You know you’re the second mom in a big family when…

  • You start saying the same things to your siblings that your mom said to you.
  • Your siblings accidentally call you Mom.
  • You’re always counting heads to make sure everyone is accounted for.
  • Your siblings ask you what’s for dinner even when it’s not your night.
  • Your siblings come running to you first, or call for you when they get hurt.
  • You long for a small “normal” family, but when you go visit one, you find yourself bored.
  • You start referring to everyone in the family younger than you as “the kids”.

If you answered “me, too!” or filled in the blank above with your own “second mom” sentence, then this post is for you!

As the oldest of twelve children I have 20+ years of experience as a big sister aka “second mom” and I would love to encourage you and share with you some of my dos, don’ts and do overs.

encouragement for the "second mom"

Dos

Do love your siblings! I have some regrets about how I spent my years as a second mom, but one thing I don’t regret is loving my siblings, pouring into them, and investing in them. Much like a mom, a second mom sacrifices a lot.

It’s not easy to always be the responsible one, especially when you want to act like a child, too.

But it’s worth it. The kids may buck at the authority your parents delegate to you, and they may not always include you in things, but they will respect you and come to you when it counts, when they need love or advice.

I don’t regret loving or sacrificing anything for my siblings – God used those lessons powerfully to make me who I am today. And God has a plan for you, too – to use the weight of the responsibility you feel now as you lead by example. A plan for the servant’s heart He is building in you with every diaper you change, dish you wash and scrape you bandage.  Do keep pressing forward by not giving up, because as long as this season feels, it’s only a season and in a few years everything will be different.

Live this season of life – don’t just survive it.

Live this season by letting it make you instead of break you.

What type of person do you want to become? That person will be forged in the fires of this season as a big sister.

Godly character starts by knowing the Lord and serving Him. Jesus says:

“And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42)

A simple thing like giving someone a drink, or changing a diaper, or vacuuming a floor has eternal rewards when done to the glory of God. Do love your siblings by loving your God first.

Live this season of life – don’t just survive it. Live this season by letting it make you instead of break you.

Don’ts

I made the mistake of alienating myself from my siblings by being bossy with them. It’s natural to buckle under the weight of the responsibility and authority you have and become bossy. When you’re home babysitting and Mom leaves a list of things that need to be done, it’s so easy to get frustrated and yell at the kids to pick up or behave.

It takes wisdom and maturity to take a step back and develop a relationship with your siblings.

But they will listen when there is a relationship over enforced rules. Don’t let perfectionism reign (any other oldest daughters struggle with perfectionism or people-pleasing out there?).  Talk with your parents about the frustrations with your delegated responsibilities rather than taking them out on your siblings.

There is truth to the old saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ and the most important part of the village is the family. Everything goes more smoothly in the family when each member pitches in to make it a safe, uplifting, and comfortable environment for growth. The delegation of responsibility rests on the parents’ shoulders and should be done in proportion to each child’s age and maturity.

Responsibility in the home is what prepares for real life.

Oldest children just have a tendency to take additional responsibility or be delegated more until the other children grow up a little more. (Please note: in some cases parents delegate too much and burden their children; that is not what I’m advocating or referencing in this post.)

Do-Overs

My biggest regret in being a second mom was that I didn’t have fun with my siblings. I stayed in the mom role and forgot I was a sister, an equal, a friend.

Put up the mom hat for a few minutes every day and just enjoy your siblings!

Have fun with them! Take them to the park, read them stories, enjoy them. (For some great ideas, click here.)

My friend Sarah is the oldest girl in a family of ten kids. I often look at Sarah and wish I had been more of the kind of sister she is. Sarah loves spending time with her siblings because, as she puts it:

“I find the most joy in just being super close to them all by being that mom figure, in a sense, and still their sister. There is always someone to play with, someone to hug and something to teach them. And it is all worth everything when you hear them say ‘I love you’ or — how it works in my house — ‘you’re my buddy’.”

Sarah has joy because she found the balance of being both a sister and a second mom.

Five years out of my parent’s house and I get to be “just” a sister again. And I love every minute I get to spend with my siblings – I only wish I had enjoyed them sooner when I lived with them.

Are you a big sister who gets to be a second mom sometimes?  What lessons have you learned as you help with your siblings?

Photography: Dan Miller

58 Comments

  1. I’m the youngest of 8, and my oldest sister was given a lot of responsibility over me as a baby, but then moved out when I was around 3. I saw her sporadically after that. I have a few memories of her ‘parenting’ me, but my earliest memories are wanting my mom and being stuck with her. Family tell me I should see her as another mother or second mother or something, and I don’t. I see her as my sister. She was never able to have children, so in a way I was her only child, but I wasn’t. I wanted her as my sister, not my mother or an authority figure. Even now I get very angry when she or someone else in the family suggests she was more of a mom to me simply because she had some responsibilities over me when I was younger.

    I think what I’m trying to say is like you said. It’s great to help out, but try to be a friend and buddy first and foremost, and encourage your oldest girls to be a sister, not a ‘second mommy’. Even if they have responsibility over them from time to time, point out that they are not their mom, and that if they parent too much then their sibling may resent it. I especially resented my older sister keeping me from my mom when I wanted my mom (like with an injury or from a nightmare.) I understand now that she was trying to give my mom sleep. Don’t do that. And don’t ever say “I was as much a mother or even more of a mother to you…” to try and force some sort of respect or relationship as adults. You can’t replace mom. If you try, then it just backfires.

  2. I’m the oldest out of 6 being the second mum is almost the same as being the actual mum apart from the fact that you didn’t give birth to them lol.. I’ve had my fair shares of an off day I break down at night sometimes fall asleep crying, I sacrificed ALOT. The whole frustration Thing I do In fact let out on the kids and I do feel bad but at times I feel like no one understands or tries to understand, trying to contain it is just impossible. Looking around and regular 19 yr old girls are having fun doing things whilst I’m raising my siblings. It hurts a lot but reading your post has given me a bit of hope that it won’t last forever. I just wish in the near future my siblings appreciate all that have sacrificed and done for them.

  3. I’m not the eldest in my family nor is it as big as most here but I still understand being a second mum. I’m the only girl of three brothers, one older at 25 and two younger at 17 and 5. Ever since my youngest brother was born Ive had this absolute adoration for him and played a huge role in his upbringing so far. Ive in fact had a ‘second mum moment’ just now, my poor baby unfortunately has a terrible ear ache due to a cold and after many tears and refusing medicine from others he eventually settled in my arms with my hand pressed up against his ear and gentle shushes and went straight to sleep.

  4. Katie, thank you for this post. Such a good encouragement. At 20, and the oldest of 14 (5 boys in a row after me, then 4 sisters, then 2 sets of twin girls), I can totally identify with this. I love being the 2nd mom, but it’s very easy for me to slip into “mom” role and forget to be a sister, so that reminder was especially helpful. And to remember that along with the responsibility comes a great privilege. I mean really, how many people get to have that many boys protecting them, and that many people to play games with, and that many babies to hold? I am blessed. Thank you again for encouraging me!

  5. Miss Theaphania says:

    Thankyou soooo much!!!

  6. Miss Theaphania says:

    though when I was 12 some guy though I was the Mum of my 9 and 4 yr old siblings
    anyone had that?I’m sure many have

    1. I so have had that happen! 🙂 When I was 18 someone asked me if my 14 and 12 year old siblings were my kids!! I was like “how old do I look to have a 14year old kids?” lol They very fact that you are inquiring how to be a better example shows your heart is in the right place and you may be further along that you think! SO be encouraged! One thought that I ahve at this point is perhaps ask your younger sister how you can help/serve her? I know I would have SO appreciated that from my siblings during that season and it will grow both you as sisters and partners that way. So you can help out as the “mum” a little more and free her to be a little bit more of the “sister”. (Because deep down I’m sure she looks at you and wants what you have as well 🙂 )

  7. Miss Theaphania says:

    By the way llllllooooooooooovvvveeeeeeee this post

  8. Miss Theaphania says:

    I am an older sister who’s younger sister is the second “Mom” though she has
    a different character to me. I’m kind of the other way round the sister rather than the
    Mum and I need to be more of an example -but don’t we all?Anyone got any ideas of
    the other way round?

  9. I am now 36 years old.. being a second mom to my younger brother (9 years younger than me),,, prepared me to become a good mom to my now 6 year old daughter.. it made me mature beyond my years.. it also allowed me to easily Honor my father and mother (as it was written in the Bible), … it sure have a lot of misses.. and lots of lessons learned…

    1. I’ve never thought about how it has effected how I honor my parents but you know, you are so right! Thanks for that perspective!

  10. You know you’re the second mom when last Sunday, Mother’s Day, you got offered a gift at church that they were passing out to the moms! – Oh no, I’m not a mom, I’m just a sister! 🙂
    And yes, I get asked frequently, “what’s for dinner?” and “what’s the plan?”, “where are we going?”.
    Recently at a conference a young lady and I laughed in sharing our similar thoughts on being second moms and how that effects our eligibility with young men, “I mean, what young man is looking for a girl that’s already pushing a stroller and has two car seats in her car?!” – “A wise one” – we were encouraged by a married father with two little ones. Wow! just the encouragement that I needed.

    Rachel -sister to 8, 2 older and 6 younger

    1. RacheL H. says:

      “I mean, what young man is looking for a girl that’s already pushing a stroller and has two car seats in her car?!” – “A wise one”

      I had to laugh out loud at that! 🙂

    2. “a wise one” Love that!! And going to remember it. 🙂

  11. Thank you for writing this post! I can definitely relate! I am 20 years old and the oldest in a family of 8… 7 younger brothers! I am so thankful for each of my brothers… whether they are 5 or 18!! I am thankful for the ways I’ve been blessed to be involved in their lives and it is neat to me now to be more like a friend to the older ones, when the little ones still need help reading! I LOVE it! I just came back from a few years away and it is such a joy to be working along side my family again and it is an amazing thing to see a large family operate! I adore my parents and they have done a wonderful job raising us, but it’s also been so wonderful to be the oldest and to see my parents “parent” the younger ones… if that makes sense!! I love my brothers and I wouldn’t change my life for anything!!

    1. I do know what you mean! In some ways it is hard for me to see my parents doing things differently then the way they did them when I was young – but on the other hand I love watching the change and grow as they learn more and parent the younger ones. SO thankful for them!

  12. What a beautiful and inspiring post. I only have one energetic talkitive younger sister and God has shown me to love her and appreciate her. Sometimes even having one sister is overwhelming (I can’t imagine 12!) because we do have to be the role model but like you said it’s rewarding being able to guide our young ones. May God continue to guide us older sisters 🙂

  13. yes yes yes…this is what I needed to hear today. Thank you, Katie! =) I’m the 8th in a family of 14 but most of the older ones are gone now. Thank. you.

    1. 14 wow! I don’t often hear of families bigger than mine! And in big families there is often several “smaller families” within the larger one – making others the “oldest” too!

      1. Yep! That’s exactly what it’s like! 😀 😀

  14. That is an interesting post. Interesting because my parents don’t like the idea of a “big sister, second mom.” I am 25 years old and the oldest of 7 kids (and the only girl) and I was always told that I wasn’t the parent and wasn’t allowed to order my siblings around. Yes, when my parents were gone, I was in charge, but that mostly just meant getting meals together and then mediating any problems that came up.

    It wasn’t MY JOB to take care of my siblings or do all the chores (even though I was the only girl), but it was my job to be a sister to my brothers and a helper to my mom and a daughter to my dad. Yes, helping sometimes meant that I took on chores that my mom usually did, but that was just what you do in a family.

    Great post!

    1. Ivy– I’m glad you commented about this; I was about to say something along these lines. I think it’s sad that these older sisters don’t get to enjoy merely being a sibling, but are forced to take on the role of “mom”. I was the oldest daughter of 6, and now I’m a mom. And I hope that whether I have 2 or 10 kids, the oldest ones are not required to be in charge of the younger. They are all children and siblings. It takes away from your own childhood when you have to parent siblings. I know this won’t be taken well by most people who read a blog such as this, but I will say that I have little respect for those parents who expect their older children to be “mom” to the younger. If parents can’t raise the younger ones themselves, they shouldn’t have more children or they should hire professional nanny help to care for them. This comment will likely not be published, but come on– you other older sisters out there know in your heart that what I’m saying is true!

      1. Mae, you are exactly right! I often see older sisters being called on to be the parent and I never see it working out super well. For one thing, I don’t know that we even quite know how to be a good parent. We didn’t have the kids and they aren’t our full responsibility, so how are we supposed to know how to parent?

        Also, who and how punishment is meted out is a bit skewed. I have seen younger siblings totally ignore the older sibling and that just isn’t good for anyone.

        I totally agree!

      2. I personally think that it is very beneficial to the family dynamic to give some authority to the older siblings… They are going to be parents one day, and this is a great opportunity to learn how to wisely train and discipline children. 🙂 No, they are not the mom! But, they are an “adult in training,” and more and more responsibility will have to be given them as they mature.

        1. Haley, that is true too! I know it helped me 🙂

    2. Ivy, I’m glad you grew up knowing it was your job to be the sister! 🙂 And you’re right, sometimes when we are needed to help pitch in and do someone else’s chores or your Mom’s to help – that is what you do in a family! It’s a great way to learn how to have a servants heart for later in life with your friends etc.

  15. I loved this article. I’m the oldest of 7 children and I’m 20 years old. A lot of the things you said rang so true for me.

    “You long for a small “normal” family, but when you go visit one, you find yourself bored.” This is a lesson I had to learn. Things get chaotic and unorganized when you have a big family. At least I know mine is! So when you see a normal family, you notice how their house is perfectly clean and they seem like they have it all figured out, everything they do is scheduled and all that…and you think “gosh, my family could never be like that”. Yet when you spend some time there, you’re bored and the environment feels empty. It makes you realize that even if your own house isn’t tidy and everyone goes a little crazy when you all get ready to go somewhere together, even though it can be frustrating sometimes and it’s difficult to get some privacy, the time you spend together is made up of pure love and is so comfortable. There’s always laughter and always someone to talk to or spend time with. You’re never alone. That’s a lot more important than organization and cleanliness. I am so blessed to have been born into a big family!

    1. My little brother used to say “the worst part about being in a big family is that you’re never alone and the best part of being in a big family is that you’re never alone!”

  16. So true and convicting Katie. It’s become my prayer of late that my family would be the first ones to see the love of Jesus in me. Ah, sooo hard! It’s true what you said about sacrificing. Especially now that I’m away from the home working most days, it’s so hard to set aside the remaining small time left for my own pleasure and give it to them. Less of me, more of Him♥

    1. Tanya! I’ll be praying for you! I so get that and have been there! What a responsibility but what joy when they DO see Jesus in you! Keep on because you ARE making a difference. One of my sisters I’ve struggled to be an example to for years and she just keeps making her own choices etc and it’s hard to watch her get hurt – but just recently she has started to come to me with things and I am able to share advice and the Lord’s love with her. It will happen for you too!

  17. I’m the oldest of nine and I can definitely relate! Good post!

    1. 9 is a fun number! Do you find that you guys split into 2 or 3 mini families? 🙂

  18. I can relate to calling my younger siblings “the kids” 🙂 But now that my younger siblings are older and we’re all “grown up”, we have great relationships. I cherish every moment with them! It’s a blessing to be a big sister and we have the responsibility of pointing them toward Christ too. Also, quality time and just communicating with them is the best gift that one could ever give a younger sibling. I love how we all get together in the evenings just to talk and hear about each other’s days.

    1. I agree that communicating with them is one of the biggest blessings we can have. I love entering that stage with them as each one gets older! And now getting to send them encouraging text messages etc now that I’m out of the home and miss those evenings together!

  19. Thank you so much, I really needed to read this right now. I am the oldest of 7 children, 5 of which are boys, and have been like a “second mom” ever since about the time my second brother was born. I always thought it was “unfair”, but now I realize that it truly is a blessing. Thanks again for posting this. 🙂

    1. Emily, I so remember those feelings! I will be praying for you!

      1. Thank you, I appreciate that. =]

  20. I am the oldest of 7- 3 younger brothers and 3 younger sisters. I can identify with every single item on that list!

    1. do you ever have to mediate between the boys vs the girls competitions?

  21. Here’s the “You know you’re the second mom when…” Grown-up Edition. :O)

    You move away from home, and worry that you’ll be like a visiting aunt, and the youngest siblings won’t really know you. (Didn’t happen!)

    You wish that college life included little people.

    Your young mommy friends ask you (the single girl!) child-care questions.

    You are the measuring-rod as each younger brother grows into man-tallness.

    Instead of looking forward to the births of each sibling, you get to look forward to the time each one becomes a peer, and a friend in a whole new way.

    You burst with pride and happy humility as they each surpass you in skills or character traits unique to them.

    You feel a bit empty-nest-ish when your last sibling leaves home.

    Instead of helping them with their math, you pray they know, bone-deep, God’s love for them!

    1. wow all of those are True Elisabeth! Thank you! I especially love : Your young mommy friends ask you (the single girl!) child-care questions.

      You are the measuring-rod as each younger brother grows into man-tallness.
      and the one where you get more proud as each one surpasses you! Amen! 🙂

  22. Thank you so much for this post, Katie. I wish I’d followed more of this advice when I was still at home with my siblings. But you know what? It applies to motherhood, too. 🙂

    1. Thanks Gretchen! I’m hoping to apply it to Motherhood someday – so i’m glad to hear it can be applied there! Thank you for encouraging me to write this – It’s been a good reminder for me too – so much so that I’m taking off on a last minute vacation to surprise the family on their vacation and just go play with them! 🙂

  23. Great post Katie!
    I’m only the oldest of 3, but my sister is 10 years younger than me: Often I was the “second mom”, still am sometimes.

    1. I bet you are! My youngest sister is 20 years younger and I love the big age difference dynamics – though at first I wasn’t sure!

  24. Oh, Katie, this post is so beautiful. As another big sister I say, “Amen!” Thank you so much for sharing so honestly and inspirationally!

  25. All those things that you listed at the top of this post I can relate to! I’m the oldest of eight kiddos. Thanks for this post…very practical and convicting!

    1. 8! That’s a big number too! Would you add anything to that list? I love to hear what other “oldest of” girls have to say!

      1. Well, here are some things that I’ve experience from being a “second mom”;
        ….you know when you’re the second mom in a big family:
        ~ when people mistake you for your siblings’ mom :).
        ~ when you can change a messy dipper faster than any other girl your age.
        ~ when you hear a child’s cry and can identify the crier right a way.
        ~ when your younger sisters ask you to do their hair just like you do it.
        ~ when you teach kindergarden and you’re only in 9th grade.
        There are a few things I’ve learned..=).

        1. haha – change a messy diaper faster than any one else your age! Yep!! I have even gotten to explain to new parents how to change diapers!

          1. Yes, totally! Everything on that list except the kindergarten one (oldest of 14 here)! I actually teach parenting classes at my local pregnancy center (and no, I’m not a mom or even married!), but they all assume I must have kids, because I just have so much experience!

  26. Thank you! A good reminder of what I need to be with my 6 brothers (no sisters–God’s just blessed me with brothers!).

    1. Haha! I have 5 brothers! Brothers are a special blessing from the Lord, totally different than sisters, but the Lord gives a unique blessings in the brother/sister relationship that is like none other. You won’t regret cultivating those relationships. The brothers that drove me crazy when I was younger – now in adulthood are some of my closest friends. Blessings!

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