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Older kids doing parent's job?

980 Views 23 Replies 17 Participants Last post by  PancakeGoddess
Recently I witnessed and somewhat participated in several discussions on the "role of older children in the family", namely - what role do they play in upbringing the younger ones.

Phrases like "kids parenting kids" and "kids doing parents job" made me think, but I don't seem to form the opinion one way or another.

We all talk about how family is a unit and everybody does their own share and not everything should be on mother's shoulders. Caring for little ones is one of the biggest mother responsibilities and takes most of her time and energy. Shouldn't this also be shared? Or only by an adult partner (if such is present - DH, SO, BF, etc.,)?

What do you think the role of older children is/should be in upbringing the young ones?

Are there some things that are OK to be done by the older sibling (considering they are old enough to do it)? Things like feeding, changing diapers, putting to sleep, babysitting, helping them dress, taking to the park, reading a story, etc.,?

What about the older child thinking "I did not choose to have a little brother/sister - why should I care for them?"
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My 17 year old daughter and my 2.5 year old are virtually inseparable, including the times when I and/or my husband are at home and available. As a result, my 17-year old often takes the toddler to the potty, dresses her, bathes her (or they shower together), fixes her hair, and sometimes reads her a bedtime story. These are all things the two of them choose and want to do, together. I have never thought of it as my daughter parenting her sister. I just see it as their way of sharing bonding time and I am all for it.

Now, sometimes my teenager doesn't do these things the way I'd like her to; like she may offer the toddler potato chips when toddler hasn't finished her dinner. In those cases, I gently step in and explain to both of them why I prefer they seek guidance from me or their father.
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I think a lot of it has to do with the specifics of the agreement. For example you could have a family meeting to divvy up the responsibilities and decide on a babysitting or cleaning schedule that would work for the family unit. The opposite of this I guess is when a child has to do A B or C because the parents can not/will not. I see the second scenario as breeding resentment and anger whereas the first scenario could breed responsibility and self esteem.

My eight year old "babysits" for her 22 month old brother in another room of the house while I make dinner or get some cleaning in. She loves this and the two of them are very close. As far as the rest of the chores go all four kids tend to pitch in along with Dh and me , but none of it is set in stone. I could see how even in our laid back situation, things could go awry without a lot of communication.
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The only child care duty that I ask of my kids is to keep an eye on our youngest (just to make sure he isn't doing anything that could hurt him etc). For example, if Im doing dishes and the kids are in the other room playing, they need to watch out that the youngest isnt doing anything dangerous

Other than that, any other duties such as feeding, diapering, dressing, reading a book to, etc are mainly done by mom (and dad) with the kids sometimes helping out. Its not uncommon for me to ask one of the older guys to pour a drink for the younger ones, or to ask one of them to play/read to the baby while Im at the stove etc.
While we have responsibilities as parents I think children also have responsibilites as siblings. Family is family. Yeah, you don't get to choose it. That's just how it is.

I usually only ask my kids to do the "funner' stuff of child care. Playing, watching over a bath while I get some laundry started, sharing some yogurt, etc.

If the older kids need to babysit while I run to the store or a family errand, I just tell them. If I "want" to do something, like go out to lunch, I ask. And don't force. However, no one gets paid for "babysitting" because taking care of those who can't take care of themselves is EVERYONE's responsibility.
Well, speaking as a former teen who practically raised her 2 little brothers I think it's ridiculous.
My Mom was a single parent and my brothers are 4 and 10 years younger than I. She worked 10-12 days every 2 weeks and I was expected to care for my brothers when she was gone. This started (well on a "full time" basis) when I was 14 and continued until I moved out of the house.

I understand that my mom needed help but I needed the chance to be a kid and that was taken from me.

It's one thing to have the older kids help occasionally with diaper changes and stories and quite another to expect them to "parent" the younger ones.

Originally Posted by Artist Mama
It's one thing to have the older kids help occasionally with diaper changes and stories and quite another to expect them to "parent" the younger ones.
I agree completely. I would never expect my children to be primary caregivers in the situation you describe. I'm sorry you weren't able to just be a teen.
Oh, I love reading everybody's point of view on this!
nonconformnmom, I somewhat envy you - my almost 18yo (a boy) is not THAT involved with my almost 5yo

gethane, AdoptChina, j924 - I see what you are saying - makes sense!
Artist Mama - great view from another angle! May I ask (honestly, just asking no judgment what-so-ever) - what do you think your Mother should have done differently? Was your complete involvement crucial for the survival of the family? Or do you think your could have been just fine if your Mom did something else - remarried, worked less hours, etc.?
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My older kids help out the younger, but I don't expect them to be extra parents. They'll help tie shoes, or pour a drink, or supervise a tub if I'm busy doing something else.

My 5 y/o is a constant shadow to the 14 y/o and mostly he's okay with that. My oldest will babysit, but I don't ever tell him he has to--sometimes it's a trade-off, like when I'm going to do the foodshopping and ds1 will offer to babysit ds2 rather than help do the shopping. Other times, if it's something for my own entertainment (dinner out, book club, etc.) I will ask him if he wants a babysitting job and then pay him for it. I figure that, if I didn't have my eldest, I'd be hiring a babysitter, so it hardly seems fair to just expect ds1 to do it for free.

I was the eldest of 3 and while I didn't have complete responsiblity for my younger sibs, I was given enough (without being asked) that I felt some resentment. I really see the mothering "job" as mine, and not my older kids'.
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I'm the 3rd of 7. We helped with the younger kids but it was never a requirement. There were a couple of things that we got paid to do. We got paid $1 an hour to babysit and the young child got to pick which older sibling would be in charge (encouraging the big kids to be nice all the time to have the opportunity to babysit). The middle kids that could use practice reading got paid a nickle a book to read to the younger ones. I never resented having younger siblings and was generally happy to help if I wasn't busy but I know I would have been annoyed if I was required to babysit consistently w/o compensation. My same age neighbor was in charge of her two younger siblings and would actually get in trouble if they did something wrong. I thought that was weird and wrong.

Originally Posted by 4evermom
We got paid $1 an hour to babysit and the young child got to pick which older sibling would be in charge (encouraging the big kids to be nice all the time to have the opportunity to babysit).

Hmm, now that is an interesting idea. Do you think that worked out pretty well?
I don't usually FORCE my girls to help with ds, but sometimes one of them offers to. Hannah is great with Jack in the mornings, and she often has more patience with him than I do. When she helps him get changed, I stay out of her way while she's doing it and thank her when she's done. If she doesn't want to, I'll dress him myself (and these days, dressing him consists of either convincing him to let you dress him, or convincing him to let you help him get dressed, or convincing him to try to put it on himself and then helping him if needed in a way that won't hurt his pride.)

It's their job to put away their own laundry after I wash it. I'm not as consistent with other chores as I probably should be, but I am clear when I'm not feeling well and need them to help more. Many times, it's a matter of "If you'd like to have something for dessert, you'll have to help me make it." Sometimes it's even "if you'd like to have a clean table to eat off of, I'm going to need help cleaning it."

If one of the girls does a job that's normally "mine" and it's a significant amount of extra work, I'll pay her for doing it.
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Originally Posted by gethane
Hmm, now that is an interesting idea. Do you think that worked out pretty well?
I think the result was that the kids who were generally nicer got the babysitting jobs unless there was a recent conflict but I don't think it caused any real changes in the behavior of the big kids, just a little last minute currying of favors. I remember older kids occasionally bargaining with the younger child for babysitting privledges. My parents didn't go out much. I do think it was a good way to handle things, though. The younger child's opinion was respected. The older one was not resentful. Mom didn't have to deal with kids begging her to choose them or fights over whose turn it was.
I'm 7 years older than my younger brother and growing up, I was left to take care of him while my parents sowed their oats.
There was some resentment there, but I'm really close with him now.

There's almost 11 years difference between my oldest and youngest, and I ask her simple things like keeping an eye on him, getting him out of something if I'm busy, etc. But she takes it upon herself to do alot more with him than I thought.

She's also at the age where she likes to take charge a little TOO much. She needs reminded that "I" am his mother, not her.
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My mother is the oldest of eight bio-children (plus several more adopted and foster siblings). She still resents having to always be the baby sitter, always taking care of the little kids. I think she has some very deep-seated resentment and anger problems, still, nearly 60 years later because of it. I see the same anger and resentment in my cousin who is the oldest of seven. Funny how it's the youngest child who grew up to have the largest family, the older siblings who always had to share their parent's workload all had smaller families...
This is a topic I've thought about a bit, since my stepkids' mom leaves them alone a fair amount. The boys are 14 and 16, and their little sister, who has Down Syndrome, is 12.

The boys are very mature and good with their sister, but in my and DH's opinion they have to watch her wayyyyyyyyy too much. Even when their mom wasn't working last winter they would have to make plans between the two of them so that one of them would be there to get their sister off the bus.

We've also had a few phone calls from them regarding how they should give their sister her medicine, etc.

What really sucks for them is that my stepdaughter, who is about five feet tall and weighs over 120 pounds, does not always listen to them, and their mom doesn't back them up. The few times we've asked them to watch her for us (for just a few hours) we have a big talk with her about how we expect her to listen to the boys and if she doesn't how she won't have the privilege of doing something fun the next day with us.

Sorry for the rant. I do think kids should help out with their siblings, but not to the extent that they're left to parent with no guidance or help from the actual parent.
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I'm a single mom to three - DD is 11, DS is 7, and baby-girl is 2. I do rely on my oldest to help out with the younger two, but I try to make sure that I am balancing the load so that she is only helping out, not helping to raise them. She just read through the original question and responses so far, and she would like to reply:

I never really think "Why should I care for my siblings", I love them lots and enjoy helping my mom with them. I think helping out my mom is cool because I would like to have kids,someday [In about 15 years of course!] I learn a lot from my mom!! If my mom doesn't like some of the stuff I do with my siblings she tells me and I try to fix my mistakes. I know I'm not perfect! My mom trusts me to stay home with the baby for a couple of hours, help get her dressed,ect.I guess parents having their children help with their siblings depends on wether the parents trust their kids or not. Even if my mom didn't trust me, I still would enjoy helping with my bro and sis!

Isn't she the best?! As others have said, there are times when I ask my daughter to keep an eye on the younger two - mostly when I'm making dinner and cleaning up after dinner, she will often take them outside to play (I can watch them from the kitchen window) or upstairs to watch a movie, so she is enjoying herself as well. On Saturday mornings she gives the baby a bath - she climbs right in the tub with her baby sister and plays and washes her while I make beds/start laundry/etc. And yes, ocassionally she "baby-sits" while I run errands with my son - this consists of me laying the baby down for a nap and my daughter playing on the computer/reading/watching a movie while listening for the baby while I'm gone, and I'm almost always home before the baby gets up (and for the record, we rent part of our house out to an older lady from our church, and I always check to make sure she'll be home while I'm gone, in case of emergency, so while it can be said that the are home alone, they actually are not alone in the house!)....

So yes, I do rely on my oldest to help out with the younger two, and I'm very proud of the young lady she is becoming!
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Oh - one more thing! My daughter is an early bird - always up by 7:30 even on the weekends. On Saturday mornings she listens for her baby sister to wake up, tiptoes into my room to get her (baby girl sleeps in mom's room!), takes her back to her room and plays with her so I can sleep in!!!!

Again - isn't she the best?!?!?!
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You have a smart cookie there, Melissa.

I think the difference is the ones who enjoy it do it on their own terms, as opposed to being MADE to take care of them and take care of them all the time. Like I said before, I resent having to take care of my brother, but my parents were lacking in parenting skills at the time too. Therein lies the difference, helping out or carrying the whole workload.
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Originally Posted by Alkenny
Therein lies the difference, helping out or carrying the whole workload.
Agreed. Although, the *child's* perspective of what is expected is more important than the adult's. My ds once got irritated when his father asked him to watch our youngest--he felt dh was dumping the younger on on him. After talking it over, it turned out that dh was saying, "Watch your brother for a bit?" and even though it was posed as a question, dh wouldn't wait for an answer, so ds saw it as a directive. I should point out that this happened about once a week, for less than an hour, so it wasn't excessive, but ds still felt put out because of the WAY it was approached. Once I pointed out the problem to dh, he began truely ASKING and waiting for a response. Just knowing that he could say "no" to his father made all the difference to ds and the bad feelings disappeared.
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