Sisters Born Decades Apart On How The Age Gap Affects Their Relationship

Unless you grew up as an only child, it’s likely that the bulk of your first memories include a sibling or two. Whether it’s sharing baths or taking your first trip to the seaside, growing up with someone close in age means having someone to live through the important moments with. These shared experiences make up a huge part of the sibling bond (because what brings kids closer than covering for each other when one gets detention?). But those who grew up with significantly older or younger siblings may have missed out entirely on these foundation-building moments.
If, like me, you are the youngest in a set of siblings with a large age gap, your childhood memories may be entirely different from those of your friends. Mine include things like watching my siblings get their dream jobs and remembering when they had children of their own.
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Although strange to some, the connection between siblings with big age gaps can be incredibly strong, with many older siblings taking on an important parental role in their younger siblings' lives. However, the relationship dynamic also comes with its difficulties, with many feeling the strain of growing up in different generations once they reach adult life.
While everyone's family is different, there does appear to be a fair share of common experiences for those with much older or younger siblings. Below, we spoke to three sets of sisters about how their large age gap shaped their childhoods, the impact it had on their family dynamics and how it affects their relationship now.

Alicia, 24, and Vanessa, 36

How did the age gap affect your relationship when you were younger?
A: I think I was most aware of our age gap when I was in primary school. Most of my friends' siblings would be in the same playground as us, but my siblings didn't even live in the same house as me. Vanessa moved to London when I was young and also travelled abroad a lot with her job, so it felt like a lot of our relationship existed through postcards, rather than in person, which made our age gap seem bigger and more apparent.
V: I didn't notice an effect particularly when I was younger. Alicia being born was the best thing that ever happened to me and I used to dash home from secondary school because I couldn't wait to see her. I loved the age gap because it meant that I could look after her on my own, help her with numbers, read to her and help her get to sleep. I always say I'd adore to go back to those times with her and remember them a little bit harder.
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You grew up in different eras, how did your childhood differ from your sister's? 
A: Vanessa likes to make out that I got it incredibly easy growing up, which isn’t true, but I did have a very different upbringing to her and my older brother. By the time I got to my mid-teens, my parents were semi-retired, meaning they had a lot more time to spend with me. I was alone in the house for most of my life, which meant that all the focus was on me, whereas Vanessa had my brother to go through it all with. It was quite strange to feel like an only child at times when I actually had two siblings.
V: We joke all the time that Alicia had it easier than my brother and I did. She was allowed to go to festivals as a teenager and have her boyfriend stay over years before I could. My parents were a lot stricter with my brother and I, but maybe that's because we were in trouble more. Our childhood was also massively different because my brother and I had each other. I realise as I've got older that it must have felt hard for her at times since we had memories Alicia wasn't there for or didn't remember.
What have your parents said about the reasons behind the age gap?
A: My mum always gets annoyed when people make jokes about me being an accident because she said she always planned on having three kids. There ended up being a big break between children for a multitude of reasons, but she always says three was her intention and being an older mum wasn’t going to stop that from happening.
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V: They always wanted a third child but we moved to a different city and there were multiple job changes so they were just waiting for the right moment, and they absolutely did.

[She] has grown into the woman she is today in a totally different world to me, so she's constantly teaching me things and making me look at the world from a different viewpoint.

What positives have come from having a large age gap?
A: My mum always says that when I was younger people would make comments about how mature I was, and that definitely came from making conversation with adults my entire childhood. I also had a roadmap of what worked and what didn’t when it came to the teenage years and early 20s, which I'm grateful for. Essentially, if something happened to me when I was younger, it had probably already happened to Vanessa, so I've always had someone I can follow and learn from at every life junction.
V: I have a million memories of Alicia as a baby because I was old enough to remember them and I'm so grateful for that. I got to help her learn and teach her things and play with her and have memories a lot of kids won’t remember about their siblings. Another positive is that Alicia has grown up into the woman she is today in a totally different world to me, so she's constantly teaching me things and making me look at the world from a different viewpoint. She definitely got the brains.
What negatives have come from having a large age gap?
A: I think the main negative is that we have always lived pretty separate lives. Our family is close-knit but the fact that Vanessa moved to a different city before I even got to secondary school affected our relationship. I think because she didn’t see me grow up, I stay as a child in her head, meaning that sometimes she still mothers me. I'm not exaggerating when I say that it is only in the last few years that she has stopped trying to grab my hand as we cross the road, and I am 24 years old.
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V: Alicia was six when I left to attend performing arts school, which meant that when she was turning into the person she is today, I wasn't physically there for it. I remember times when I would go home to visit and she would say something she liked or didn't like and I'd think, Wow I literally had no idea that interested you. I'm sure there were times she would have needed me or opened up to me about things if I was there, but I wasn't so she never really could which is upsetting to me now.
What have you learned from having a significantly younger or older sister?
A: Overall I’ve learned that everyone has different dynamics in their family and I'm not the odd one out just because I have much older siblings. The majority of people are only a few years older or younger than their siblings, but it doesn’t necessarily make it a better relationship. I get to watch my sister go through milestones in life that I never would do if we were closer in age, so I would never change what we have.
V: I've learned that there are pros and cons to having a big age gap between siblings, and if I had a large age gap between my own children there are things I would definitely be aware of. But I still wouldn't change any of it – I would just have filmed and took way more photos, gone home more, and made sure she didn't ever feel left out.
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Paris, 22, and Kay-Lea, 31 

How did the age gap affect your relationship when you were younger? 
P: Growing up I felt like I had three parents, two mothers and one father. I was quite a demanding child and my mum worked a lot so I was with my sister most of the time. She would pick me up from nursery and school and everything else. She had a lot of time for me then and still does now, so I appreciate that. I never wanted for anything, she would buy me the latest clothes, shoes, whatever I needed. My mum and dad were separated so Kay-lea really took a step up even though she didn’t have to. I went everywhere with her, I felt like I was one of the older kids. Despite her being older, I didn’t feel like the younger one…only when I got told off. I also used to snitch on her to our mum all the time… I thought it was funny. 
K: When Paris was born I was longing for a companion after being an only child for so long. When our mother told me she was pregnant it was one of the most joyous times of my life. I remember the day Paris was born like yesterday. When I saw her at the hospital she looked into my soul, I felt this overwhelming love and nurturing feeling. I knew I was going to protect her forever. Growing up my mum was a single parent working full-time, which meant me having to take Paris with me if I wanted to go out. She would grass on me like no tomorrow. That being said, I could never hold feelings against her, it was always me and her against the world. She was like my first baby. 
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You grew up in different eras, how did your childhood differ from your sister's?
P: Kay-lea and I were treated very differently. My mum was strict with her when she was younger so that made her want more freedom when she got older. My mother did the opposite with me, and was more lenient at a young age. It meant that when I was older, I didn’t want the freedom; I would never come home late even if my mum didn’t tell me a time to be back for. I didn’t want to abuse the leniency she had given me. She was a lot ‘softer’, my sister says, and she says I got away with a lot more. I don’t see it directly like that, but that's her word against mine. 
K: Oh my gosh, Paris had life easy! At age 10 I was changing nappies and helping out my mum around the house. By 13 I was picking Paris up from nursery to help Mum while she was working. At 13, Paris still had my mum babying her, saying, "No, Paris can’t do this, she’s too young." I always remember saying to my mum, "Paris gets away with murder."
What have your parents said about the reasons behind the age gap?
P: My mum said that I was planned and she wasn’t… Can I say that? She probably knows anyway, my mum is very open.
K: Our mother was 19 when she had me, my dad was her first love. They had a whirlwind romance and got engaged, then I was born. Once they grew older they realised they weren’t right for each other and separated. Mum then went on to meet Paris’s father, hence the big age gap.
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Having a younger sibling ignites the mother within early. When I had my own child it felt like second nature to be a mother. She taught me the art of true love.

What positives have come from having a large age gap?
P: She’s always told me that any problem I have faced or am about to face, she’s already done it and come out on the other end bigger and better. I've always had someone to look up to, a best friend that I didn’t choose. I can imagine being an older sister is a huge responsibility, so I’m glad it's this way round because she’s done well. I don’t think I could have done that.
K: I wouldn't change our age difference for the world. Paris was my living Barbie doll. We are kindred spirits, she keeps me vibrant now I have three children of my own. She is the person that allows me to be me again. Not mother, partner, career woman, just me, Kay-lea. Having a younger sibling ignites the mother within early. When I had my own child it felt like second nature to be a mother. She taught me the art of true love.
What negatives have come from having a large age gap?
P: I sometimes wish that our move from ‘mother-daughter’ to best friends had happened a lot sooner than it did. We also have a hard time arguing because she is really stubborn, and as the older sibling she thinks she is always right. I understand she is more experienced in this world, but sometimes you have to take into account the other person's argument. Just because someone is older does not mean they are right. Her favourite line is "Who is the older one?" whenever we argue and I have to have that level of respect for her, which is sometimes a hard pill to swallow.
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K: I would say the hardest issue that we have had to overcome is me having to realise that Paris is no longer my little sister that I can boss around. To have that respect for her as a woman. The shift is quite dynamic. To go from being the one Mum would call to say "You need to sort your sister out" to actually having to sit and not tell her off but talk through situations and respect her womanhood. 
What have you learned from having a significantly younger or older sister?
P: I have learned a lot from having an older sister. The things that they don’t teach you in school, like taxes and how to build your credit score! Most importantly though, she’s taught me how to look after somebody. I have not once felt alone or unsafe because I always know that she will be there for me. If I was anywhere in the world and needed my big sister, rest assured she would move mountains to get to me and I would do the same. I probably wouldn’t say this to her face though!
K: The main life lesson I learned from having a younger sibling was the nature and nurture of a child. How your actions as an older sibling can affect them dramatically. My favourite lesson that I have learned from Paris is to live life to the fullest and the eternal youth she brings to my life.

Alexandra, 24, and Hannah, 35

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How did the age gap affect your relationship when you were younger?
A: I was never really aware of our age gap until I reached my late teens, when I thought I was becoming more of an ‘adult’. It made me realise how much of a ‘mother’ role Hannah had taken on, and that our sister relationship was more of a mum and child dynamic, rather than friends.
H: I was so excited to find out that I was having a little sister when I was younger. I already had a brother with whom I have a two-year age gap, so having a sister made me really happy. I was 11 when she was born, so I just wanted to get involved as much as I could and look after her.
You grew up in different eras, how did your childhood differ from your sister's? 
A: I was born in 1995 with much older parents. Because I came late, my parents had kind of lived through most of life’s hardships and gone through their working life. I think my relationship with my parents was closer than it was with Hannah because they had more time to spend with me. But I also went to boarding school at the age of 11, so perhaps we both suffered an element of emotional detachment, but for different reasons.
H: Our childhoods were definitely different. My brother and I always joke that Alexandra is the princess of the family! Our parents were definitely much more lenient with her then they were with us. 
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What have your parents said about the reasons behind the age gap?
A: I was a 'mistake'. But it’s okay because I’m the favourite now!
H: She was a mistake.
What positives have come from having such a large age gap with your sister?
A: I feel like I have learned a lot from the mistakes and mishaps that Hannah has made. Also hanging out with her friends and having an older crowd of people to go out with and look after me has certainly made me mature more quickly. I also feel like I’ve adopted some of her closest friends as additional older sisters.
H: I feel like my professional network has helped her career-wise and through that she has become friends with all of my friends, which is lovely. She also always keeps me up to date on what’s happening with the millennials which is a plus!

I'm not sure she'll ever see me as an adult. Even when we're in our 70s and 80s.

What negatives have come from having such a large age gap?
A: Maybe being more like mother and child rather than friends. I think that’s a hard dynamic to ever break out of. I’m not sure she’ll ever see me as an adult! Even when we’re in our 70s and 80s.
H: I’m sure a lot of this is typical sister stuff regardless of our age gap...taking my clothes all the time, baby sulks when she doesn’t get her own way, that sort of thing.
What have you learned from having a significantly younger or older sister?
A: How different people’s personalities are depending on birth order. Hannah is a lot more generous, thoughtful and a natural leader than me. Whereas I would say I’m more independent, maverick and selfish. I notice this a lot now in other sibling dynamics, too.
H: That it is definitely better to be the younger sister!

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