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2 years after moving out, I’m still struggling with leaving my Mexican family

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

My youngest brother was born when I was 13. My mom, despite having a pretty high-risk pregnancy, went back to work only 2 months after he was born because she said she was going crazy just staying home. So, at the age of 13, I became a second mom to my 2-month-old baby brother and my 5-year-old brother. I had to learn pretty quickly how to care for a baby and while I didn’t enjoy getting spit up on all the time, I grew to somewhat like our little sibling routine. From that moment forward, it was pretty much the same thing every summer, staying home with the kids and cleaning around the house while my parents were at work, until I got a job at 16.

I started working the summer before my junior year of high school when I finally turned 16. That summer, I would stay home with the boys until I had to go to work later on in the day. If I started before my mom was home, one of my mom’s family members would come pick up the boys while I walked to work. Then, once school started, I’d come home and have to pick up one of my brothers from the bus or if I couldn’t because I had work, my dad would try to catch him coming home from the bus on his way home from work. Once I started driving, I would sometimes drop the boys off at my grandmothers before school if my mom couldn’t and would pick them up from school or my grandmothers.

And this continued. For the remainder of my time at home before coming to UW, my life revolved around work, school, and my brothers. But this was typical for the eldest daughter in a Mexican household. While I’m not the eldest, my sister was across the state away at college, so I kind of took that role on once she graduated high school. And so, for a couple years, it was just me and the boys as I hardly saw my parents between school and work. I would drive to school in my beat-up dodge neon with a booster seat and car seat in the back of my car and would get asked if I had kids by people at work.

At the time, it was lowkey hell lol. I was tired, stressed, a bit annoyed that I couldn’t do the things my friends were doing because I would have to be sure the boys had someone to watch them if my parents were working. I was also a little angry. I was angry that my parents had seemingly no problem giving me all the responsibilities of an adult, like being responsible for children, but refused to let me go out more than once or twice a week. So, I started staying out a little bit longer after my shifts at Domino’s with one of my coworkers who was my best friend.

I could hang out with her an unlimited time in comparison to my other friends since I could just hang out with her after my shift. Since she lived so close to my parents, sometimes I’d just go to her house after our shift or just go get food and hang out in my car. I continued doing this throughout my junior year and my parents were relatively unphased since it wasn’t abnormal for me to stay late at work if they asked to or if it was busy. By the time senior year rolled around, I had a bit more freedom. Since I was taking classes at a community college instead of still going to high school, I was kind of free to do whatever between classes, unless I had to pick up one or both of my brothers or go to work.

But, even with more freedom in going out more with my friends or the guy I was dating at the time, I still felt like my parents treated me like a child. My privacy was hardly respected; my mom would barge in while I was in the bathroom or in my room and so would my siblings. And, as much as I love my brothers, there was always SO much noise. Our house was relatively small, and my room shared a wall with the living room so I could always hear the boys fighting, crying, screaming, or running around. By the end of senior year, I was tired of having my life revolve around kids and navigating who would watch them in between school or my shifts at work.

When I got to UW, I loved the freedom. My roommates and friends would stay out as late as we wanted to, and I loved not having to ask anyone whether or not I could do something. It was nice not having to plan things out and being able to live spontaneously since my day wasn’t scheduled around having to pick up/drop off kids or watch them. Of course, I did still miss my brothers and parents. There were plenty of times I wished I could have them barge into my room unannounced and even times I missed the boys waking me up early on the weekends by jumping on my bed or me, to wake me up.

Then, the pandemic sent me home. I was back at home and while I did love being able to see my family every day again, I missed the freedom and spontaneity I had at UW. I was feeling a bit suffocated, especially since there was a stay-at-home order, so I was confined to work and home. Then, my sister also moved back home and suddenly the house felt even smaller now with all 6 of us finally living together again. After sharing a room for a bit with all our stuff packed in there, my sister and I decided we missed our freedom and having our own rooms, so we started looking for apartments.

My parents weren’t happy that I was moving out at the age of 18, and I felt a little bad leaving my brothers, especially because it felt like it had been us 3 against the world for a bit. But my mom and dad came around and even started the process of turning my old room into a game room for my brothers literally the day right after I moved out. The boys were mostly excited about a new game room that I feel it distracted them from processing the fact that I moved out.

I started visiting them every Saturday, both because I missed them and also because I wanted the boys to know I was still there for them and very much still a part of the family. During remote work and school, I’d go 2-3 times a week too, to help out with the boys doing remote school. But then we went back to in-person school and work. I now live further away from campus so I hardly have time to visit and can only visit once a week. Since I only visit once a week, sometimes my youngest brother makes a comment about only seeing me “once a year.”

He’s obviously exaggerating since I visit weekly, but sometimes it’s hard hearing this. He’s young of course, only 6, so he’s just vocalizing that he misses me and wishes I was around more, since we used to spend so much time together. My father makes comments too sometimes. I usually aim to be at my parents by 11 am on Saturdays, but sometimes I sleep in and if I’m not there by that time my dad will text me asking where I am. When I do finally get to my parents, my dad makes comments about how I’m lazy and shouldn’t sleep in. My mom is more understanding. She knows I didn’t move out because I don’t like them but rather just because I wanted my own independence.

But even then, it’s sometimes really hard not to feel guilty. I feel bad that my brothers don’t get to see their older sisters much and that they might feel like I don’t love them because that couldn’t be further from the truth. I feel guilty because while I’m enjoying my own place and freedom, my mom is back home struggling to take care of the kids and get them from school and back. My leaving wasn’t just consequential for the boys but for my mom as well. The two of us struggled getting the boys to and from school, so I can’t imagine how it is now with just her.

While I do feel guilty, I know this guilt is unnecessary and I know my parents don’t hold any grudges against me for leaving home. While I do feel a responsibility to help my parents out with the kids, I also realize that they are not my responsibility. To an extent, they are because they’re my siblings, but I shouldn’t move my life around them because at the end of the day, I’m also my parents’ child and they’re ultimately solely my parents’ responsibility. I know the boys (or at least my youngest sibling) don’t understand why I moved out, but I know they will at one point. Of course, I’m still happy to help out whenever I can, but if I really want to honor the sacrifices my parents made in coming to this country 27 years ago, then I need to live my life. Me moving out is trying to live up to the expectations my parents have of me: getting an education, having a career, being financially stable and ultimately, happy. They didn’t come to the US just to have a child who stayed home until a grown age with a family and everything. They came here to give us the tools we needed to succeed. My moving out at the age of 18 and being able to manage that on top of school, work, and other bills, just shows the amazing job my parents did in raising us and I hope they see it this way too.  

marina martinez

Washington '22

Marina is a senior at the UW and is majoring in Sociology with a minor in Writing. Marina is a Washington native and is passionate about all things social justice, defeating the patriarchy, and writing. In her free time, she loves binge-watching tv shows, scrolling through tik tok, thrift shopping and napping.
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