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Promotion To Parent / Literature

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People who were promoted to parent in literature.

  • Hans and Gretchen are co-parents to their younger siblings in 1632. They take this to the point of being willing to be cannon fodder and camp prostitute (to a sadistic mercenary) respectively for their blood and adopted siblings. This in fact is what causes Jeff to fall in love with Gretchen as much as her looks.
  • The big twist reveal in Afternoon of the Elves is that Sara-Kate has been acting as a mother to her own mother for nearly a year, after Mrs. Connolly fell victim to some sort of breakdown or serious illness. Sara-Kate is terrified of being taken away by CPS, so she's been keeping their situation secret and making ends meet through a combination of clever deceit, hard work, MacGyvering, and sheer force of will.
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  • In All Our Yesterdays, James' older brother, Nate, took over raising him after their parents died.
  • V. C. Andrews:
    • In Flowers in the Attic, Chris and Cathy Dollanganger become surrogate parents to their younger siblings whilst locked away in the attic. This plays a factor in how their perception of the other changes, eventually culminating in what becomes a life-long incestuous relationship.
    • In The Casteel Series, Heaven and Tom become parents to their younger siblings after Sarah walks out on the family.
  • Animorphs has a variant early on, when the "death" of Marco's mom puts his dad into such a depression that Marco becomes the more parental one for the next two years. His dad eventually gets his act together.
  • The protagonist of the novel Back Roads, by Tawni O Dell, becomes this to his three younger sisters.
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  • When her father abandoned her family, the protagonist in Beachwalker became the parent… of her alcoholic mother.
  • The protagonist of The Bean Trees vows to graduate high school and escape her hometown without getting pregnant—only to become responsible for an abandoned toddler as soon as she hits the road.
  • In Nicole Baart's Beneath The Night Tree, Julia has been raising her half-brother alongside her own son for five years, and struggles with not knowing whether to play the role of "sister" or "mom". Toward the end of the book, she decides to be his mom and officially adopts him.
  • The Books of Ember: Lina to her little sister Poppy in The City of Ember, as her parents are dead and her grandmother has dementia.
  • Similar to the situation in the Narnia books, once The Boxcar Children are orphaned, Henry and Jessie, the two oldest, take on the role of mother and father for their younger siblings Violet and Benny. This is most noticeable in the first book, before the Aldens realize their grandfather is kind and go to live with him.
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  • Jerin's father died a few months before the start of A Brother's Price. His twelve mothers and various older sisters are alive, but as the oldest male, almost sixteen years old, he's expected to take up nurturing fatherly duties for his younger siblings. Since he'd been helping his father out anyway, he's able to do it and well, but this does mean that when they hear he's to leave and be married, his littlest siblings are heartbroken.
  • Angus Solomon, in Bumface, does all the day-to-day caring for his younger siblings and has an awkward quasi-brotherly quasi-parental relationship with them, as all three of them have Disappeared Dads and a mother who works very, very long hours.
  • There are several examples in Elinor M Brent-Dyer's Chalet School series, most notably Madge Bettany, the school's founder, and her twin brother Dick, who are responsible for their Ill Girl little sister Joey (the series heroine) after their parents die, and Gillian Linton, who takes care of her Bratty Half-Pint sister Joyce while their mother is ill.
  • Chanda's Story and its sequel Chanda's Wars by Allan Stratton follow the story of teenage Chanda who becomes the de facto mother of her two (much) younger siblings and her terminally ill mother. Eventually Chanda's best friend (also a teenager) moves in with her own younger siblings.
  • In John C. Wright's Chronicles of Chaos, the older children, Victor and Amelia, frequently took on a parental role because they knew none of the adults about could be trusted.
  • Everna Palindrake in The Chronicles of Magravandias raises her brother and sister from birth because their mother dies and their father is often away from home. To make things worse, she's nine when she takes this role.
  • In The Dark Artifices Julian Blackthorn takes care of his four younger siblings, with help from parabatai Emma Carstairs and teacher Diana Wrayburn, after the death of his father, and the kidnappings and banishments of his older half-siblings, Mark and Helen. Technically, the Blackthorn children are taken care of by their uncle, but he is mentally unstable and Julian must instead care for the family; in addition, he must keep his efforts a secret, as knowledge of the incompetency of their uncle as a guardian would result in the family being separated.
  • The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees-Brennan gives us Alan, who took charge of his younger brother Nick at a very young age after Nick's intensely unstable mum Olivia tried to drown him as a baby. The sequel The Demon's Covenant reveals that Worse it's even worse than that: Daniel Ryves, Alan's father, made baby Nick Alan's "especial charge" to avoid dealing with him because of what Olivia said he was. When Alan was seven, he caught his father with a magic knife, ready to stab a five-year-old Nick in his bed. As a result of this, Alan freely admits to putting his brother before the entire world, with potentially disastrous consequences.
  • Terry Pratchett's Discworld: The backstory of Monstrous Regiment's Sweet Polly Oliver involves her being this to her older brother, who was mentally challenged. Even though they still had a parent.
  • In Dragon Bones Ward did this to himself, even though his parents were alive. With an abusive father, and a mother who'd rather take drugs than oppose her abusive husband, Ward as the big brother had to take over. His younger brother Tosten whom Ward took to a nearby town to apprentice him to a cooper after a failed suicide attempt lampshades this by saying that their mother had it easy, as her duty of protecting the children was taken over by Ward. Young Ciarra has a lady in waiting who looks after her, but Ward also parents her to some extent. There is also Garranon, who was promoted to parent when his parents were killed. He's very protective towards his younger brother, even though they're both adults.
  • The Edge: In On the Edge, Mom died and Dad ran off, so Rose is left to raise her two younger brothers. She's forced to work long hours at a minimum wage, physical labor job in order to put food on the table, and she still has to save her pennies in order to buy the boys shoes.
  • The type 2 variant is played straight in Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game; children are drafted into schools that first prepare them for military service and then become real military action, carefully disguised from the kids. Though parenting as such isn't a major component of the book, squad leaders end up in semi-parental roles for the younger children.
  • Forbidden: Due to parental abandonment and neglect, 17-year-old Lochan and 16-year-old Maya have been promoted to parents for their three younger siblings. The littlest two, who are 8 and 5, accept it, but 13-year-old Kit resents them for it.
    Kit: He's not my father! He may pretend to care, but it's only because he's on some sick power trip! He doesn't love me like Dad did, but he sure as hell thinks he can tell me what to do every second of the day!
    Maya: You're right. He doesn't love us the way Dad did. Dad buggered off halfway round the world with his new family the moment things got tough. Lochan could have left school last year, got himself a job, and moved out. He could choose to run off next year to a university at the other end of the country. But no, he's only applying to ones in London, even though his teachers were desperate for him to try for Oxbridge. He's staying in London so he can live here and look after us and make sure we're all right.
  • Basically everyone in Gone after all of the adults disappear in a town, and the town is then covered with an impenetrable barrier. Especially Mary, who gets the job of taking care of the Under 5s.
    • Deconstructed with Sam, who gets so sick of playing the daddy that he quits his job as mayor.
    • Astrid to Little Pete, her autistic little brother.
  • In Great Expectations, the main character, Pip, was brought up by his (much older) sister and her husband after their parents died.
  • Harry Potter: Albus Dumbledore, a Child Prodigy, was quite bitter about becoming the parent to his two younger siblings, Aberforth and Ariana, after his mother Kendra died. When he was too distracted by a mysterious stranger who was a prodigy equal, Albus neglected his siblings in his new excitement and unfortunately, this eventually led to a three-way fight between himself, Aberforth and best friend Grindelwald that accidentally killed poor Ariana, and led to years of bitterness between the two remaining siblings.
    • A happier and Downplayed example: Remus and Tonks have a baby, Teddy, and ask Harry to be the godfather, despite him only being seventeen. They die in the final battle, and while Word of God confirms that Teddy was raised by his grandmother, the Distant Epilogue makes it clear that Harry has been active in the "dad" role for the now-adult Teddy.
  • In memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, author/protagonist Dave Eggers is given charge of his younger brother Toph after his parents die within a month of each other.
  • In Hero by Perry Moore, high school student Goran has been raising his little brother ever since their parents were killed in a war.
  • Heroes Save the World: Hannah Johnson was not just promoted to parent in her original home but, after being put in the foster care system, has apparently promoted herself again. It's not yet clear if it was necessary every time or if she's just unable to believe that other people can actually take care of her siblings.
  • In The House of Night, Stevie Rae seems to be this for her Red Fledglings, mostly because of Parental Abandonment and/or because most people think they're still dead.
  • In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Claude Frollo singlehandedly raises his younger brother, Jehan, after their parents die of plague.
  • In The Hunger Games, when Katniss' father dies, her mother goes into shock, forcing Katniss to take over for both parents.
    • Gale becomes the "man of the house" after his father dies in the same mine accident, and the main breadwinner when he turns 18 and starts working in the mines himself.
  • Stephanie Burgis' Kat, Incorrigible: In A Most Improper Magick, Kat's sisters took over after the nurse. Kat thinks this is why they still think of her as a baby.
  • Cora to Alice in The Last of the Mohicans. Alice characteristically calls her in one point "my more than sister, my mother..."
  • C. S. Lewis:
    • In Till We Have Faces, a retelling of Cupid and Psyche, Psyche's mother dies in childbirth, leaving Psyche's sister Orual to raise her. Rather too much so.
    • As mentioned already, he also sorta used the trope in The Chronicles of Narnia books, since the teenaged Peter and Susan have to deal with helping out Edmund and Lucy (with help of Professor Kirke) when their parents send them to the countryside to protect them from the London bombings. The 2005 film version strongly highlights this, with Edmund given the Freudian Excuse of particularly missing their father and resenting Peter's attempts to be a father figure to him.
  • Sara Crewe becomes Lottie's "mamma" in A Little Princess. It's explained in the novel that Lottie's mother has died, and her father, described as a "flighty young man", has placed her in boarding school because he doesn't quite know what to do with her.
  • In the Malaussène saga by Daniel Pennac, Benjamin Malaussène raises his mother’s children.
  • In the Newsflesh series, Alaric ends up raising his younger sister, Alisa, after she's forced to kill their parents and brother during the second Rising.
  • Renie Sulaweyo, protagonist of Tad Williams' Otherland series, is forced into caring for her brother, Stephen, due to her mother's death and her father's degeneration into an irresponsible drunkard. As a variation of the trope, however, she is an adult.
  • In The Outsiders, the main character Ponyboy and his brother Sodapop are under the legal guardianship of their older brother Darryl after the death of their parents.
  • J.M. Barrie grew up listening to his mother tell stories about her childhood, when she was an orphan and had to singlehandedly care for her brothers. These helped to inspire his book and play Peter Pan, specifically the character of Wendy, who plays mom to both her brothers while they're in Neverland. In a reversal of the process, she also acts as "mother" to the Lost Boys, who eventually get adopted by her parents and raised as her brothers. Demotion to Sibling?
  • Pride and Prejudice: Mr Darcy has raised his teenage sister Georgiana since their parents died when she was a child. He had help from his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam and his staff, but it's clear Mr Darcy is Georgiana's primary caretaker. He's very fond of her and takes care of her every comfort. Georgiana loves him very much, too, although she's a bit in awe of him and is astounded that his Love Interest Elizabeth can treat him so informally.
  • REAL has Den, who singlehandedly raised his granddaughter Fasia because her parents were such internet addicts that they only ever logged out of The Metaverse to eat, bathe and get some sleep, completely neglecting their only child.
  • Happens in the Remnants series, where Cryogenics Failure on their Sleeper Starship results in Jobs taking on this role for his little brother, Edward/Chameleon. He also winds up taking responsibility for Billy, who is oddly vulnerable despite being about Jobs' own age.
    • A more normal, pre-apocalyptic example is Mark, who raised his little brother D-Caf after their parents' deaths. He didn't do a very great job, being moody and mercurial, but was willing to kill and die to try and get him and D-Caf to survive the Earth's destruction.
  • Even while the children move from one guardian to another, Violet takes care of her siblings after they are all orphaned in A Series of Unfortunate Events, and all three children become the parents of Kit Snicket's daughter after the Volunteer dies.
  • In Michelle Paver's The Shadow Catcher, a pregnant mother, whose husband was away at the army (and later dies) gives premature birth to a girl. Because there was no time to call the doctor and the family's servant had left them without a warning, her daughter Madeleine is left to be midwife. Did I mention Madeleine was ten years old? Then, the mother dies, and Madeleine takes care of herself and the baby with only the assistance of a medical textbook, until some relatives come to take them. Those relatives want to separate the sisters, so Madeleine has to come up with a story to persuade them to keep both of them. (She told them it was her mother's dying wish.) As they grow up, the younger sister develops tuberculosis, so Madeleine basically spends the rest of the novel acting Mama Bear and doing various things which fall into the category of Grey Morality to get her sister a chance to grow up healthy and happy.
  • Variant 2 is given a nice scrubbing and dusted off for Terry Brooks' Genesis of Shannara series. While there are adults around, the majority of them are either demons or holed up in fortified cities, petrified of everybody else. The main protagonists are pretty much all children of some sort, except for the Knights of the Word.
  • Violeta from Sho-shan y la Dama Oscura got this after losing the rest of her family. So she has to see over her little sister, Luisa.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Lord Eddard and Lady Catelyn, parental units of house Stark, head south on matters of intrigue, leaving eldest son Robb to perform the lord's duties. He commands the household, deals with his father's bannermen, holds and scolds his younger brother Bran, and even marches off to war to defend the family honor.
    • Very young Bran then becomes the acting lord in his brother's place and the only role model the even younger Rickon has left.
    • Viserys has been taking care of his younger sister Daenerys since their mother died giving birth to her. Too bad he's not very good at it.
  • Galaxy of Fear, part of Star Wars Legends: After Alderaan, Tash Arranda is thirteen, only a year older than her brother, but their new guardians are grudging, and she veers between being sisterly and trying to guide and take care of him. They responded to the deaths of everyone they knew in very different ways; she wanted to withdraw from everything, but he became a reckless daredevil, and so Tash decides that she needs to look out for him.
  • In Lewis Carroll's Sylvie and Bruno, Sylvie is in charge of Bruno—particularly his lessons.
  • In Magda Szabó’s novel Tell Sally…, Dora’s guardian is her older sister Vicky. This changes by the end of the novel, which is at the beginning of the book.
  • Sasha and Joe from The Tenets of Futilism adopt Joe's younger siblings after being forced to kill their cultist parents. Said parents left the children traumatized after actively crushing their dreams and making them watch a woman being tortured. Sasha and Joe try to be than that. They take the children on a trip around America hoping to bring them out of their depression. But by the end of the book, Sasha and Joe become preoccupied with managing their own cult, and the children are forgotten once again.
  • The novel Tex (and the movie based on it) has the titular character being taken care of by his older brother Mason, since their mother died and their father tours the rodeo circuit.
  • This is basically the entire premise of the novel Homecoming from The Tillerman Family Series. Dicey Tillerman and her three younger siblings are abandoned in a car in a supermarket parking lot by their mentally unstable (and, as it turns out, terminally ill) mother Liza. When Dicey, who is all of thirteen, realizes that Momma's not coming back for them, she very calmly and rationally hikes the kids to their distant cousin's house in New England, which is where they'd been headed in the first place. From there, they then travel—again, by themselves—down to Maryland, where they find and move in with their grandmother. The sequel, Dicey's Song, deals with Dicey learning to give up the Promotion To Parent she'd been forced to shoulder when Gram legally adopts the four of them and the fate of their mother is learned.
  • In The Tomorrow Series, Lee has to take on the job of raising his younger siblings since they were orphaned by the war.
  • In The Underland Chronicles, with his dad missing, his mom working, and his grandma's dementia, Gregor starts out with a lot of weight on his shoulders. Things don't get much better when he has the Underland to think about as well.
  • In Valley of the Dolls, fourteen-year-old Miriam raised her baby brother.
  • In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000 Deus Encarmine, when Rafen and Arkio were sent off to the Blood Angels, their father told Rafen to look after Arkio. Even when they are both Space Marines, he feels responsible for him.
  • Wicked Lovely: Ren and Leslie's mom walks out, and their dad is never home. Ren is sort-of promoted to parent, even though Leslie's the one left paying the bills. Ren doesn't make a very good parent.
  • In the novel Winter's Bone, main protagonist Ree is faced with raising her two younger brothers after her father vanishes and her mother has an unspecified mental condition. Then it turns out her father failed to show up for his bail hearing. And put the house up for his bail. So if she doesn't find him, they'll all be out on the street. It sucks to be the grown-up sometimes.
  • Wonder Woman: Warbringer: After the death of his and Alia's parents Jason become Alia's guardian and caregiver, a position he took advantage of to further his goals of ensuring the war she's foretold to cause comes about so that he can become a glorious Ancient Greek styled hero though combat.
  • In A Yellow Raft In Blue Water, Ida George becomes the mother of her sister/cousin Christine, whom her aunt Clara had given birth to in secret at a mother house in Colorado so that nobody at the Montana Indian reservation they were living on would assume anything except that Ida became a parent out of wedlock. Years later, when Clara visits the child in the hope of regaining custody so that she could give her to a couple that were hoping to raise a foster child, Ida refuses to restore custody and instead drives Clara off the reservation, never to see her again until around the time of her death.


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