When Parents Leave

When we were growing up we had enough of us that at one point our parents didn’t have to get babysitters.  The older siblings watched the younger siblings.  Once the oldest reached a certain age, and the rest of us followed by getting older, there was always someone to watch over someone else.

I don’t know how wise it was for our parents to always entrust the younger siblings welfare and well being to the older sibling.   I am pretty sure there was some disadvantage if the younger one infuriated the older one.  Or the older one was already infuriated because they had to watch the younger one.

Despite the questionable  brilliance of this plan we made it through.  We may not always have been the best babysitter.  But we didn’t do too bad as siblings.  If we hurt one another it was something we could survive.  If someone else hurt us, we had support.

I think it’s a plan that many parents put in to place without even thinking.   They start the siblings babysitting for one another.  Watching over them.

When the parents leave they entrust the siblings with one another’s care.  Hoping this will add to the basic formula of family love and function.  Family takes care of one another.

Our parents left us.  Our parents worked.  Our parents ran their own business.  They needed to sleep.  I was watched over by my older brothers.  To be quite honest they sucked at baby sitting.  They were quite bossy and demanding.  I, on the other, hand was more likely a nurturing and devoted baby sitter to my younger siblings.  Just don’t ask #8 she has crazy, made up stories.

I have children.  And I did the same thing.  Entrusted them in one another’s care when it was appropriate and they could handle it.  I saw my older daughter pluck live bees out of her little sister’s hair when they were ambushed by the little stingers. I thought it was one of the bravest things I ever saw.  I witnessed them stand up for one another and defend one another in the face of an outsider.   And then behind closed doors give one another “what for” for whatever stupid thing they had done.

Our parents want us protected.  They want us safe.  They want us loved.  And to be able to leave us they want to make sure their children’s world is full of support.

Then parents leave.  All parents leave.  They have no choice.

And now I watch a group of siblings who surround one of their own.  They watch over him.  They talk to him.  They encourage him.  They laugh for him.  They pray for him.  They sit with him.  They wait for him.  They’ve not left him alone.  They’ve been with him for twenty-four hours a day.  Seven days a week.  The clock starts on day 18 in just a few minutes.

There is something to this plan.  Their parents would be proud.  They know that when they left there would always be someone to watch over someone else.

It’s what I want for my children.  It’s what I would want for and from my siblings.

It’s what we all would want.

If we needed watched over.

When our parents leave.

27 thoughts on “When Parents Leave

  1. As much as we think we are the same as our freedom-loving parents, we are not. Life has become more complicated and as much as I would like to say we are the same, we are NOT. Life is much more complicated now. Can we make comparisons between the two? Where do you wish to start?


  2. My mum always says about situations such as the one you described with siblings rallying round and supporting, “Bloods thicker than water”. I think it is. A lifetime of growing up together hopefully forms a bond than even death cannot break. I too am watching two very large families rally round, circling the wagons and protecting and supporting one of their own. Heartbreaking though it is their parents/ grandparents would be proud. It is what I would hope for my children in the future.


    • That’s exactly what this family is doing. I address it a little bit more in tomorrow’s post. I am amazed at this family’s focus and willingness to ‘do’. And it strikes me that their parents would be so very proud, pleased and happy with their children right now. I hope your families are doing well today.


  3. Colleen, I am the oldest sibling in my family, every word you wrote is so right and so beautiful. I have similar memories, without the bees, so thank you for stirring this up. — Take care, Bill


  4. Whoever the sibling is that’s being watched over, 24/7, I have to wonder if it’s the stick figure in the hospital room. I have to wonder what your heart is really saying here but it comes to this reader as tender and poignant. But, I don’t like to make assumptions. Nor do I want/like to pry. Suffice it to say, it’s a privilege to know you and be let in through your words, your amazing words (a gift) and offer any support through my heart and thoughts back to you. Love,Paulette


  5. Wow…. What writing ability…! Tremendous piece…

    However, it got me to thinking. It makes me think of how a minority of people (or incidents) generate a plethora of laws that really intrude into our personal lives as parents. Perhaps a family of youngsters died of carbon monoxide poisoning (such as using a charcoal grill in a room for warmth)… a myriad of laws were made in response to these relatively small incidents. (No, of course, losing a child by accident is huge but you get my message.)

    Now, it is ILLEGAL in Los Angeles to leave a child alone in a house even if a sibling is 12 or older. Think about it. Seventy years ago, kids just four years older went off to war for the US of A.

    Sometimes I wonder. Generally, before WWII, mother’s usually stayed home to watch the children while the father worked. A single income family was MANAGEABLE albeit trying.

    Now, it is different. Plus, we have millions of undocumented aliens doing their thing with child-raising. But we have teenagers by the thousands being single moms, too. Am I picking on the illegals? But why is a law regarding leaving 12 year olds in the house on the books in California?

    Maybe the State should be “the parent who leaves?”


    • So many things Koji….. I worked with a woman who used to work in CPS and had to go investigate parents leaving their children while they worked. While she left her three children at home alone while she worked. As a single mom she had no options, she had no money, she had no support, there weren’t programs available to her to help with her children. She made a point that parents do what they have to do to provide, and it isn’t always easy and it isn’t always neglect.

      You’re right that things have changed. By the time I was 12 I was babysitting in my house, and for others. And no one ever questioned it.


    • And that is another part of our family dynamics. We watch the parents. I’m glad you still have your father. And I believe my father watches over us as well. My mom would not want to think any of us were “watching” over her here. I was trying to walk beside her one day pointing out a dangerous lift in the sidewalk and she said “I’m not old you know!’ 😉


  6. Plucking live bees out of her sister’s hair – ugghhhhhh!!

    In this last week in Australia, parents who were on holiday came home to find that their teenage son had died in a house fire. Considering I would leave Daniel a week if I had to, as at 17 I think he can handle things, I was mortified at how they must have felt. Horrific. I don’t know how this happens – what happened, what happened, I’d need to know.

    I feel your posts as I check in on you today, Colleen, I feel they are heart rending. I hope you are okay.


  7. I could feel your emotion and I could see what you are seeing….such beautiful writing, dear sister. I continue to keep all of you in my thoughts and prayers. Love to all!


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