Mamas with older kids-- how do you keep your "big kids" from acting like parents? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 5 Old 07-04-2009, 12:13 PM - Thread Starter
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Warning-- long, venty ramble likely.

I have 2 sons, 12 and 4.5. Ds12 was my only for almost 8 years! He has always been very attached to me, all the more so because his father has not been very involved in parenting.

He's a very good big brother to ds4.5 (and to the littles that I take care of). Because we homeschool, and I do inhome childcare, ds12 spends a lot of time being the only big kid in a crowd of little ones. This is a role that he enjoys and is good at.

He's also shy and somewhat awkward with peers (not because of lack of exposure, believe me!), and sometimes retreats into the comfortable role of "big brother," or "babysitter's assistant."

Ds12 and I are very close. I do NOT try to place him in the role of an adult-- especially not in parent or partner roles. But, because his father (stbx) has been so chronically absent (emotionally, and often physically) from our family's daily life, ds12 has taken some of the "dad" role, by default.

For example, ds12 is likely to be the one to remind ds4.5 to use the potty before we go out, to play with him while I shower (even if stbx is home) or to give him a piggyback on a long walk (because stbx just isn't there).

Harmless, and reasonable for a much older sibling, yes?

Now I am searching for a job, and preparing for divorce. I want to be especially careful to NOT do what stbx's mom did to him and his brother when she and their dad divorced.

She cast stbx's (older) brother in the "man of the house" role, and stbx in the "child" role (they were 13 and 11). She leaned on the older brother for support and help like he was her husband, and allowed (even encouraged) him to discipline stbx! She worked both boys like servants, but stbx's contributions and opinions didn't count, because he was the "child."

Sadly, stbx is STILL playing the child role-- and this is the root of why we are getting divorced. He acts like a sulky teenager, and immediately "rebels" against ME if I expect him to act like a grown man. He (and his therapist) agree that he is emotionally stuck in early adolescence, and that he reacts to me as his mother figure by "disobeying" me. :Puke

Stbx's older bro is a great guy, but he certainly has issues, too. He and stbx easily fall into acting like he's the dad and stbx is the kid, even though they're both hitting middle age! Big bro is as compulsive a go-getter and organizer as stbx is a compulsive thorn in the side of authority (Me. ).

If you've made it this far, I ask you: how do you avoid letting your older (or younger) kids fall into roles?
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#2 of 5 Old 07-04-2009, 12:38 PM
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Honestly, I think your awareness of this as being a potential issue is going to help circumvent it big time. It sounds like you're really attuned to your ds12's needs, and this will help you to identify if it ever gets to the point where you feel like the line is being crossed, kwim?

I have a ds (8) and dd (7 months). Ds's dad is deceased, and dd's dad is a complete UAV, so ds is definitely in the same position to be given potentially too much responsibility. What I did with ds when dd was first born was sit down and make a list of jobs that were his. Examples: taking care of his stuff, cleaning up after himself, and taking care of his body (baths, etc.). If something is on this list, I expect him to follow through. But if I ask for his help with dd (for example, pushing the stroller home when she's crying and I need to carry her), it is always a choice. I don't guilt him if he says he doesn't want to, or have consequences, I just say "okay" and leave it at that. It's not his job to help me parent dd. Often, he does choose to help, which is great, but I think the difference is, I don't expect it. Which allows him to still be the kid he is.

Having said that, I don't see the harm in an older sibling, particularly a 12-year-old, having a lot of involvement in caring for a younger sibling. If you don't force it, and he doesn't resent it, then all it is doing is building important bonds and life skills. It's the expectation component that I think is most crucial to monitor.


And I can totally relate to an ex who "acts like a sulky teenager, and immediately "rebels" against ME if I expect him to act like a grown man". My deepest sympathy, mama. You'll feel so free once you're finally extricated from those games!
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#3 of 5 Old 07-04-2009, 12:51 PM
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Originally Posted by vocalise View Post
Honestly, I think your awareness of this as being a potential issue is going to help circumvent it big time. ***



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#4 of 5 Old 07-04-2009, 01:01 PM
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I got a big lecture about this subject from my psychiatrist family member recently when I asked for assistance with my oldest daughter's anxiety issues. Her reasoning is that children must feel safe and secure in their role as a child to be free from anxiety. She said to "parentify" them makes this security impossible. This made me feel like crap, not to mention very misunderstood! My daughter is 9 and youngest is 8 months. I honestly do not feel that this has anything to do with her anxiety. She enjoys helping with her brother and I do not push her or ask her to do it, unless maybe I am having trouble preparing dinner (they all need to eat!) or if I need a shower. Some children just enjoy helping with little ones. She tries to discipline my younger daughter (7) occasionally, but I stop her from that reminding her that it is not her role. I also expect their help with certain things (chores) and do not see a problem with everyone in the home contributing to its functionality. It is my job to teach them to function as adults and these things are part of being growing up....

I really think as long as we are aware of it and allow them to do what they enjoy and are interested in without pressure it will be a totally different thing than forcing them into a parental role. I hope. lol
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#5 of 5 Old 07-06-2009, 05:49 PM
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Originally Posted by darien View Post
If you've made it this far, I ask you: how do you avoid letting your older (or younger) kids fall into roles?
I have a 10yo who likes to assume the role of Daddy/Husband. He even went around checking on me for a while, telling me what I could and could not do socially! It was funny, but I had to nip it in the bud. I simply reminded him that he was a child, my child, and he didn't have the authority to tell anyone what to do, especially not me.

I have to remind him periodically, but we're good. He's a Virgo and a first-born. I figure it's part of the natural order of things and take it in stride.

Yes, yes.  I'm fabulous. loveeyes.gif  Moving on...

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