Auntie SparkNotes: I Don't Want to Be My Family's Nanny
I just recently found out that my older sister is pregnant. My family is ecstatic... but lil ol' me is terrified.
I didn't anticipate being an aunt (at the ripe age of 17). My sister is in medical school and my family is expecting me to go to a college nearby to help her out with the baby. But there's a problem: she lives hours away. My brother-in-law is active duty in the military and gets called away months at a time, so his presence is fleeting. Other than him, there is really no family who lives near her. My other family members are either too old or have other priorities, so apparently I'm their "only" option.
I would be happy to help my sister, because I love her so much, but no one is taking into account how I feel. How am I to help raise a child if, in most respects, I'm still growing myself and have (many) mistakes to make? I don't want to mess up my would-be niece or nephew permanently because of some form of youthful ignorance on my part. And what about my dreams? What if the college they designate for me doesn't offer the major I want? Should I forget about my plans and totally dedicate myself to a life I didn't want? Plus I would have to adjust to the workload I will receive while in college and life in a city I don't know or understand. I don't want to tell them "no" because I'm afraid my sister might have a hormonal breakdown and accuse me of being unsupportive. But I'm hesitant to say "yes" because I know I'm not ready for the commitment.
Well, this is awkward! Apparently, your family is so consumed by the excitement of OMG A BABY that they've mistaken you, an autonomous human being with your own hopes, dreams, plans, and goals, for an indentured servant who can be simply packed off to serve whatever purpose they like.
...Although on the other hand, I suppose you can be grateful that all they need is a nanny and not, say, a kidney donor, shark attack repellent beta tester, or human sacrifice to the god of lava.
But look, I'm just going to say the thing that should be obvious, here: free, local, long-term, blood-related child care is not essential. Your sister does not need this. It's an unbelievable luxury that isn't even an option for the vast majority of new parents. Which is what makes the whole "you're our only option" thing so ridiculous: you might be the only person who could feasibly give up the next few years of her life to be an unpaid babysitter, but that doesn't mean you should—and it especially doesn't mean that it's okay for your family to decide as much without even asking you first.
Which I can't believe even has to be said, but unfortunately, your family are apparently all too addled by visions of little knitted booties to realize that they're being complete butts.
So, you're going to have to say something. But before you do, spend some time first thinking about your goals, taking into consideration not just your education and course of study, but what sort of role you want to play in your family going forward. Have a good idea about what you want, what you're willing to do, and where your boundaries are.
And—and this is really, really important—be ready to enforce them, no matter how bad your parents or sister try to make you feel for doing so. Because as much as I hope I'm wrong about this (and ugh, I really, really hope I'm wrong), your letter strongly hints at a particular sort of family dynamic, in which you and your sister have been assigned very specific roles to play: hers as Overachieving Golden Child, yours as Self-Sacrificing Second Fiddle.
And if that is the case, then your family isn't going to like it when their own personal Cinderella grows a pair of royal balls.
Or, hey, maybe your fears are unfounded and your sister deserves more credit than you're giving her. After all, she's pregnant, not insane—and if she's got an ounce of decency, she'll understand that even the most supportive, thrilled, adoring aunt-to-be has a life of her own that can't just be tossed aside in the service of sisterly support.
Of course, the specifics of this conversation are entirely up to you. (If she does accuse you of being unsupportive, you can keep your cool and say, "I'm sorry you feel that way. I love you and I'm thrilled for you. But asking me to derail my own plans for college in order to help with the baby is asking too much.") Only you know who you are, what you want, how much support you feel comfortable offering, and how much room you have to assert yourself, particularly if your parents are the type to blackmail you with threats of lost financial support. But no matter what, please take this opportunity to develop an easy, confident, unapologetic relationship with the word "no." Get used to saying it, meaning it, and not feeling guilty about it—if not for now, then for all the times you'll need it in the future.
Which, with a family like yours, will probably be a lot.
Does your family make unreasonable demands? Share your story in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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