Siblings raising siblings.
From the age of 8, I knew my role in life was to raise them.. to be the parent, to be the one to comfort them and to feed them. We first entered foster care when I was 15, and I blamed myself for foster care happening. Unfortunately, my case workers and a few others perpetuated the lie that if I tried harder, cared more, stopped school and stayed home, my siblings and I would never have been placed in foster care. I was told again and again that I was the problem.
Once we were placed into care, I knew that I needed to make some changes but I was not sure how or where to start. The first step was to get my life together so I could provide a place for us to live, so I started on my journey to get my life together as fast as I could. I graduated high school and started college but no matter how hard I tried, I just could not seem to get it together. From the age of 18 to 24, I had over 33 addresses. For a year, I lived in my car and parked outside of grocery stores and starbucks. I went from job to job, multiple jobs at the same time, and no jobs for periods of time. And then when I finally got it all together and started experiencing some stability, everything came crashing down again.
In November 2015, I received a call that would change my life forever. I sat at the table, trying to keep my composure, having a conversation with my birth mom about what my siblings needed. I didn’t fully understand the weight of what was happening as she signed her statement saying that I could make the legal decisions for them and be their sole-caregiver. Then the person on the other end of the line said that it was time to come pick the kids up, and the full weight of responsibility hit me.
That night, 5 of my siblings and I crammed into a 1 bathroom, 1 bedroom, 500 square foot apartment. And I prayed… I prayed that Ellen or Oprah would hear our story and come running with the big dream house, the big car, the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to help a 24-year-old raise her 5 siblings.
But that never happened.
What did happen was even more incredible. My community found out that we had needs that needed to be met and stepped in. 9 months later, we moved into a 4-bedroom townhome.
Six months after that first phone call, May 2016, is still clear as day. My knees were shaking, and my heart was racing. My name was called again to the stand and the judge looked through the paperwork to determine if I was worthy enough to become the guardian of my siblings that were under 18. She signed her name and said, “Congratulations, you are the guardian of these three kids. Go take care of them.”
At 24, this was my responsibility to now raise my 5 siblings. Their ages were 12, 14, 15, 18 and 19 years old. Some people would tell me, “the older ones can work.. The situation is not THAT bad…” While others asked if I was just babysitting them. I had to explain over and over that I was not babysitting, I was taking in 5 siblings as their sole provider. I was now taking care of their every need. Was I ready? Was I able? Would I fail? There were so many fears and questions, but I knew one thing: it was my turn to step up and provide a place that they can heal.
The honest truth is, you are never fully ready, but you are capable. You’ll make it happen. You’ll make mistakes and you will fall flat on your face but, if you are willing, you can get back up and try again in the morning. So, we did. We overcame things that should have crushed us and left us on the ground, but here we are, living, dreaming, thriving.
I am going to be honest, being a parent is hard, and being a sis-ma is also hard. You will cry. You will think, “Am I making a difference?” And then years from now, when they are all grown and on their own, you will realize that every tear, fear, and worry was worth giving them a firm foundation to stand on and go further. You will see the victories and the joys… and it’s okay to recognize that this is just hard.
Raising my siblings was one of the hardest things I ever had to do, not because of them, but because of all the opinions and unwarranted criticism from other people, and the hurt from picking up the pieces of destruction that were left behind… the untrue words that I spoke over myself, the lies that I believed that I was a failure when I was very much still learning, and the lies others told about me.
But let me tell you, it’s worth it. And I would do it all over again. Why? Because it means my siblings finally had a foundation, although rocky at times, they had something better to stand on. And that’s worth it to me.
To those of you out there who are in a similar situation: be strong, you are doing the best you can.