Big families are a mixed bag of tricks. For one thing, it is never lonely, even if you try your best to be alone. It is also never quiet, seldom peaceful, and almost completely devoid of privacy.
If your parents spread out their childbearing years, there is a good chance that you either raised a few siblings, or were raised by them.
In my family, siblings came in two’s. I was the second-born in the oldest group. The childhood my sister and I shared was not even remotely like the one of the 4 who followed.
We were raised by a live-in grandmother, while both parents had outside jobs. That was rare for the 1950’s, but it worked well for us, for a while. Mom had 3 children, all girls, during this “Happy Days” period. There was 6 years between myself and the next baby..it was almost like starting over.
The first son came 2 years later; so children #3 and#4 were raised as the second unit of the family. Their early life experience involved a lot of emotional turmoil in the family, mainly a result of Mom’s mental health issues. This was when my older sister and I (now about 11 and 9 years old) were called upon.
My oldest sister was a precocious pre-teen who resisted the added responsibility. I was different. Puberty was a long way off , and I channeled early maternal instincts on the care and feeding of those 2 middle children.
At that point, I was still sheltered in elementary school, the social life was almost non-existent and I was content to be home-bound; taking on whatever challenges were passed on from a chronically depressed mother.
Things were different yet again for the arrival of babies #5 and #6. They came three years after the middle group; a girl and a boy, barely one year apart.
Now, as they say, “shit got real”. I was now entering high school and adolescence. My oldest sister was emotionally removed from the scene; she had been planning her escape for some time, and her transition must have been easier. Mine was not.
I was struggling with the bond I had formed with these 4 youngest siblings and the emergence of my teenage self. My parents had become dependent on my support. I had enabled that, and was now having some regrets.
These were not my babies; but in so many ways, they really were. It was, without a doubt, my first experience at child-rearing.
There are so many stories to be told; they were a unique and lively bunch. But there are also so many gaps in my memory. This was to protect myself from the anger and resentment that emerged. My teen years were being sacrificed, and I wasn’t even aware of this until I left home for college, 200 miles away, at age 17.
I was sure I was done with being a “mom”. I married at 21, had my first baby 10 years later. There was a lot to work through during that decade; lots of emotional baggage to sort out. Life gave me a new outlook. And I never looked back.