No, that's not my daughter: how being a sister prepared me for motherhood

September 22 2011 | Guest post by Amelia Crouse
Got six kids? That's rad, because you can take awesome family photos like this. Photo by *LJ*, used under Creative Commons license.

Sometime in 8th grade I went to the store with my mom and my youngest sister, AJ. I remember people watching the three of us walking through the store with quizzical looks. They would look first at my mom, then to me, then to AJ, then back to me. Finally, as we made our way through the checkout, the cashier looked at me and said "Your daughter is so cute," then back to my mother and finished "You are a lucky grandma!" I stared, my 14-year-old self feeling completely embarrassed and horrified, as my mom calmly answered, "Actually, I'm the mom. They are both mine."

It wasn't the last time we would get comments like this, and when people were really feeling nosey, they would add comments like "Oh. Second marriage?" My mom, always collected, would respond with a smile and explain that we were in fact from the same mother and father. People always looked confused. In their defense, they were missing some pieces.

I'm the oldest of five children. I have two brothers, G (who is a year and a half younger than me) and M (five years younger); and two sisters, MJ (eleven years younger) and AJ (thirteen years younger). Even when my whole family is together people look really confused. In some ways I understand their confusion. Big families are something of an oddity nowadays. I use this word loosely — we are big compared to many mainstream families, but I know plenty of larger famillies.

I used to be really annoyed that I was the oldest of so many. It meant having to sacrifice Friday nights to babysit my younger sisters. It meant having to plan family vacations around the expectations of a five-year-old rather than an eighteen-year-old. When we all went to Disney World in my junior year of high school we spent a lot of time waiting in line for the teacups or to meet the princesses when all I really wanted to do was go on Tower of Terror. I always felt like I was last on the priority list.

Now, however, I realize the value of my experience. In April I gave birth to my first child, a boy named Nathan Malcolm. I then understood what a great opportunity my childhood had been. Taking care of my son seemed like second nature. I knew exactly how to bathe him. I knew how often to feed him. I knew how to dress him, when to start feeding him solid food, when he should start smiling, even how to get him to fart when I knew he had a stomach ache.

I didn't worry when he got fussy, I just tried one thing at a time to calm him down. First a diaper change, then a bath, a walk, a song, a feeding. I realized that even though he was my first child, I was by no means a first time mom. It didn't register right away how quickly I had fallen into my new momma role. It wasn't until my husband expressed how difficult the transition had been for him. I told him that I thought it had been quite easy and he said "but you've had so much practice!" He was right. I wasn't really new at it.

Even more wonderful is the fact that M, MJ, and AJ are now 17, 11, and 9 respectively and have been a huge help with Nathan. I love that my sisters now have the same chance that I had to be around a much younger child, to learn the way I did. Even more, I love the fact that M loves to show my son off to all of his friends and, even better, that his friends make a point to come visit Nathan.

Being a sister has most certainly prepared me to be a better mother. And the best part? Now I get to be both!

  1. This is so my life – well, except I don't have a baby quite yet. But my (half-)siblings are all ten and younger, and I'm 22. I've been nannying for a few years, and when I first started, I told parents "I don't have formal experience. But I promise you, just call my mom and talk to her for awhile. Trust me."
    And now I always get told that I interact with the kids I watch "just like a mom." Who knew?!

  2. I've had a similar experience: I was 27 when my mom gave birth to twins (at 46! natural birth!), and when we were out and about, she would get so ANNOYED when people thought they were mine (and that she was a grandmother, the horror!). After grad school I spent nearly a year babysitting them when they were little babies, and they really helped me to prepare for new mommyhood. Now, Forrest and Grace, are awesome big aunties and uncles (at 9) to my toddler, and he adores them. It's fun to see them grow into their roles of young role models for my little guy, and mom is finally happy to be identified as a graandmommy.

    • That's so awesome! My little guy LOVES my sister, MJ. He can be mega crabs all day for me, and then suddenly he is a total angel for her. It's the greatest to see that interaction. Everyone's eyes are twinkling!

  3. I'm the baby of my family, but having grown up in a home daycare I can relate to this. My babe isn't due until the end of the December, but I'm feeling pretty confident about a lot of the day-to-day details of caring for my baby, thanks to the oodles of kids I got to help take care of from the time I was a toddler until I left for university.

  4. I'm the youngest and my oldest brother is 11 years older than me. I actually remember schoolyard friends asking if he was my dad.

    I know that his Friday nights were ruined, plans were made in my favor not his, and that he never once got to take a family vacation because my parents waited until I was older and he was out of the house. But he was like a second father figure in my life and I've always adored him.

    But now he has a little daughter, and a sister who is always ready to babysit! It's not too surprising how easily he stepped in to the father role when he's been playing it since he was a kid.

    Three cheers for older siblings!

    1 agrees
    • It's so awesome to hear about it from the opposite end! I hope that my younger sisters feel the same way about me! I do my best to be the "cool older sister."

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  5. My little sister is 13 years younger than me. I was always mistaken for her mother and it drove me crazy as a teenager. She is 16 now and gets the same looks when she baby-sits my 7 month old son.

    • I just remember feeling totally horrified. I was raised in a pretty strict Catholic family, so the idea of having a baby at 13 was insane. As I got older though I fell more on the annoyed side. I'd walk around the store with my sister and loudly say things like "Oh! That's cool. We should go show YOUR MOM!"

  6. I love this! And can relate completely. I was 14 years old when my brother was adopted at birth. Everyone thought he was mine, it drove me nuts as a teenager. Then I moved out and missed a few years of "raising" him. About 5 years. And then I became his legal guardian when he was 11. By being his 2nd mom since his birth, it made the transition of being a mom very easy, except I am having issues with the 3 to 5 year olds. But if makes since, I was not around my brother then. It is a blessing and a curse. 🙂

  7. Yesss! I'm so happy to find people who understand exactly how I felt about having a child and a family.
    Although my story is different, the responsibility that I had to care for my younger sister most definitely prepared me for motherhood.
    I knew I could do it, even though I was only 18y.o., because I had already been doing it most of my life.
    Peace to the Mama Sisters!

  8. This is very interesting, and I'm glad you had a good experience.

    For me, actually, being the oldest had the opposite effect….I did NOT want children until I was much older. Nothing wrong with them or with my family – but similar to you, my interests/needs were not addressed as much as "what the baby needs." I also saw my mother as not wanting to/not being able to accompany me to things (when I was older), not being able to pursue other interests, never having time to talk to me, etc, due to having to watch babies.

    I vowed I would not get "tied down" like that until I was MUCH, much, older, and completely ready. I am now in my 30's and *starting* to feel ready.

    1 agrees
    • I could TOTALLY see this being an outcome. If my mom and I weren't super close I think I would have felt the same way. As it stands though I would rate her as one of my very best friends. I think that had a lot to do with making the process easier. Because we were so close she made a point to spend time with me, even if it wasn't a lot (or what we did was really stupid, like our now traditional mother-daughter trips to Walgreens).

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      • I'm with MissRed on this one. I had whole weekends eaten up at a time, summers even. Even my father referred to me as a co-parent. I had to pitch a fit to get a new pair of jeans a few times, and vacations were a joke. I love my family, but it just got to be too much from time to time. We were a military family and with my Dad gone so often I had to step up though, and I took care of my family.

        Now however with my own future I really feel like having kids, which I otherwise want, would be jumping out of the pan and into the fire. I've reached the point of "maybe in five years" but that's as far as I am so far. In the meantime I am living the life I want (finally) and I am terrified of loosing that again.

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  9. I'm the middle of 5. We are 13, 22, 25(me) 36 and 37. I was a nanny for years because it came so naturally, people just sought me out. I am complimented regularly, and parents come to me for advice. People are often very shocked to find out that I don't have, nor do I plan to have, my own children. I just smile and say that I'm an auntie, cousin, sister, and teacher to so many already, I'm fullfilled.

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  10. totally like my family! I love seeing my two youngest siblings (now teenagers) adore my daughter and show her off to their friends, its just to cool to see how proud Uncle Zeke is!

  11. I am in AJ's position. my sister was 15 when I was born, my brother 12. Add to that my mother's hair was prematurely gray when she was 27, and I was born when she was 40! My siblings used to get "cute little family" (totally grossed them out, for sure!) and I was always told "Meg, you're grandma is here!" when she would pick me up from sleepovers.

    Fast Forward to the present. I am closer in age to my 5 nieces and nephew than I am to my siblings, but I have certainly learned how to care for children. I have always been the favorite aunt, and you can imagine the looks I got as a 16 year old with 4 children in tow! But as they grow (the oldest is now 14, I am 24) I am really appreciative that I have a close relationship with the teenage girls and always know they can (and do) come to me for ANYTHING – no judgement, no parental criticism but trusted adult advice without being their "mom". Being in such an age gap, I got the best of both worlds as an "only child" and youngest of three.

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  12. I'm the youngest of six kids, my oldest brother is 21 years older than I am. So, technically my parents are old enough to be my grandparents. My parents had three and thought they were done, but then ten years later they changed their minds and had three more. I sort of loved that our family was so different. I became an auntie when I was only 4 years old- coolest kindergarten show-and-tell ever, bringing my niece!

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    • this is just exactly what has happened in my family! the oldest is 25 years older than the littlest, and she is an aunt at 4 years old.

  13. What a great article! This has been exactly my experience. I'm 13 years older than my youngest siblings, and it has made my life so great. I'm a total celebrity when I come home from college, and I've even got a job babysitting infants of people I work with. It's an unusual experience (people thought my bro and sis were mine… I was 13!!!) but SUCH valuable lessons for now and when I'm a mama.

  14. I love this, and i can surely relate! i am kid #2 of 5. the littlest is 4, adopted. I love to watch people try to figure out how she can be my child when me and my hubby are white…and then add my nephew to the mix (he's almost 1) and it gets even more exciting! Thank you so much for sharing this story!!

  15. I can totally relate-I was about 12 when my sister was born (we have two brothers in between) and I pretty much raised her. Everyone assumed I was her mom, from the creepy dudes leering when I walked her stroller down the street to all her friends in kindergarten. I don't have kids yet, but I know I'll have less issues adjusting when I do. But I'm also determined to do everything in my power to not do that to my own children, because I feel like I missed out on A LOT of being a kid.

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  16. My sister is only 8 years younger than me, but (with my in my early 20s and my sister in her mid-teens) I was asked at passport control if I was her mum. *facepalm*

    So great to hear the stories of these big families, so different to my experience. Though when I was ten and my sister was two, I guarantee I felt like I was the adult there too!

  17. I could've written this! Only I'm the oldest of 6 kids ;-). My youngest sister is two days shy of being 16 years younger than I. If I could have a dollar for every time someone assumed she was MY child, I'd never have to work again!
    Ten months ago, my first child was born. Recently, my husband, baby and I returned from China and are living with my parents and two youngest sisters while we get our feet back on the ground. Finally, those two 'babies' get to feel what it's like to have a baby around. My little guy is lapping up the attention! My big family, while we've definitely have our hard times, is wonderful and has prepared me SO much for parenthood!

  18. It's nice to see so many people grew up like me! I was the odd one out through school, no one had siblings like I did.

    I'm 23, and half-siblings (not that they ever felt like "half", their dad and my mom got together when I was 2) are 18, 15, 12 and 11. Their dad took off 10 years ago, so my mom worked a ton and I spent most of high school being mommy. I HATED it then, but now that I'm older and thinking of my own children I am so thankful. Besides, my siblings are my whole world. I wouldn't trade our relationship for all the missed-out-on football games and parties in the world!

  19. Thank you so much for this. I am 11 years older than my sister, and I have always hated it. I raised her 99% of the time because out mom has some issues. I never wanted my kids to live that life. Now I have a 4 and a half year old daughter (I had her at 15) and bug my husband daily because I don't want are kids to be that far apart. We plan on trying next year for another but even 6 years apart to me sounds awful. And then knowing we will have more, she will likely be 11+ years older than our youngest. Thank you so much for letting me see that it might not be an awful experience for her.

    • At least on my end it's been a pretty awesome experience. MJ and I are 11 years apart and at this point it's just far enough 🙂 She is now 11 and starting junior high. Currently she's at a point where she loves going through my bookshelf to find new books (ones I read in junior high and high school), calls me and asks me what she should wear, and asks me to come to all of her school functions. Last year she brought me to her "special friend" lunch at school. It was awesome. I am old enough that she can come to me for advice, but still young enough to understand/remember where she is at in life. I LOVE LOVE LOVE it, and hopefully your daugther will love it too.

  20. I'm the oldest of 4 and am only 9 years older than my baby brother and everyone thought he was mine too! Oh yes, I had a 5 year old at 14 >.< But I'm much more comfy with babies than my SO, he has diaper changing issues he would have gotten over if he wasn't the youngest

  21. I can't say it's prepared me for parenthood someday, but I can relate on the "is that your daughter?" stuff from when I was younger. It stopped when I was about 15, but started when I was about 9. The most disturbing thing is that my sister is 4 years younger.

  22. It seems there are lots of us who grew up in this sort of family! I was born when my siblings were 12, 14, 16, and 17. It was a wonderful way to grow up. Mom worked when I was in elementary school, and every day my brother would call to see if she'd be home in time to meet the bus. If not, he would. My sister went to a local college so that she didn't miss out on seeing me grow up. She took me to all the Disney movies. My other sister had twins when I was 11, and I would spend many of my school vacations visiting and helping out. She always said that when I was around, the twins' diaper rash cleared up because I was always changing them. It's interesting now that I'm in my mid-20s, getting to know them again as an adult. Kids of my own are a few years in the future, but after helping out with six nieces and two nephews, I'm pretty confident that I at least know the basics.

  23. This reminds me of going with my aunt and her two sons so the older one could get his first haircut. I was sitting in a chair with the baby, and so many people thought he was my son. I was only like 11!

  24. My husband is the second oldest of a Franken-family: one brother, two step-brothers, a half-brother and half-sister on his mom's side, and a half-brother, 23 years younger, on his dad's side. Lots of confusion there, considering the oldest of our four is older than his uncle! There is also an almost 10-year span between our oldest and youngest, so I'm expecting lots more confusion as our kids get older. And, to top things off, my husband and I started dating when we were 16, and his half-siblings were 3 and 5. We used to take them places like the movies and the zoo and get the strangest looks from people thinking we were the parents! I guess most people don't consider taking little kids to fun places an ideal date…

  25. Thanks for writing this. My sister and I are three years apart so no big age difference there. However, I have an 11 year old stepdaughter, so when my husband and I have she will be in the same boat. It is nice to hear this perspective on siblings.

  26. I feel like this is the story of my life (minus actually having a baby of my own, that is.) I'm the oldest of four, and there's seven years between me and my twin brothers, and a whopping 14 years between me and my youngest brother (same parents, same marriage – holy fertility drugs, Batman!) I was always the default babysitter, and I got to learn the ugly parts of raising a baby very, very quickly (I still maintain that being a big sister = best form of birth control EVER). And I have one crystal clear memory of pushing the youngest brother around the mall in his stroller one time, when an old lady came up to me and told me that "I should be ashamed of myself" – rather, that I should be ashamed of my apparent teenage, single motherhood. It did get exasperating explaining that after a while. But now all my friends call me freaking out about their brand new babies, cause I'm the one that knows how its done.

    1 agrees
    • My mom told me once, when I was 14/15 and she was having her second baby in 18 months, that I didn't even need to do the high school thing where you carry a baby doll/sack of flour around… she knew I was fully aware of the realities of life with a baby and wasn't going anywhere near having one!

  27. Love love love this! I'm 28 and my sister is seven and a half, and strangers typically turn to me first when asking questions about her rather than my parents (who are pretty young themselves; I was adopted at 17 and my sister was a very unplanned surprise!). It always makes me laugh, because C is such a good combination of both parents and in some ways looks like mini-mes of both of them, and I'm more like this haphazardly and randomly assembled person who somehow managed to get thrown into a family who shares some physical similarities (mom's eyes, dad's unusual hair color).

    Anyhow, it was hard in my early 20s when I lived and at home and wanted to have this awesome 20-something life, but now that I'm almost 30, I really appreciate what the last almost eight years have taught me. I am ready to have kids now, but my biggest worry has become that I'll never love them as much as I love C! 🙂

  28. I remember just recently I took my littlest brother, who is 16 years younger than I am to a fair my middle brother's school was having. I was carrying my brother who was 2 or 3 then and ran into my old 4th grade teacher. She asked if my brother was my son. I get that a lot. Lol.

  29. My half-brother is twelve years younger than me. He could be my little male clone. We were always treated so badly in public. He would be ignored at the fair when it was just the two of us waiting in line, people would whisper as I walked past. I started saying really loudly to these people, "He's my brother, bitch." It was rude, crude, but it got my point across. I am the oldest of four. I've been told I'm a natural at the mom thing, so I just hope that's true when I have one of my own someday.

  30. I am 8 months pregnant with my first child(girl) I am going to be 23 years old in Feb and I have a sister who is 3 years old! She just started preschool 🙂 and already an auntie to a lil boy from my brother born a few months ago. She looks like a mini me. My mother had posted a photo of me when i was a baby and everyone including myself thought it was her. I constantly get oh shes so beautiful, then they ask her a question about mommy(meaning me) and i politely say no shes my sister 🙂 we are 19 years apart and now that im having a baby i am more prepared then i ever could be. I took care of her for my mother for the first few months of her life. We are very close but she isnt too excited about the lil baby coming haha but im sure she will be happy when she sees i will always have time and love for her no matter what happens. <3

  31. I stopped reading when you complained about having to help with a trip to disney world…. I'm one of 5 kids and we never had a vacation… I don't know what a family vacation is… we couldn't afford any of those things.

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