On Raising Siblings

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.


Three Youngest. Photo kept for years in my wallet.

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.

This entry was posted in Childhood, Depression, Education, Family, home, Memories, Mental Health and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to On Raising Siblings

  1. writerinsoul says:

    It does sound as if you got out in time to save yourself. Imagine if you hadn’t left for college *at all.*
    And I sure don’t think you enabled your parents – you were a child yourself with a limited view and limited options. You’ve reminded me of how my mother tried to use my younger brother as a reason to keep me from escaping/moving out at 19. As in what would he do without me?

    Thanks for sharing this.

    • For sure, my mother tried to talk me out of college. Makes sense. Dad fought that battle for me. His mantra was always “18 & out”. Some chose school; some military, but we all left, never to return. Your mom baited you with the “helpless” little one routine. Glad you could see through that one. So many games….so much more interesting in the rear view mirror.

      • writerinsoul says:

        Wow, to try to talk you out of college, that’s harsh on so many levels. This echoes my own experiences, where the unspoken family motto seemed to always circle back to, “Stay here and go down the drain with the rest of us.” Uh, *no thanks.*

  2. LaVagabonde says:

    Once again, I know what you mean. I’m the oldest of five and had to take on the responsibility of raising the younger ones at age 13.

    • I’m not sure how she managed…but the oldest sister got away, leaving most of it to me. I wonder, Julie, if that is part of why you became a world traveler ??

      • LaVagabonde says:

        Well, ever since I was very young I wanted to travel to faraway places. But the living situation certainly motivated me to take off quickly and travel so obsessively.

  3. Angie Mc says:

    Oldest of 3 here. My sister, 8 years my junior, was my first baby. I identify and send a big high-five to you, Van ā¤

    • Wow..8 years between…that must mean you bear all of the characteristics of an only child…at least during the formative years. And “first baby”…so true. ā˜ŗ Thanks, Angie

      • Angie Mc says:

        I forgot to mention that I have a brother 2 years and 1 week younger than me, which makes me pretty much the ruler queen of the sibling set, lol. My brother would agree, if he wants to or not šŸ˜‰

      • Makes perfect sense to me, Angie. My husband was a first born, was never asked to tend to the “youngins”. Gender bias. I wonder if that has changed ??

      • Angie Mc says:

        My first child is my only daughter and she filled the mama bossy girl role very well. Just ask her brothers šŸ˜€ She has gone on to have her first child, a son. It will be interesting to see how a first born son takes on the oldest child role. Interesting, Van!

  4. lbeth1950 says:

    You’ve written my life. I didn’t see how I’d ever get out. Mother couldn’t “do” without me. So glad I escaped to college. Just having a room and the freedom to a bed of my own was wonderful! It doesn’t take much when you’ve been hopelessly responsible, does it. I was thrilled to go to library to study!

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