What It’s Like Raising My Sister’s Kids
Sometimes they accidentally call me “mom”
My sister’s been living outside the country for over a year now. The plan was simple (albeit hurriedly put together):
- Get accepted into a master’s degree program abroad—done
- Get herself and her husband visas—done
- Get a part-time job for her a full-time job for her husband—done
- Use her first semester to get their things and new life together—done (kind of)
- Get visas for their two girls—done
- Fly the two girls to them—well, this has been delayed for obvious reasons
Needless to say, my stint as a proxy mother has lasted longer than any of us initially thought, and I am here to tell you about this little journey.
The first few weeks (of my sister being gone) were rough on everyone. My mother had to step in during the day, I needed to help with homework the minute I got home, the girls were missing their parents, my sister and her husband were juggling having to comfort their kids and finding everything they needed to start over.
Things have, of course, settled down as we all settled in our new roles and routines. The girls still miss their parents, but there are fewer tears. My sister and her husband have found ways to fill their days. My parents and siblings have stepped up in their own ways; my brother cooks with them, my dad helps with the math, my mom makes sure the girls are bathed, brushed and in bed at a reasonable time. And I’ve done what I could, too (which mostly means disciplining and overseeing their education).
The day usually goes as follows: waking up to one of them cuddling me or looking at me even though we sleep in different beds, giving them showers, running them through what they need to get done for the day, making sure they stick to their gadget schedules, making sure they eat enough food (that isn’t junk), occasionally having to wipe a butt, picking a movie to wind down to at the end of the day. It’s pajamas on the floor, lights perpetually on, gadgets taking up our charging station, reminding them to pick up after themselves—and working in between.
It’s been one hell of a ride so far and with international borders still boarded up, it’s difficult to really know when I can finally remove my proxy-mom hat. And with online school starting, it will be even more difficult.
But no matter how much I complain, this pseudo-motherhood has been a good experience overall. There really isn’t anything that matches up to looking at old photos of the girls, with ice cream running down their chins, to seeing the personalities they’ve become. They’re smartasses once in a while, but it means they’re learning—and I can’t say I’m not one of the people they’ve picked it up from. Do I get frustrated? Of course I do, but I’ll still call them over to cuddle at the end of every day. I call them out when they’re being brats at the dinner table and picky about their food, but I love occasionally spoiling them with what I know they’ll love. My patience wears thin and I know I’m lucky to not do this alone. I still have my family and my sister video calls to help with the school stuff (or keep the girls busy) whenever she can.
I have so much help yet I am so tired that I sometimes wonder if I can still do this for my own kids—kids I know I’ve wanted since I could fathom the idea of being a mother. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll still have the energy or if I just want that “retired” life. The girls have been a big and heavy part of my life since I was 18 years old (I remember one particular memory: Me, a college student finishing a paper late into the evening with my first young niece asleep on my lap).
It’s been tiring and it’s been fucking frustrating, but it’s been fun, too. Sometimes I wonder if I still want my own kids, if I have the energy or patience or willpower to (help) raise someone else…but I’d do the last eleven years over, so I guess the answer is yes. I’m just going to need a little help.
Art Alexandra Lara