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Losing a parent at any age is incredibly difficult to grieve and navigate, but it’s an especially confusing, agonizing time for young kids — especially when they’ve lost both parents. One Redditor opened up about his situation with his little sister, whom he’s been the sole caretaker of since she was 6 years old due to the death of her parents, and the unexpected circumstance that took him by surprise five years into being her guardian.

The man explained, “I 29M became the sole caretaker of my little sister [11] when her parents were involved in a car crash and passed away (same dad different moms after he remarried and my mother isn’t in the picture). I have never hesitated when it came to her because that is one of the most important things my dad taught me as a single father. A child should be given the opportunity to be a child and shouldn’t have to worry about her future especially not if I can help it.”

He continued, “I was 25 when the accident happened and took full custody. Finances were a bit rocky in the beginning but as soon as I got my degree it was smooth sailing and I was able to provide for her without a problem. School, food, vacations anything and everything I can give her I do.”

He sounds like a fantastic human so far, and we commend him for stepping up without hesitation for his sister — we’re not so certain most 25-year-old men would do the same thing if they were in his shoes.

The Reddit man continued, “I met a wonderful woman somewhere along the line and we tied the knot and welcomed our own little bundle of joy almost a year ago. He has just now started speaking. It’s mostly gibberish but the girls have successfully made him say both ‘mama’ ‘dada’ and a simplified version of my sister’s name.”

“Last week my sister called me dad,” he revealed. “Nothing elaborate or climactic. Just I handed her her plate of food and she responded with ‘thanks dad’ utterly serious. I froze and in hindsight it might have been better to play it off as a joke and spare both of our feelings. That is not what I did though.”

He vulnerably explained, “I yelled at her and then locked myself in my room while my poor wife was left to deal with both a scared toddler and a crying preteen. It freaked me out and I am not sure why. If dads are defined by responsibilities I’d like to think I fit the role pretty well so it’s not the responsibility that comes with the title that scares me,” he continued. “But something about it feels so utterly wrong and out of place I couldn’t help overreacting. What makes it so much worse is that I think she waited until my son said it first either to gauge my reaction from it or just that he could be the first one to call me dad.”

He continued, “I’ve apologized profusely for yelling (and to my wife for that night in general) and since then we have gone back to our old routine with minimum awkwardness. But none of us have brought it up and I can see it still hurts my little sister but even after trying to figure it out and get myself to be okay with it I still can’t do it. I don’t want to break her heart but I am unsure what else to do so Aita?”

He added, “Edit for the most common questions/replies:

  1. She has never called my wife ‘mom’ or expressed a desire to call her mom (too early perhaps) but she routinely brags about her ‘ sister-in-law and nephew’ what about that is cool idk kids man.
  2. She’s already in therapy. Once a month ever since I could afford it. A recommendation by her doctor. Her appointment was last weekend she went came back and DID NOT want to talk about it. I think I’ve done a good enough job that if she wants another session this month she can ask either of us to schedule it. She has done so in the past and even if she is mad at me I think she’ll still feel comfortable enough with my wife.
  3. Yelling was meant in a ‘PLEASE DONT CALL ME THAT’ in a fairly loud voice and then running away kind of way. I did not f—king scold her guys.”

While OP’s reaction was definitely not great, we have a hard time seeing him as an a—hole. The situation is complex and heartbreaking for everyone involved, and Reddit recognized that, meeting OP with gentle criticism, reassurance, and words of encouragement.

One user commented, “YTA for the yelling, locking yourself in, leaving your wife and the two kids alone, the whole overreaction. But you know and acknowledge that already and apologized. That said, I get that the word sounded strange from your sister; she obviously hadn’t called you so before. Her parents died, but they are still her parents. You are her brother who stepped up. You seem like a good guy and it is well within your rights to not let yourself be called dad if it makes you uncomfortable.”

They continued, “Sit her down, talk it out calmly, apologize again, and let her down gently. Tell her you love her, nothing changed about your relationship, you will be there for her, but you are not her dad.”

Another Redditor put thought into their response as well, writing, “The situation is difficult, but I would say YTA: you have been raising her since she was 6, by now she barely remembers her parents and you are her main parent figure. You probably broke her heart by yelling.” They added, “But I also think that your reaction is coming from the grief of your father’s loss and you are a great person for taking care of her.”

Agreeing with the previous user, one person commented, “Yes, my first thought is OP probably doesn’t want to replace the memory of their parent. I think is NTA as long as OP deals with this. OP: Go to therapy, take your sister to therapy, talk things out and apologize. This can be a great opportunity for you to teach her you are human and also screw up, that feelings and grief are complex, BUT that you will always be there for her no matter what.”

Another Redditor responded, “This. I get that OP must have troubled feelings. But her acknowledgment of him as a father figure would have brought me to tears. 🥲”

Therapy is a common suggestion from many responding to OP’s post, with one user writing, “YTA and you need to see therapy here. I feel heartbroken for your sister. If she can’t be like the now-sibling she’s being raised with and call you dad, she just… doesn’t have any parents at all? She is going to be the odd one out in this family as she grows. You could love her 1000% and always be there for her and never yell at her but she will still have those feelings here and there — but you cemented them in with your reaction here. You should have individual therapy — each of you. And family therapy when you both can take it. This is a really sad situation overall.”

In response, another user commented, “I second this! I think family therapy will benefit everyone greatly. This is such a hard topic, and the 10-year-old is going to be going through some major self-identity issues in the coming years with puberty. The sooner she’s confident with her past, the better it will be for her.”

Another Redditor was sure to point out the things OP did right in addition to his faults, writing, “Not wanting to break her heart is a good start. Recognizing you have done some damage here, is also good. You need to have a heart-to-heart with her. Talk about your feelings. It may something to do with a feeling that it erases your dad in some way. She was six when he died, so her memories are fading, but you had more years with him.”

They continued, “What is most important is she knows and understands that you love her completely and are always going to be there to love and support her. Maybe you can together come up with a unique name that doesn’t erase his role and place in your lives but recognizes the special type of relationship you have. Bro-da? You are her ‘parent’ and she needs to know this new child in the house isn’t going to displace her, or take away from the bond you have with her. It was an AH reaction. I think you know that. How you handle this from here determines whether you are indeed the AH.”

Based on the information he provided us with, it seems like OP is already doing a great job in raising his sister. Everyone messes up; it’s part of being human. He may have initially handled the situation poorly, but we have full confidence that, with his own intuition and Reddit’s advice, he’ll learn how to navigate difficult circumstances with his sister with more grace going forward.

Before you go, check out these unbelievable stories about Reddit’s worst dads.

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