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Perspectives on being a child in a large family with emotionally neglectful parents

(20 Posts)
PotatoP Mon 27-Jul-20 10:19:20

Phew that's a long title!

I have 4 siblings. In the past few years, after therapy, I have realised how emotionally neglectful my childhood was. We had enough materially but my parents are both emotionally immature, in different ways.

Me and my older sibling were definitely parentified children and did a lot of looking after our younger siblings and felt responsible for our mum's emotional state.

What I'm struggling to unpick/get perspective on is how much of that looking after is "normal" and to be expected in a large family and how much was putting an inappropriate and quite damaging burden on older siblings. I have children myself now and purposely stopped at 2.

Does anyone have any thoughts/insights?

OP’s posts: |
RB68 Mon 27-Jul-20 10:24:48

Eldest of 6 here and youngest is 16 yrs younger than me. The dynamic is interesting, all of us have very strong personalities not sure I would class parents as emotionally immature but not sure once we were beyond small child phase there was alot of individual attention paid, we turned to each other for help often and some of us still do. We did always look after each other, and often different small ones would come out with myself or the sister down from me whilst we went into town or went out for walks/park etc it was just how it was I saw it as normal and had no issue with it.

PinkyU Mon 27-Jul-20 10:27:39

Surely the issue is not the size of your family, but the way you were parented?

Isawthathaggis Mon 27-Jul-20 10:31:40

Well I was the youngest of three and currently have four children under six. I was not parented by my siblings and neither do any of my children look after each other because they are all very young, and I don’t expect that to change when they get older.
So I would say from my limited experience that what you experienced was very unusual.

Shitty parents are shitty parents. My parents were shitty / wonderful in other ways.

All we can do as parents is try to improve on what our parents did to us.

LuckyBitches Mon 27-Jul-20 10:32:14

Hmm. I come from a large (immediate) family and I am starting to wonder (well, starting to come to terms with) the idea that I was neglected growing up. I don't think I was parentified - although I do see this with one of my siblings - but I was forgotten. I ended up being bullied at school and dropped out, although no-one noticed. I suffer from low self-esteem which I connect to this. It's not great, really.

BaseDrops Mon 27-Jul-20 10:54:52

Did you perform care for siblings like washing dressing feeding if asked or because you knew it wouldn’t be done if you didn’t?

Siblings should do age appropriate chores/help when requested. It’s not parenting to help put coats shoes on to go out if you are much older and there are multiple small ones. It is parenting if you got them up washed dressed and fed because no one else would.

It’s reasonable for a 14(?) plus sibling to do occasional short bursts of babysitting. It’s not reasonable to be in sole charge for long periods at that age and it’s not reasonable to be on sole charge of small children at much younger than that.

It has a lasting impact can make you hyper vigilant and unable to seek help/support in a relationship because you didn’t receive it as a child.

It would be worth talking if through with a counsellor, it takes a lot of unpicking.

notfunnynow Mon 27-Jul-20 11:01:18

I’m one of two and had emotionally neglectful parents. I’m not sure the size of your family is relevant. It’s how your parents behaved that is relevant. Your silver lining is that you have lots of siblings. I don’t and I feel like an orphan most days. I’d rather have a big family than a tiny one personally.

SapphosRock Mon 27-Jul-20 11:19:01

This happened in our family too. I also have four siblings although I was one of the younger ones and my older siblings felt much more like parents than my parents did.

My mum had very fragile mental health. I didn't understand so much at the time, but my siblings have filled me in as I got older.

Yes I believe it was a burden to my older siblings, particularly my sister. Boys seem to get it easier or feel able to handle it better.

Now we are all older then we are all grateful for each other. I've talked it through quite a bit with my older sister and she was resentful for a while but no lasting damage done and we are all very grateful for one another. Lots of benefits to having many siblings.

PotatoP Mon 27-Jul-20 13:14:18

Thanks for the responses. Really appreciated. Particularly those who have been in a similar situation.

The reason I think the number of siblings is relevant is that I had a lot of responsibilities in terms of caring for them. My parents would still have been emotionally neglectful if we weren't a large family, of course they would.

My mum in particular has had a very damaging impact on me. I'm sure that would have been the case even if I'd been an only child. But if I didn't have so many siblings, taking a parenting role for their care wouldn't have been part of my childhood. I'm just trying to gauge what's "normal" helping out of older siblings and what's part of a wider issue.

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Mistlewoeandwhine Mon 27-Jul-20 13:26:15

I parented my younger siblings and protected them from my violent father. It all went a bit weird as when they hit their twenties p, the two youngest got reclaimed by my mother, given lots of money and gifts and now they have turned against me and my oldest sister (still not wanted), saying that our childhood was not that bad and that we are ‘living in the past’ and that we should not mention anything to do with it. The violence and abuse was very bad and both my eldest sister and I tried to commit suicide several times. My dad broke her nose at one point. Now my brother and younger sister go to my parents all the time and play happy families. I don’t feel connected to any of them.

TankGirl97 Mon 27-Jul-20 13:37:15

I was one of the younger children in a large family and I think we were completely emotionally neglected. In fact I had complete free reign from young teen age because I had siblings who demanded more the attention. I was totally off the rails and made very stupid decisions. No-one at home really even noticed.
Having said that, my mum was emotionally and physically abused by her mum and she worked so hard not repeating that. We have a great relationship now. She told me a few days ago she didn't know what a hug was when she was a child, it's heartbreaking.
I do feel as an adult and since becoming a parent, I've had to teach myself a huge amount about how to behave and how to bring children up. My parents did a very poor job preparing me for most aspects of life.

corythatwas Mon 27-Jul-20 13:46:40

What I'm struggling to unpick/get perspective on is how much of that looking after is "normal" and to be expected in a large family and how much was putting an inappropriate and quite damaging burden on older siblings.

None of it, I'd say. I wouldn't even call 4 children a large family. There were 4 of us, I'm the only daughter & second eldest, and I never had the sense our parents couldn't do their own parenting.

I did do a bit of looking after my youngest sibling but that was entirely voluntary and certainly not something my parents expected me too; quite to the contrary, they went out of their way to make sure I didn't overdo it, for both our sakes.

My mother could be a bit emotional (but never neglectful): I think having a group of siblings made that easier for all of us as there was more than one of to see that yes, actually, the problem here isn't me. And our dad was there acting like a rock whenever she was going through a bit of a rough time. He was certainly capable of keeping track of four children at once.

PotatoP Mon 27-Jul-20 13:52:01

These experiences are all helpful to read, thank you.

There were 5 children, so I have 4 siblings. Sorry if my post was confusing.

I'm really sorry to those who had abusive childhoods thanks

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SapphosRock Mon 27-Jul-20 14:32:10

I'm sorry you had such a difficult time OP. Are you close with your siblings? Do you share how you feel with them?

I feel very lucky not to be an only child with the parents I had. That would have been an incredible burden for one person. It's so much easier sharing it.

PotatoP Mon 27-Jul-20 15:18:16

Thanks @SapphosRock ❤️, that's kind.

Therapy has helped. I've spoken to my siblings at varying levels of depth about our childhood. We all have different experiences of course. But one sibling has been a great source of reassurance as I've come to terms with the reality of our upbringing.

I only really started unpicking this all a couple of years ago. The trigger for in-depth reflection was my children getting older. Seemed to bring up a lot of old memories.

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BE2BN2BE Mon 27-Jul-20 17:03:32

I really feel for you. My parents on many levels were quite emotionally neglectful but in many ways that I didn’t see until I had counselling as an adult. I’m the oldest of four and have always been painted as the black sleep/ stupid one in the family. Some of my first memories are telling my Dad I had gotten 8/10 in a test and his only response being “well it wasn’t 10/10 was it?” . I desperately wanted to do art/ drama/ music as a teenager at school but they made me take more academic subject because they didn’t think I was very good at art. Same happened when I went to college. I was so unhappy I ended up dropping out, which as you can imagine not only upset them far more than it should of but also played into their painting of me as stupid. I have helped my siblings in every way I can and often acted as a parent to the youngest who is ten years my junior. But to talk to now you would think I was the bad guy, when all I was doing was trying to get them to brush their teeth etc. I’m a teacher now, but still massively painted as the idiot in my family. I have huge self esteem issues that come from this. Counselling has been a god send and I hope you continue to get the help you need xx

KeirStarmerDonkeyFarmer Mon 27-Jul-20 17:22:19

I am the third of four siblings. The oldest is 7 years older than me and did a lot of parenting of me and my younger sibling, changing nappies etc. She has said she lost her childhood to looking after us. My mother herself said she wasn’t worried about me when she had my younger sibling as she knew she had my older siblings (then aged 9 & 7!) to look after me. My father was present but had little interest or involvement in our care.

Our situation is slightly different as my parents lost a baby to SIDs between 2nd dc and me. I came along very soon after and I think my mother wasn’t at all ready to look after another child. I’m now NC with my parents and one of my siblings.

DevilsIvy Mon 27-Jul-20 17:38:10

Im no 6 out of 7 kids and there is a 15 year age gap between the oldest and youngest. I dont feel like my parents were that bothered when i was growing up. Almost like they had already done everything with the older ones, they were bored of the milestones and making an effort to do stuff with us. The older three were almost like friends of the family as they all moved out whilst i was fairly young so never had a close relationship with them. I got bullied at school and would skip school where i could. I just feel like my parents didnt care really. With exams etc, as they themselves had left school at 14 and straight into factory jobs, their motto was “doesnt matter what your grades are- you leave school and get a job” they couldn’t understand the concept of enjoying your job and having job satisfaction! Was never particularly close to them or my family. They saw me as a snob as i got a job in an office with prospects and, with them having the factory mentality, they saw the office workers as above themselves!!! Lol 😆

DevilsIvy Mon 27-Jul-20 17:42:31

Just to add, could never talk to my parents about anything personal. When i moved back in temporarily my mum made me feel so uncomfortable and wasnt welcoming i just ended up leaving. She was always critical of me and negative and put me down but i think that was because she felt jealous of the opportunities i had vs her. Id never have hugged them. That would have been too awks

PotatoP Mon 27-Jul-20 20:35:19

Thank you for sharing your experiences thanks

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