Their Happiness Does Not Depend on Me: Asenath’s Story
Pseudonym note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Asenath” is a pseudonym.
Since my siblings were my main source of “friends” during my K-12 homeschool experience, I didn’t learn much about how to choose friends or how to maintain a friendship. Maintaining a relationship with a sibling who lives with you 24/7 and cannot leave is very different from maintaining a friendship with someone whom you may have to make an effort to get together or stay in touch with and who can leave if they don’t like the way you are treating them. Also, some friendships are temporary and in my adult life I have tended to be far more loyal to friends than they have been to me and far more crushed by losing friends because I didn’t learn at a younger age that it can be normal to move on from certain friendships.
I have spent a great deal of my adult life being very lonely because I expected friends to come to me and didn’t take responsibility for developing my social life and doing the work of leaving my house and meeting new people and developing friendships. At 31 yrs. old, I am finally realizing that there is not a shortage of friends and that I can go out and make and choose friends rather than grasping at the few people I already know, hoping they won’t leave me.
Since I didn’t have peers in my homeschool experience, I went through my childhood constantly comparing myself to my sister who was two years older than me.
She and I were often grouped together for classes like history and science, and I would be working one to two grade levels above the normal grade for my age, so that my sister and I could work together. I was in college before I finally realized that I was in fact smart. I had pretty much concluded that I was dumb because my sister had usually out-performed me, and I had never taken into account the advantage she had in being two whole developmental years older than me.
My next sister, who is two years younger than me, is extremely smart. She is a lightning fast reader and also talented at math. While I was trying to keep up with my older sister, I was also very motivated to stay ahead of my younger sister, and I would get very discouraged whenever she out-performed me.
There was a strong sense of sibling hierarchy in my family, which I am still coming to terms with.
When my older sister left for college, I was sixteen. Losing her was devastating to me, and I went into a depression in which I felt like I was walking through a dark mist and might fall off a cliff at any moment. I didn’t know how to live without a big sister because my entire strategy for living was based around watching her and imitating her successes while avoiding her mistakes. When I turned eighteen, I didn’t go to college because I was still so depressed about losing my sister that I thought I would surely die if I left the rest of my family. I didn’t really have any plans for after high school, so I spent two years in limbo, staying at home and helping my mother before I finally went out and found a job.
I have three younger sisters and seven younger brothers, and I felt pressured to provide parenting for them from a very young age. I was also spanked into compliance at a very young age, so I never resisted and in fact actively participated in trying to please my parents by parenting my younger siblings. I also spanked some of my younger siblings, which is the biggest regret I have about my whole life. Today, I don’t believe in spanking. No one has the right to hit me and no one ever did. I do believe that there are peaceful and non-violent ways to set and maintain appropriate limits for children and to teach children how to behave and make good moral decisions.
As an adult, I am still in the beginning stages of developing separate relationships with each of my siblings. However, I am not close to most of my siblings because I am afraid to let them know who I am today and the ways in which my beliefs differ from those I grew up with. I have also really struggled with being able to interact with my siblings while resisting any pressure I still feel to parent them. It helps me to remember that each of my siblings is smart, capable, able-bodied and of sound mind. If they need help, they can identify what help they need or want from me and ask for it directly.
Their happiness does not depend on me.
I am not loving them (or myself) when I act as though I think it does.