When my mom died, I got custody of my 6-year-old brother. It wasn't the right decision to be my brother's parent.

When my mom died, I got custody of my 6-year-old brother. It wasn't the right decision to be my brother's parent.
The author.Courtesy of the author
  • My mom died when I was 27, leaving me to take care of my 6-year-old brother.
  • When my baby was 4 months old, my then-husband left me to be a single mom.

Sometimes the phrases our parents recite often have a way of sticking with you, both good and bad.

For me, it was my mother saying, "I'm not worried about you." For a long time, I interpreted that sentiment as a trust in my ability to succeed, but as I grew, I realized it held a lot more weight. What it actually meant was, "I know you can handle everything on your own, and you are so good at it that I will ask you to take on more than you should."

When I was 27, I found out my mother was dying from a botched surgery she had traveled to get. While I took care of her and all of her finances and responsibilities, my biggest challenge was my then-6-year-old brother.

I felt pressured to take care of him

"If something happens to your mom, and you're not prepared to take Alex, I would be happy to," his godmother told me.

I'll admit, I contemplated this. I felt like I had a lot more life to live before settling down with kids. Then, everyone, including my partner at the time, began with the pressure. I would get asked things like, "You're going to take him, right? I mean, you have to take him."


Pretty soon, I had friends, distant family, and even acquaintances boldly calling me to counsel me on what I should do next. I was overwhelmed, I was grieving, and, most of all, I was drained.

I got married quickly because I thought I'd have a better chance at getting custody in court.

Over the next two years, I embraced motherhood, but good deeds don't always end up as a happily ever after. It turns out that my brother and I were like oil and water — we simply didn't mix. We tried everything: every therapist, activities, changes in school, sports, etc. Nothing helped us create the bond he was looking for when our mother died.

It resulted in a lot of individual therapy for me, and for that, I'm grateful.

After a few years of the life I created, my husband left me with my brother and our then-4-month-old baby.


I finally started saying no to people

I spent another two years being a single mom to both as best as I could. Within that time, my aunt died, leaving behind three kids, two of whom were under 18.

I was living this strange déjà vu, as I again started to be asked, "You're going to take them, right? I mean, you have to take them."

For the first time in my life, I responded, "Actually, I don't."

From this moment on, I began to emphatically tell everyone, even those who depended on me, no. When I did this, I released a lot of responsibility that wasn't mine to bear, and I could finally exhale.

It wasn't a good decision to parent my brother

After four years with my brother, we both decided we needed to be honest with ourselves. We weren't happy living together. Throughout the years, he had maintained his bond with his godmother and would often ask me whether he could live with her. Out of pride and the fear of giving up, I'd say no and try harder to make it work. Then I surrendered to my reality: He was happier with her.


He has spent the past two years with her and is the happiest I have ever seen him, and I was given the space to be his sister again.

I was born into a role that asked me to hold the world on my shoulders because I was strong. It trained me to believe that my power of will meant it was my duty to take on more, so I did.

But we're allowed to change our minds and pivot.

I learned that when I put myself first, everyone who mattered supported it. I spent a lot of time worrying about what others would say if I stepped down as the matriarch. But what happened was that my sibling, close friends, and even my therapists all said the same thing: I had done more than enough, and they were all proud of me.