Now that Mother’s Day is over and all the hype has settled down, I want to talk about something real and personal, y’all. I’m tired of Mother’s Day being this commercialized holiday that persuades us to buy flowers and post pictures of our moms on social media. Sure, I’ll double tap your Instagram post that’s captioned with the same cliche “world’s best, strongest mom” that the last 52 people posted. Of course, I’ll acknowledge the life-risking act of giving childbirth. The womb is one powerful, beautiful system, Mashallah and Subhanallah to that.
But what about the daughters that are left to raise not only themselves but their siblings? The ones that were accidentally called mom several times by their siblings?What about my Katniss Everdeens out there? The Elsa’s? Nina Pelekai? Fiona Gallagher? Where is their recognition? Don’t get me wrong here, I love my mom. She’s alive and well, Alhamdulilah. I am simply taking this time to acknowledge that sometimes the eldest daughter carries the weight of a mom in a household for various reasons.
I took up the caretaker role at the age of 6. At this age, there was only so much I could do, obviously. But, this is when it started. I was responsible for my sister, who was 4 years old at the time, while my parents were out running errands. This quickly turned into picking my sister up from school, feeding her, and keeping the house tidy before my parents made it home from work late at night. Years later, my mom gave birth to another child and my responsibility doubled. I was 14 years old taking my little sister to and from daycare, feeding and bathing her, taking her with me to my extracurricular clubs in addition to maintaining a stable GPA in honors classes and being a good role model for my middle sister.
Where were my parents? Somewhere between working day jobs and battling depression in bed. In truth, I never thought much of this. It’s in our blood as women of color to feel culturally responsible for keeping the family together when it’s falling apart. My family is like every family, i guess. We deal with affairs, heart breaks, depression, death, alcoholic relatives, you name it. It’s difficult to juggle all of these problems when you’re trying to just be a kid, too, however.
So for all my sisters out there that have no choice but to take up the mom role, I salute you. I know how hard it is to be your mom’s best friend and help her out of bed somedays when you don’t want to get out of your own. I recognize our inability to process trauma because we have to compartmentalize our feelings/thoughts in order to get through the day. I feel the weight of exhaustion when you sigh every time someone mistakes you for being the mom of your younger siblings.
I bond with you over longing to build the relationship and share secrets as a sister when your siblings see you as mom. I sympathize with the behavior of wanting to let go of it all and watch things fall apart. Even so, I am aware of the guilt inside when you believe your parents need your help. After all, they ensure you have a roof over your head, right? They’ve given so much of their life to raise you, the eldest child, right? This is how you’re supposed give back to them for that time. You’re supposed to want to babysitting for 14 years of your life so they can go out on dates and taste freedom. In truth, many immigrant parents are exhausted, too. They’ve probably never had that sense of freedom from responsibility either. They’ve lived a lifetime before being filled with trauma and obligations of their own. While, in most cases, it’s not healthy nor fair of them to unload their responsibility onto you, the eldest child, they are simply mimicking what they’ve been taught from their parents.
Our parents come from cultures different than ours. To them, this is what children do. To them, helping with caring for the family is the responsibility of the daughter. My mom, for example, tells me the same story every time I complain about babysitting: she raised six siblings on her own and still managed to be the only child in her family to graduate from college (let’s say one, quick, Mashallah for that!). In her eyes, I’m lacking in effort and love. I can’t help but wonder, though, isn’t that why she left the motherland? To get away from the responsibility and have a life of her own?
To my mothers out there, I know you think we don’t love the family on days we don’t want to carry responsibility. Perhaps this culture/generation is raised on selfishness. Perhaps that’s what happens when we raise ourselves; we grow up thinking about our needs for survival and sanity. I’m not too sure where the answer lies. All I know is that it is confusing and frustrating when you step in again trying to parent us after this whole time of being absent as a parent. Even so, it becomes more complex when our younger siblings become accustomed to our rules and you try to change them whenever you feel like taking up the parent role again. This gray area of parenting is a lot on your shoulders but even more on ours. It’s time for us to acknowledge family dynamics and discuss how responsibilities should be carried.
Now in no way am I saying drop every responsibility, elope from the family, and watch them fall apart without you (although, if you’re situation is toxic and this is part of your plan towards a healthy, solid life then I support you). What I am saying is that it takes two to keep the swing balanced. While Allah commanded us to respect and love our parents, he also commanded our parents to educate, guide, and raise us. If one of us is taking on more weight than the other, we are no longer balanced in harmony.
Although I recognize that some families simply have no choice but for the eldest child to carry the responsibility of the family simply due to circumstance, it is vital for us to open this discussion acknowledge how heavy the world feels when the child takes on the parental role. With that said, I want to send strength to the moms/daughters of the house that were forced into this role through cultural norms. Whoever you may be, thank you for ensuring the house is a home. May Allah comfort your hearts and relieve your frustration.