True Story: I’m 26 and I’m Raising My Teenaged Brothers

Tell us about your family.
Growing up, my family (as I will always remember it) was me, my mom, my sister, Monica, and my brothers, Jon and David. We were incredibly close growing up. Our agape love has to be attributed to my mom. My parents divorced when I was 8, and we had to rely on the child support from our alcoholic father for our living.
Mom wasn’t able to work because as a child she caught pneumonia which destroyed her heart. Therefore, she was able to stay home with us when we were growing up.We weren’t oblivious to that fact of our severely limited our household income and the stress that causes for a single mom raising 4 children. But mom made it okay, always ready to raise our spirits, always ready for a laugh, and when summer came, always ready for our next camping adventure.

Other people came and left our little family (namely, her second husband) but it will forever be the 5 of us that I think of as family. Mom died suddenly on July 1, 2004. She was riding a motorcycle with her husband. A blood clot traveled to her lung which killed her instantly.

How old were you when you took over the care of your brothers?

My husband, Nate, and I were married in July of 2005. We had 8 months as newlyweds and then we took over guardianship of my two brothers. We were 22. They had bounced around from house to house between the time mom died and when we took them.

When they finally came to us, my brothers were 15 and 14. This meant that we had to move from our tiny apartment, enroll them in new schools before the next school year, figure out transportation for our jobs and make sure they had something to eat everyday that wasn’t pizza.

Can you tell us what an average day in the life of a sister/mom?

The sister part is easy, especially now that they can walk and talk and hold intelligent, (frequently) funny conversations. I love sitting on the couch with them late at night, watching TV or playing Mario Kart and just talking.

The summer before my senior year of high school, my mom remarried and I was purposely shut out of my family. I felt like I had lost several years with my brothers and sister. Now, I feel like I have been able to regain some of that lost time.

The mom part is frequently the ‘ish’-factor. It’s hard to tell the difference between “reminding” and “nagging”. My brothers are consistently absent minded (or are all teenagers that way? Was I that way?) and my husband and I have to stay on top of them to get stuff done. This is true with everything – homework, school activities, and work.

Take college for example: I had forgotten how many deadlines there are for applications and payments and everything. We face a hard decision: do we allow them figure it out themselves and if they don’t make it, sorry Charlie?

Or do we help them to ensure that they make it into school but become the worst case of helicopter parent that I never wanted to be? I am discovering that it is a fine line. We want to make sure that they don’t feel abandoned or that we are controlling their lives.

My husband and I actually argue about this frequently – when he thinks I am being to manage-y, I think he is being indifferent and vice versa. Maybe that is a good indication that we are middle of the road?

What surprised you the most about raising your brothers?
How much I would care. Growing up they were just my brothers (yuck) but now I want so much more for them. I want them to be able to think and make responsible, equitable decisions.

I want them to be liked and esteemed by their peers. I want them to have friends. I want them to be independent. I want them to be able to fight their own battles. I want them to have what they need to accomplish their dreams. Is this what regular parents feel?

What have been the biggest challenges? And the biggest rewards?
After mom died, they lived with our step-father but that situation spiraled into physical abuse and they had to leave (duh). My aunt took them in, but then kicked them out which accumulated about 1 1/2 years being transported from house to house and school to school. They undoubtedly felt unwanted and insecure.

A few months ago, I yelled at Jon about something that is now stupid and trivial. But his angry reaction, which I found out later, stemmed from his feeling of homelessness and that for most of his formative years he has lived out of a suitcase. I cried when he told me this; after my mom remarried and I went to college, my stepfather threw out or sold all of my belongings that I didn’t take with me to college and made sure I knew I wasn’t welcome at home.

I want them to have the feeling of stability so they can take risks in their lives and know that we are here to support them and have a place for them to stay if they return from that overseas volunteer program (or job, or internship opportunity) and need a place to get back on their feet.

Another challenge: getting off the couch to get stuff done. I know that sounds lazy, but sometimes I just don’t want to drive you to work. Or pick up your homework that you forgot at your friends’ house. Or wake up at 5:30am to fish out $8 from my purse so you can go on your field trip. Okay, I am done whining now.

However, in a small way, it is all worth it when they solve a problem or exceed what they think they can accomplish. We are the first people they share it with. I would be lying if I said that that made it totally worth it.

But for a glimmer of a moment it is like a balloon of happiness inside me and I feel pride for them and affirmation that we are doing the right thing.

Has raising your brothers affected your thoughts on having children yourself?
Before raising my brothers, or even before marriage, I wanted to have lots of kids. I liked growing up with 3 siblings and I thought that if I was going to have any kids, I would want at least that number.

Now, I don’t want any kids. Not because my brothers ruined the experience for me. But do I really want to do another “Don’t Do Drugs” talk in 15 years? I don’t really want to visit any more colleges or drive someone all over the universe trying to find the perfect (and least expensive) pair of -30F graded boots for this year’s Winter Wonderland Boundary Waters excursion.

But most of all, I just want to be responsible for me. I know (really, I know) how selfish that sounds and it makes me kind of embarrassed to say it, but it is what it is. We are heading into our empty nest period and I’m ready to go on a 55+ cruise vacation.

Were any of you raised by people other than your parents? Any questions for Jess?

13 Comments

Jessika

Where do I send the baseball bat so that you can hit your "step father" over the head?
Is he out of your lives for good now?

Reply
Elle Sees

Wow! Kudos to you for doing that! I have siblings that are way younger than me and I've always prepared myself just in case I had to take care of them. That's such an unselfish thing for you to do! Wow! And I liked the questions; they are what I would've asked.

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kathrynoh

Wow, what an amazing story. My son's friend took on responsiblity for his teenage brother when his mother died. He was 21 years old at the time. It really amazes me, the things people do but I guess in someways that's what family is for.

Still it's so much harder than raising a child of your own because, no matter what the circumstances, you have a choice about having your child.

Reply
Christie, Describe Happy

Jess, your a strong strong lady and incredible for the hope and courage you are giving your brothers! I had to laugh at the ending too, I so hear you on the 55+ retirement cruise! Kudos!

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Chrissy {The New Me}

Great story and very inspiring. I don't think anyone could call you selfish, no matter what you do for the rest of your life! Your brothers are so lucky to have you and your husband in their lives.

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Jess P

I should mention that the photo is the last photo taken of all of us before mom died.

Jessika-Yes!! We have not spoken to or seen him since the showdown. And it was a showdown-we had to get a restraining order against him and a police escort for my sister and brothers the day we took them away from him. It was terrible.

Kathrynoh-you're right. I agree that raising your own children is worlds different than what we are doing. And who knows? maybe after we have been alone for awhile, we will want to have kids. But right now we. are. so. tired.

Reply
Emma

This has been my favourite of this series so far. I guess it resonates with me because I'm your age. I've been through nothing like this but just imagining what it must be like for you, and how far removed this is from my own existance, gives me a lot of respect and admiration for you.

Thank you for being so honest.

Reply
Whitney

Listening to yourself and doing whats best according your own needs and wants by not having kids and living the life you want to live is absolutely nothing to be embarrassed of! You most definitely deserve all the happiness in the world. Regardless of having raised your little brothers, you shouldn't feel pressured to have kids. Be happy and take care of yourself!
xoxoxox

Reply
emma

this has made me appreciate my mum a little bit, even though she herself is an alcoholic and just generally not a nice person. She brought my sister and I up by herself and I guess I overlook that and tend to concentrate on all the ways she's hurt us…
but it must have been hard.
You never hear parents be this honest! Thankyou.

Reply
screwdestiny

I don't want to have kids either. And I think that's perfectly okay. Please don't feel like you have to justify your reasons and say "I know this looks selfish", etc. It's not selfish. It's your life. Nobody said you had to have kids when you grew up, and I don't understand why everybody is expected to have them. You have gone above and beyond what you are expected to do by helping to raise your siblings to insure they have a good life. Bravo to you.

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Anonymous

It's really interesting to read about this subject from the other side. My sister raised me since I was fifteen and she was twenty-one (so going on five to six years now). Some of your responses remind me quite a lot of her. This makes me appreciate what she did for me a lot more, and, personally, I think she did a damn fine job. 🙂

Reply

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