With Thanksgiving break just recently coming to a close and winter break just around the corner, we’re facing a large amount of inevitable family time. For me, that means going home to my two younger sisters and trying to catch up on lots of missed time. It’s not until then I realize the hardest part of going away to college is leaving my younger siblings.

As the oldest of three girls, I’ve always been the first to do everything. Without an older sibling to show me the ropes, I paved a pathway constructed by my own perceptions of what I was supposed to do. There was no one there when I was going through the rough patch of trying to drag myself through the social nightmare that is your teens.

I dealt with f*ckboys, the catty girls, and the ever-changing dynamic of any teenage friend group. Each step of the way I would turn to my younger sisters and tell them to choose their friends wisely, to not take shit from boys, and to always rise above. It was easier said than done. I was an imperfect model: making many mistakes while trying to learn from them simultaneously.

Before I left for college I was always present for whatever life threw their way. In high school, being able to whisk my sister away from mean girls or comfort her in her time of need always made feel like I was doing my job.

But, it’s a lot more difficult to save your little sister, the one person you feel as though you must protect at all costs, when you’re approximately 1027.9 miles away. She calls you crying at 10 pm while you’re studying for your Anthro midterm. Your mom calls you the morning after a frat party only to tell you your sister’s friends are calling her ugly, or rude, or stupid, and the list goes on.

Regardless of how close you are to your sibling, this feeling of helplessness will vex you. When I first left I’d always whip through my contacts to see who I could call up to offer valuable perspectives on my sisters’ dilemmas, only to realize that I truly was too far removed to help.

As time goes on, you gradually grow distant from them, and eventually, the people you share DNA with suddenly become strangers. This makes it even harder. You hear something second-hand and you can’t help but feel so overwhelmingly guilty for not being there. Why did she not tell me? How could I not have known? The guilty feeling settles over you for the rest of the day as you reach out to her only to get a few quick back and forth responses, followed by weeks of silence.

My first year at UCLA I was so wrapped up in my own issues I all but forgot I even had sisters. I had my life at school, then I would come home for a weekend, see my friends, and carry on as usual. Such heedlessness is one of my biggest regrets of my freshman year. Becoming so absorbed with my own issues, I disregarded the fact that I was still integral as an older sister and confidante.

It really all came to fruition this Thanksgiving break. I hadn’t been home for longer than a couple weeks in the past year. As I sat with my youngest sister on Thanksgiving night, I realized I barely knew her anymore. I don’t know her favorite movie, I don’t know what she does for fun, I haven’t even met her best friend.

As she listed the typical complaints of any middle schooler, I couldn’t help but feel a wave of guilt fall on me again. I felt as though I had failed as a big sister. I had failed as her big sister. Failure–my worst nightmare. This failure isn’t a simple one I can brush off either, it’s something I will strive to change.

Thus, the hardest part of leaving for college became leaving behind my little sisters. I miss them dearly every day, that’s an obvious one, but I never realized how great their absence would be felt, nor how deeply mine would be as well. The past year I haven’t felt like an older sister, a position I am so regretful for having abandoned. This next year, my goal is to become the older sister I once was, not only to relieve myself of the guilt I’ve felt since leaving but to remind my sisters they are always in my heart.