I Just Want to Be Normal: Alice’s Story

siblings

I am the oldest of four.

My three siblings are… an interesting little bunch. I’ve babysat them for the past couple of years while my (recently widowed) mother works a part-time job. As much as I’ve come to appreciate their individual personalities and how they’ve come to help me mature, I’ve struggled to care for them.

The thirteen year old is especially nosey when I’m trying to work on any of my writing. I have no idea if she does this on purpose, but it just happens. The five year old is very attached to me, and while I love it and wouldn’t trade it for the world, it gets exhausting real quick when she wants ice cream and I have to be the one to make it and no the others cannot get it for her because I make it perfectly.

And then there’s my brother.

My brother’s always had a strong-willed personality. It made the first year or two of babysitting him (along with the other two siblings) quite difficult at times. He would constantly ignore my attempts to uphold the rules my mother had previously set up. After a few too many discussions and emotional breakdowns, we decided that he’d have free reign (short of burning down the house or hurting people). Whatever he didn’t do that he was supposed to? That was “taken care of” when Mom got back.

Most of the time, he just gets off with a warning. He rarely get punished like my thirteen year old sister and I do. He can slack for a couple of days (not do jobs and schoolwork), when I get upset over him not being held to the same standards, he perceives it as an attack against him. He was always the victim. Of course, I never know any better. When Mom gets home, it’s hard for me to switch from the “mommy” role to “sister” role. Part of me still needs to make sure that everyone is being obedient. He’s become my focus because he’s the one who slacks off the most, and yes, it eats at me that he’s Mom’s favorite. Hey, have favorites all day long, just don’t let them get away with shitty behavior and admonish the older ones for being upset with it!

Keep in mind that I started this whole “babysitting while she went to work” thing at age thirteen or fourteen.

My dad was still alive then, but he couldn’t do much to help out because he suffered from a physical disability which led him to staying in bed a lot, and he was a really gentle man so he couldn’t really discipline my siblings like my mother did. Then, when he passed away a couple of months ago to a gruesome, debilitating cancer, the role of second parent was placed on me.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t “hate” babysitting my siblings. Despite their conflicting personalities, they can be a hilarious group to be around. (Just as long as they’re not sorely pissed off at each other. They have their mother’s temper for sure.) But even when my dad was around, I struggled (and still sometimes do) with taking care of them “properly.” Being placed in the role of “mother” at fourteen years old for up to eight hours was not the most pleasant of experiences. At that age, my brain wasn’t equipped to deal with the mother-like duties of being the sole caregiver of three children under thirteen.

Even though I was placed in the role of “mother,” I still had to obey and enforce my mom’s rules. Her “don’t answer the door to anyone” rule isn’t the main problem here, nor is the “lock the door behind me” rule.

My problem is that I’m pretty much isolated with three kids (thirteen, ten, and five) inside an 800 square foot house for anywhere from 8-10 hours.

No sunlight, no fresh air unless we turn off the A/C or heater and open the windows. And people get grumpy when they’re kept isolated in such close quarters. We all get the cabin fever from hell. It might not be so bad if I was allowed outside to go get the mail. Being the oldest at sixteen, I figured my mom might extend some privileges to me and allow me to go outside. If not to the mailbox, then at least on the front porch. It’s not like I’m going to go and make out with some boy on the front porch or in my yard, for God’s sakes. I barely have any real life contact with boys as it is, asides from going to youth group once a week and my occasional trip to the store. Heck, I don’t even have any male friends in my life asides from the married Christian adult men. I mean, what she could be worried about? What could I possibly accomplish being outside in my front yard where all the neighbors can see me?

I’m mature enough to babysit three kids for hours on end, but not enough to go outside for a few minutes. Or she’s just paranoid of kidnappers.

It was 2:15 yesterday that everything finally exploded in my poor little brain. Mom had called earlier and said something had come up and she needed to stay a few extra hours at the office if that was okay with me. And of course, I’m gonna say “Yeah, it’s okay with me!” Because what else can I say? It’s not like the kids were misbehaving at that time. Sure, they had the occasional argument, but I expect that. They’re siblings. They’re not going to get along 24/7. Hell, I still fight with them.

But she’d been doing this for a few days now, working until 5:00 and not getting back home until 6:00. It sucked, because staying inside all day was taking its toll on me. I try my best to pay attention to the kids when they need it, but it’s hard to keep my cool when the two younger ones are constantly arguing and the thirteen year old is going through one of her moods again. It’s overwhelming to try and solve the problems of three children, or at least calm them down.

And if I actually manage to do any of that? I’m too brain-fried to even do any of my schoolwork.

I know the moment I sit down, the drama will start again. So I don’t even try any more. Hell, I don’t even try to get the others to do their schoolwork. It’s not like I can force them to do it. And if on the rare occasion they actually do their schoolwork? The five year old will probably need them while I’m in the middle of explaining a math problem.

Mom doesn’t always ask about the school work situation when she gets back home, but when she does, it ticks me off. I just spent eight freaking hours with your kids. I haven’t had the time nor the energy. And wait…what? Now you want to tell me to go do it? Great! So I spent 10-5 with the kids, and now I have to spend 5-9 doing my schoolwork and whoops, would you lookie there? It’s time for bed! Yay, my whole day is gone. Now to go to bed and repeat the exact same thing in the morning.

The fact is, I’m a teenager. Yes, I need to be responsible and help watch the kids while she works, but I want a life. A life where I can have some fun before I go full-blown adult in a couple of years. I don’t want to spent the rest of my teenage years babysitting and doing schoolwork all day.

I want to go out and have fun. I want to meet people. I want to make friends.

I just want a semi-normal life.

I have friends both from the public school and homeschool environments, so I’m able to see how our lifestyles vary. Being in the public school system doesn’t always make life better, and it doesn’t always mean the parents are less controlling. I’ve seen homeschooled teens with parents who have proper boundaries, but aren’t over-emphatic with them. I’ve seen public-schooled teens with parents who…well, to put it nicely, don’t understand that there’s a difference between a sixteen year old and a two year old.

I just want to be normal. I just want to be a good sister, and when I need to, a good mother to my siblings.

I just want to do things right, for once.

19 comments

  • That’s really rough. Teenagers shouldn’t be forced into parent roles. What do you want your mom to do?

  • This is neglect, and your whole life will be affected by it. You will pay the price for not getting a decent education – at least the part that is free of charge. And when you are grown up, all of a sudden your disadvantage will be your responsibility, and your complaints will be met by: “oh don’t play the victim here”. – My advice: call CPS, ask them for help (they are NOT the bogeyman they are often made out to be, and they do not put children in foster care save as a last resort). Maybe they can counsel your mother into letting you go to school. Public schools are not always great, but at least you have a chance of getting an education. And you have a right to a future. Please remember: once you are an adult, nobody will remember that you have run the family, and no one will be grateful for it. You have a life on minimum wage before you if you continue to play along for “harmony’s sake”

  • I hear your voice and it is an echo of my adolescence. I’m sorry so much adulthood is being placed on you. You will get out.

  • Okay you are in a bad situation. That’s the truth, and I know I am saying this and you are thinking “maybe I overstated it, now everyone thinks I am being abused. It’s not that bad. We are fine”. But I want you to know from an outside perspective–from an adult, you are in a bad situation. You aren’t being asked to just be a babysitter, you are being asked to be a teacher and to carry the guilt for the inevitable truth of the matter, which is, *of course* you can’t be in charge of your siblings education. I can see that you are mature for your age, but developmentally speaking you are being stifled and kept from progressing.
    I lived in a somewhat (but less intense version) of what you are going through and I want you to know this isn’t okay. I know you are being raised with the belief system that public schools are scary and not the solution, but if only for having someone else care for your siblings during the week and for the sake of any of you not having your educations totally neglected it IS the solution. You need to talk to your mom and be honest about your feelings and fears. Tell her you love her and you love your siblings, but you are scared for all of you. Being kept inside and isolated everyday leads to a toxic environment and no one is learning anything. I know she has decided public schools are bad, but nothing is so terrible about the public school system as what she is doing to you all right now.

    • Agreed. I’m not against homeschooling, but your mom isn’t up to it and you can’t handle it. (and you shouldn’t be expected to)

  • What your mom is doing is completely illegal. Education is compulsory in all states. Denying you your education at your age might be illegal in your state. Denying your two older siblings their education, at their ages, is illegal in ALL states. Slavery is illegal. Your mother is enslaving you. I would tell your mom either she put all of you in school or stay home and educate you or you will have to call Child Protective Services and report this abuse. Period. I am a mandated child abuse/neglect reporter because I still have my teacher’s license. If I knew your real name and where you live I would be mandated by law to report this educational neglect and slavery. Obviously, your mom doesn’t know the law nor does she realize what she is putting you through. That doesn’t mean she should not be held accountable. Please let us know what happens.

    • Debbie is absolutely right! Use your self teaching skills and google and read up on your state’s legal situation, photocopy the relevant pages and leave it, with a note, on the table for you mother to read. Then talk to her about the fact that the law is not on her side and that you will take measures if she doesn’ t change. You are not your mother’s property but you have rights. Do it for your and your sibling’s sake.
      DO NOT PUT UP WITH IT!

  • This is very sad. I remember days similar to this.

  • Homeschooling is a very demanding life choice, and it takes a family with resources, including health, time, and financial resources. I know a number of people who would have liked to homeschool, but realized that physical disabilities, or simply not having the stamina of an olympian, were going to make doing a good job impossible. I know many homeschooling families who managed by exchanging a room in their house for nanny services, or having a housekeeper. In other words, HOMESCHOOLING IS A LUXURY. I realize people like to paint the picture that you can get by on love in homeschooling, but the truth is you can’t. It takes resources to do it decently.
    I know one single parent who homeschooled, and she was able to do it because her ex-husband agreed with her that homeschooling was the best for the 3 children, and so he supported her and the kids in a separate house, (and took the kids off her hands regularly so she could clean and do errands and have a break) until the kids were finished school. This means her husband has a very good income. And it was hard for her, even though she did not need to work a money job, because homeschooling just is that much work and she didn’t have a husband for moral support.
    Your mom does not have the resources to homeschool. Public schools are for situations like hers. You and your siblings need to be in a public school. I agree with those who advise you to call CPS if your mother will not listen to reason about this.
    Let me add – your mother is almost certainly in denial about how bad it is. I am sorry you have to make this decision, but you need to get the authorities to intervene.

  • Maybe the first step should be to print your own story on HA plus all the comments here and show them to your mom. Maybe it needs some input from outside to burst the little bubble she lives in… (btw, I am an adult, married, with two kids – and furious about this irrepsonsible parent of yours).
    I doubt, though, that she is open to criticism. Call CPS immediately when you see her get angry for going public, or blame you for ‘ruining the family’. If she says: “oh, go ahead, you all will end up in foster care and it will be your fault, when mommy goes to prison blablabla”, ignore her melodrama and do go ahead. She will NOT go to prison, you and your siblings will NOT end up in foster care, and none of the consequences of her neglect of you are your fault. Please remember: She is not doing her duty, and it needs an ‘authority’ (here: the authorities) to teach her. Also remember: She has ignored your pleas for help. She probably loves you, but her ideology (that is: that public school is bad) is obviously more important to her than your wellbeing. She should be ashamed of herself.

  • For goodness sakes, yes, you need to take action, as this is a terrible situation you and your siblings are in…BUT…only call CPS as a last resort. Approach your mom calmly but resolutely, without a “Do this or I’ll…” attitude. Do you have an understanding aunt or other adult family member who could intervene on your behalf? I’m just saying, you need things to change, but you need to give your mother a chance to make some changes before you go to authorities.

  • I lived through a very similar situation growing up, and I am still living with the consequences of it every day as I am struggling to make up for the years of emotional and educational neglect that I went through because of the decisions of my well meaning, idealistic, widower father. My mother passes away when I was 12, and I also ended up with the role of “mini-mom” to my younger siblings. My older sibling has certain disorders which meant that I couldn’t rely on him to take on any of the responsibility for things, so I was virtually the oldest child. It has since been discovered that one of my younger siblings has the same disorders as well, meaning that for years that half of the people I was trapped with interacting with didn’t even understand normal social behaviors, which didn’t help my own struggles to adjust and interact socially with others as an isolated teen. I have been set back by years socially, educationally, and I experience the constant frustration that comes from struggling to catch up in life to all of my peers because I am spending the decade of my 20’s learning to catch up on all of the things they were learning and going through back in their teens. While other friends have finished college, started careers, started savings, moved out, gotten married, and are now having their own kids, I am slowly struggling through one college class at a time on line with the hope of finishing sometime in the next 7 or so years. And it wasn’t just me who suffered. My younger siblings suffered because they didn’t have competent adults teaching them and drawing appropriate boundaries for them. My older sibling suffered by being labeled as “rebellious” rather than being given recognition and help for his disorders, and the same thing happened to my younger sibling, to a lesser degree. The four of us come from an educated, middle class sort of background, but we have yet to have one of us complete our college education, as compared to all of our cousins and even other homeschooled friends.
    You should not have to be the adult here. The effects of it on your emotional well being and education cannot wait, and the long term damage that is being done to you AND to your siblings needs to stop. Your mother is out of touch and will not be the one to change, and she will probably try to guilt you and make you feel like you are a failure if you try to confront her, so you need back up. Are there other adult relatives who you can go to to help confront her and push her to give you and your siblings the education you need? Your brother too, is suffer so much by this situation, because there is no one in his life who can actually control him and set the limits he NEEDS in order to learn how to be a functioning adult some day. This isn’t just about if he doesn’t respect you, or gets away with shit. HIS future is at stake as well, and he needs to have teachers and adults in his life who can force some limits on him. All of you are suffering from the isolation, and your mother is parenting you not out of wisdom, but out of fear. I understand that she has had a very rough life and is doing the best she knows, but that doesn’t excuse her or mean that it is ok for all of you to be sacrificed because of her fear or her idealism. It doesn’t have to be this way.

  • Everyone is right that this situation absolutely must change. Neglecting your education may been that it will be impossible to escape once you turn 18. Even if you can get your GED, or get into college, guess who’s going to need you because younger sister isn’t ready to take the reigns? It’s tempting to think that parents want our best and will help us out when we need it, but the fact is your mother has shown that her own level of comfort is more important to her than her children’s well-being. She will not support you moving out, period. Your youngest sibling is 5, you can count on her asking for your help for at least 10 more years.

    While getting CPS involved would be justifiable, I think a different approach should be used first. Explain to your mother that the current situation is not working for anyone, it’s damaging relationships and everyone’s education is suffering. Tell her that you all need to be in school (don’t ask, tell). If she refuses, call CPS, but don’t tell her you’re doing so. Wait until she’s gone for the day. If you threaten getting the authorities involved she may do something drastic to stop you. Best of luck, and please, please, be brave. Be so brave that you’ll be thankful for the rest of your life that you did something.

  • Thanks for all the support. I got my laptop and phone taken away 29 days ago (for unrelated reasons), but I found a way to sneak on and see this. 🙂

  • Alice, please be so kind as to update all of us how things continue, and if you manage to find a solution.

    • Hey everyone. I thought things were getting better, but they’re not. It’s no longer related to the babysitting issue. It’s something far, far worse. 😦

      I’m working on moving out. I’m going to go stay with my aunt soon for a couple of weeks. She’s offered to help me find a job and such.

      My mom knows how badly I want out of the house, and thinks it’d be better if I stayed with someone in the family and just paid rent to them. (Versus a friend that’s not in the family??) I don’t know. I just need to get far, far away from this place. I know that many people will be on my mother’s side, considering the crap she posts on Facebook about her “parenting struggles.” I don’t have the energy to deal with those sorts. I just want to move far, far away and go live with my fiancé. My mental health isn’t great. I’m not completely stable. I just want to be happy again and not have to deal with the anxiety/depression that my mother gives me. *sigh*

  • Homeschooling mom here of adult children but also previous childminder foster kid in various homes for lots of younger kids so I understand how these dynamics can play out and how they can hurt.. Homeschooling is a gift that takes an adult person at home, not an older child watching the younger kids. Your mom needs to face reality. If she works she can’t have you homeschool her kids for her. Those roles all getting mixed up are bad for the younger kids and bad for you — worse than going to school. And, I say that as a dedicated homeschooler. Is there anyone you can confide in whom your mother respects and will listen to?

  • Just wanted to let everyone know I got out safely this past Wednesday. I’m safe and okay. May write about this later on my personal blog. Thanks for all the encouragement. I’m so glad I left. ❤

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