get back to them, my family gets very irritated with my sister.
You’re an angel for calling to say hi
Meanwhile, I’m over here, treated like a saint just for calling once a week to say hello. My parents explicitly don’t want to talk about day-to-day logistics and humdrum stuff because they talk to me so infrequently, they want to keep the calls fun and lively.
When your visit triggers family dinner…
When I visit, my family obviously wants to put on a big family dinner, which everyone is expected to attend—including my sister. This can make her a little irritated with me because she already took a night of her week to have family dinner with them. And now my visit is triggering an additional one.
You can’t complain about your parents
I’ve learned that I can’t really complain to my sister about our parents. If I try to tell her how annoying they’ve been just on phone calls, she can always play the, “Yup well, try having them stop by your apartment unannounced every week” card. And she has a point—she wins (or, loses?)
But, also, she chose to stay
So, here’s the thing I feel bad saying but must say: my sister chose to stay in that town. Nobody forced her, and she must have known that it would mean being very involved in our family life. While I do sympathize with her when she talks about our family driving her crazy, I’m also over here thinking, “Well…you could just…move away…”
But also you’re glad she’s there
The reality is though, that I’m very glad my sister is in that town. Our parents are getting older. I do worry about them. I’m glad they have someone there to help them out, and that they don’t need to hire a pricey assistant or nurse one day. I actually owe my sister a huge thanks. If she didn’t live there, then that would require my driving up there more often to help out. She’s there for the both of us.
And, sometimes you’re a little jealous
As much as my sister complains about our parents asking her to do something for them every day or popping by her place unannounced, I am a bit jealous that she gets this time with them. When they’re no longer with us, she’ll be glad she had it, and I won’t be able to say the same for myself.
But only sometimes
My jealousy dissipates quickly if I visit my family during a bad time—like when they’re fighting about something or obsessing over something that really isn’t a big deal. Then I remember that oooh they’re like this a lot—I just don’t usually see it since they’re on their best behavior for most of my visits.
Your family makes comments too
While my parents don’t do it often, they do sometimes make comments about the fact that I don’t know what’s going on in their lives as much as my sister does and I’m not there for them as much as my sister is.
You’re only there for the big health scares
My sister is there for the little health scares. You know those times when everyone is figuring out should we call out-of-town relatives and tell them to come up? Is this serious? She’s there, in the trenches of those scary moments. I only get a call if things do get serious.
But, kids do move away
It’s a complex dynamic that we may never completely figure out. I guess I thought my parents would be proud of me for being adventurous and brave enough to move away, and build a life for myself from scratch—no nepotism helping with jobs and no acquaintances introducing me to friends. I did it all on my own. Sometimes it angers me that, rather than getting praise for that, I get criticized for not being around enough. But, I can also see their point: my sister takes on a burden for two, since I’m not there.