Susan Bradley is living a college lifestyle that doesn’t quite sound like a college lifestyle at all; she describes trying to balance study and raising her little sister.

So this is my life now. Running out the door for a class that I’m already late for. And instead of focusing on Spanish verb conjugation, I get to think about the weekend. The weekend – full of relaxation and lie-ins? Family dinners and cosy fires? The Sunday morning fry where your dad burns the rashers? Not for me. I look forward to a weekend of driving, cooking, cleaning and more driving. This is because my parents live abroad, and I have a 17 year old sister who has basically become my child.

It’s been this way for nearly two years now, and while I have lots of relatives from all over Ireland, and lots of well-meaning family friends, I have never had so much responsibility in my life. The purpose of this article is for anyone out there who has had to step up and go from being an older sibling to a parent, without much of a choice. Or, for anyone that wants to laugh at my feeble attempt to survive.

I live both on College Road and in Waterford. During my first year of college, my biggest worry was what to wear to Havanas on a Tuesday night. My biggest decision was whether or not to skip my 9am lecture.

I now have two sets of bins to put out. Two different heating bills to worry about. Two fridges with half-gone-off food that I don’t have time to clean out. I cook for myself during the week only to go back to Waterford and cook for my sister.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I know she is old enough to do those things herself, but she is doing her Leaving Cert. She shouldn’t have to make her own dinners. So I basically live out of my car. I have a suitcase with me nearly everywhere I go. I arrive home on Friday nights to a cold, dark, empty house. I work all weekend, and go back to Cork with my suitcase. No frozen dinners from Mammy. No bag of clean washing or discussion of when I’ll next be home. More like: ‘JESUS, I hope I locked the back door.’

The purpose of this is not to make people feel sorry for me, because so far I’ve been well able. I’m making it look like I have everything under control and my sister and I haven’t killed each other (yet) so that counts for something. This is to make people appreciate what they have. I don’t have my mom ringing me when I’m sick or popping some Soothers in my bag. No dad to tell me to clean my room or empty the dishwasher. So I’m stuck in this no man’s land of trying to balance college and parenting. Trying to come up with excuses not to go out drinking has become my forte. I don’t go out as much as my friends, but do they have a 17 year old to care for in a different county? Are they the only ones from their family in the country that can visit their grandmother in hospital? Don’t think so.

Having a support system makes things a lot easier. I have lived with some gems of people in Cork over the past two years that have shaped me into the competent part-time parent that I am. I have a fantastic boyfriend who surprises me with milk and bread (a big deal for me, ok?). And I have my sister. My bratty, intelligent, bossy little sister that loves me a tiny bit more than she hates me. I hope.

So if you’re reading this, give yo’ mamma a hug. Listen to your dad talk about things you hate (golf). Buy your roommate a muffin and visit your granny! Every little helps.