Family Affair: Kid sister who calls me mum

Melanie and Vicky Charlesworth are sisters. Melanie, 23, is also 14-year-old Vicky's legal foster-mother. They live in Holloway, London, with Melanie's 18-month-old son Tashan

Melanie

About two years ago, Vicky was taken into care. She had been living with our mum and stepdad in Devon but didn't really get on with them. She was a young girl growing up in a house with no support. At first, I wasn't sure whether I wanted the responsibility of looking after her. I was worried that I might be too young, and I was pregnant and living in a one-bedroom flat.

But then, in April 1998, I got a bigger flat. I decided to phone the social services in Devon and said I would have her. Vicky moved in with me and my baby and I was approved for fostering in September. It might have been harder if we hadn't been related.

My son Tashan was only seven months old when Vicky moved in. She was really good with him and helped a lot. It was hard at first because I couldn't get her into a school until September, so she didn't have any friends and I was worried she would get depressed.

Sometimes people say they don't know how I cope. But honestly, it hasn't been hard. I wasn't working, so it was nice for me to have the company. We hadn't lived together since Vicky was three and it was a good chance to get to know each other again.

When I think about myself being a sister or a mother to her, I feel a weird mixture of things. When I talk about her and Tashan, I call them the "kids", but then I don't think I'm her mum because the age gap isn't that big. It's hard to get a balance between the sister-mum thing when it comes to discipline. Ninety per cent of the time I treat her on the same level as me - like a flatmate. But I worry about dealing with her if she starts being naughty. I know I was hell at that age. If she did something really extreme, I'd have to tell her off, but you can't stop kids from doing things unless you're going to lock them up.

Vicky has been naughty only once since she's been here. She said one day that she was going swimming with some friends, but when they got back I noticed that they hadn't got any bags. Vicky told me that she had been shopping for clothes in King's Cross. As there aren't any clothes shops there, I knew she was lying. I told her that if she was going to come home and lie to me, she should try and make up a decent lie. They had really been to King's Cross to buy cigarettes and alcohol. I was really upset that she lied to me and also because she was in King's Cross, which is dangerous.

Normally, though, Vicky is really good. She comes home from school, does her homework, and helps with cooking, cleaning and looking after Tashan. Now that she's 14 I can let her babysit, which is nice. If I were on my own, I'd be a lot more restricted.

In some ways, it's good that I'm so young. I can relate to what she's doing a bit more. With parents, you can always pull the wool over their eyes because they've forgotten what it's like to be young. But I haven't. So when she tries to lie, I can tell a mile off because I'd have done the same a couple of years ago. I think that because my family has always been completely dysfunctional, I've always wanted my own family and things to run smoothly. I love having both of the kids.

Vicky

I always wanted to live with my sister, but at first she didn't have enough room. I'd visit her in the school holidays and used to hate going home. I got on really well with Mel because I could talk to her. She'd been through the same things as me at home. I never told her that I wanted to live with her, but I was thinking: "Please, just ask me." I was really happy when she got a bigger flat and wanted me to move in.

When I came here, I knew only one person and was a bit lonely, but I'm all right now. I thought I would be able to get away with a lot more than I do, but, because Mel has been there and is only nine years older, she knows all the tricks. She can tell if I'm lying. If I were with my mum I could get away with a lot more, but I didn't respect my mum the way I respect Mel.

She doesn't have to tell me to go to bed, do my homework or clear up because I just do it anyway. My mum wasn't ever strict with me. She couldn't tell me off because I was the strong one out of the two of us. With Mel, she always wins. A few people think I'm her child, but I don't really feel as if I am. She doesn't feel like a mum. She does ask me where I'm going, which all mothers do, but it's different because she's not my mum - so I don't have to be so secretive. I don't have to pretend to be good. Mel and I don't really argue that much, although when I was a bit naughty once, she told me off. I lied to her and she became hysterical. She was disappointed in me. I think she went a bit over the top.

Because she's young, I can tell her things that I'd never tell a mum. You couldn't ever talk to your mum about boyfriends or sex or anything like that. I can talk to Mel about anything.

People at school were really shocked when I told them I lived with my sister. They think it's really good because we can share clothes and shoes and have the same taste in music. They like to visit because they don't have to act polite and sweet, as they do with other parents. Mel is much more relaxed. They think I get away with a lot. We do lots of things together, such as going shopping and to the cinema. The only times we don't get on are when she's tired and a bit snappy.

When I get older, I'd like to go out clubbing with Mel. But I reckon she might embarrass me because when she gets drunk she does this really dodgy dance. It's kind of like a waddle, with this hand thing, and she has a funny smile.

I think that our relationship will get stronger and stronger. I know there are some things she doesn't tell me now because she thinks I'm too young. When I'm older, we'll be able to share more stuff.

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