My Daughter, The Parent

When my daughter was four, she begged and pleaded for us to give her a brother. We weren’t planning on having another child, we were even toying with the idea that maybe one child would be enough. My husband had just started his own business, and I was due to be promoted within the next few months making me one of the lead editors on a new program. On top of all that, we were finally seeing the light at the end of the very long tunnel known as “paying for others to watch our child”—just over a year left until kindergarten. Although it was sweet that she wanted a brother [NOTE:  She did not want a sister. She had informed us that we already had one of those and we didn’t need another one], it was not in our plan. So, when we found out a few months later that we were indeed pregnant, we jokingly told her that she had wished him into existence.

Nearly seven years later, I believe she loves her brother as much today as she did when she wished for him as a small child. There are times that I also believe she may even think he owes his existence to her—and should therefore do everything she says. Most of the time, what she tells him to do, in fact, comes from a place of worry and love for him.

Not unlike a parent.

She yells at him if she thinks he’ll get hurt when we are crossing the street. She corrects him when he mistakenly uses the wrong word in a sentence, and she teaches him the correct pronunciation of words he finds difficult to pronounce. She yells at him when he does taekwondo kicks while walking down the street, in part because she is embarrassed, but also for fear that people may think that he’s odd. And at times, she is my echo, repeating every “no” or “stop it” I tell him, chiming in to somehow strengthen my point of view.

The problem with this is that my son does not want two mothers.

Each correction, raised voice, accusation to “stop it” or “don’t do that,” causes him to react with complete and total outrage—screaming, yelling, and threatening her with bodily harm. As their mother, it often feels like I am living in the middle of a war zone and I am meant to be the peacekeeper. In the end, at a loss for how to stop the fighting, I dole out punishments—somewhat arbitrarily—as I am unwilling to listen to the who-did-what-to-who’s.

I had always prided myself for trying to see life through my daughter’s eyes, especially when I struggled to understand her behavior or attitude. Up until last year, I don’t think I ever truly did this with my son. Depending on how their arguments started, I would often tell him to 1) ignore her; 2) not take everything she says so seriously; 3) understand that she loves him and that she’s just trying to help him. He would reject all of my rational justifications for her behavior, and his anger would turn into tears, while stating the unthinkable words “I hate her!” These words—words that were banned in our home—would sting like a slap in the face. No matter how I much I tried to nurture their relationship, I was failing.

Then one day—after a particularly terrible fight between the two of them—I suddenly found myself remembering what it was to be a child with an older sister. Unlike my children who are nearly five years apart, my sister is only 15 months older than me. When I was young, I remember looking to her as if she were the keeper of all the answers to my every question. As I grew, I remember wanting to be like her—and even more than that—I remember wanting her to love me, to like me, to think she was lucky to have me as her sister. But as children, this was not meant to be. Her every word or opinion about me—the music I listened to, the friends I had, the clothes I wore—left me feeling that I somehow wasn’t good enough. There were times I even felt ashamed to be myself in front of her for fear that I would be ridiculed for it. It would take us many years to mend the relationship that was so damaged when we were children. More than anything, I want to prevent my children from hurting one another so deeply that their relationship may be fractured as adults.

Looking back, it’s possible that my sister’s only intention was to help me find my way in the world—just as I know my daughter is trying to do for her brother. More importantly, I now know that this isn’t her job. My advice to my daughter is this: in order for her brother to grow up to be a confident young man, he needs his sister to show him the way through her actions—not her words. No matter her intentions, he needs to feel that she sees him—and loves him—for who he is, mispronunciations and all. My advice to my son is to know—even when his sister inevitably corrects him or gives him unwanted advice—that she loves him more than anyone else in her life. And, he should always remember that it was she who wished for him, and that she has always been thankful that he has come into her life.

Published by Erin Rehill

A few years ago, my then eight-year-old daughter told me that she wished I could write down all the things I told her so that she wouldn’t forget them when she got older. In that moment, my daughter gave me such a sense of validation, something I hadn’t really experienced in that way. As parents, we don’t often receive confirmation from our children that we are doing a good job, or that we even know what we are talking about. Since that time, I’ve started to pay more attention to the things I tell her, often thinking to myself “Will she remember this when she is older?” So, this is for her, my words of advice to be read, thought about, laughed at, and maybe even used, when she is older.

Join the Conversation


  1. Very sweet post. I also loved the photos. My “boys” are now in their late 30’s, are each other’s best friends and have been since they were seniors in high school. It’s a wonderful thing to watch.

  2. I love this post! It brings back memories of my own childhood. Your kids are very lucky to have you as their mom. They will have a great relationship growing up.

  3. My daughter is like my boys’ second mother too. And I was like that with my brother. Is it a birth order thing?
    She’s been so helpful with them both since they were born – fetching me diapers, helping to feed them, teaching them to put away their toys etc. and I guess part of that is expected between kids. But there’s that line where she starts trying to discipline them (like giving time-outs, lol) where I obviously have to step in. I have absolutely no doubt though that they mean the world to her, and she to them.

    1. It does sound like you have a little helper in your daughter—that’s just wonderful. The harder part with my kids right now is that my daughter wants the love and affection from him that she used to get when he was a baby. Now that he’s almost seven, he won’t hug her unless we beg him to. When she feels rejected, she then takes it out on him by taunting him. Although, I must say that just this evening, he was hugging and kissing her like crazy, so much so that she laughed so hard she got the hiccups (a funny trait of hers). So, I guess I never know what’s going to happen with them!

  4. Wow, I was so like this with my little brother and honestly I’m 33 and it’s still difficult to forge a relationship with him. It’s hard to see him as my peer and not as my LITTLE brother. But my parents took for granted that we would have a relationship, and so I don’t think they actively tried to encourage it. I think you’re smart to be aware of it now and manage expectations on both parts so they can be friends and peers when they grow up.

    1. How much older are you than your older brother? My brother is 18 months younger than me, and even that made me think of him as my “little brother.” As we have grown up, we have been there for each other in some difficult times, and I think that is one of the reasons we see each other as equals now. I hope that you and your brother will become closer over time. Thanks so much for leaving such an honest comment.

  5. Hello, what a beautiful post. I followed you over from Edenland’s blog and became engrossed!

    I have to say, I am both glad and very distressed my daughter has no siblings (long story, check out my blog if you want the backstory!). I had a strained childhood relationship with my older sister too which left me feeling very much like your younger self too. Problem is, she has now estranged herself from me after I spent so long trying to match/live up to her expectations. *shrug* So your hopes for your children and your beautiful gentle hopeful guidance is touching to me, my sister and I have had no such supportive helping hand.

    1. I’ve read your comment a number of times, as I was so struck by your words about your relationship with your older sister. I’m going to go read your story. Thank you for taking the time to read mine.

  6. My eldest daughter is the same way ~ second mother in nearly every way. I was the fourth child of six and the biggest of the little kids, so I have many oldest child attributes as well and almost completely took over the caretaking of my brother, who had Downs syndrome and was only 13 months younger than I. My sister, though, didn’t seem to care one bit about me and to this day, I feel sad about that. We are so different… I always longed to have an older sister who wanted a little sister as much as I did! 🙂

    1. My heart aches for everyone that longs for a better relationship with a sibling. You are a remarkable person, and I hope that someday your sister will see that, too.

  7. I am 15 months older than my sister and I remember wishing that she weren’t so darn perfect because I was being constantly upstaged by her. Now I have such empathy for my older son, though I am blessed that they seem to get along really, really well.

    1. Sibling relationships are so complex—they are something I think about often as a parent. The one thing that I truly try to do is to see each of my children as individuals and to never compare them to one another. I think all parents can only hope that their children also see one another as individuals, and that their relationships will continue to grow. Thanks for the place to link up, and for leaving such a thoughtful comment.

  8. I just found your blog. I love it and I love this post. I also loved the post o 9/11. There is so much more to write, but typing from my iPhone is painful! If you have a minute – come see me. I think my blog / motivation is a lot like yours. Kristen @

  9. ahh, what a sweet post. I grew up with 3 sister. All a year apart. You can only imagine the fighting that went on. Now I have to talk to all of the everyone day on the phone.

    You daughter is sweet to “look after” her little brother. Now it may been “annoying” but as they grow it will be a great realtionship!

  10. I’m the oldest of 5 so I have never been the little sister but I have always been the second mom. My three youngest siblings are in their early twenties now while I am in my early 30s. Thank you for opening my eyes to how they may feel when I take on that role. It’s all out of love, but sometimes showing is better than using our words. Actions will always speak volumes!

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