By Rabbi Yitzie Ross
Q. I have six children, ranging in age from 5 through 17. Frequently, I need to ask the older ones to watch the younger ones, since my husband and I both work. My older kids constantly complain that they should not have to watch their siblings. Since they’re living in my house, and they are my kids, I don’t agree. We decided to ask and follow your opinion, since we read your articles every week. Thank you in advance.
A. Thank you for your vote of confidence. However, I’m not that comfortable being a decision-maker; these articles are designed to assist, not replace, your parenting. Nonetheless, I have seen this question many times over the past few months, so we’ll try to figure out a solution.
Many parents believe that the older children should certainly be expected to help out with watching the younger siblings. Many parents feel that it is only fair for them to help out as a way of returning the favor to their parents for having raised them. Additionally, helping out with watching younger siblings is a simple matter of kibbud av v’eim. I have a few concerns with those parents who rely on those rationales:
- They’re your children. The older ones will iy’H soon enough have their own children that they’ll be responsible to raise. It is certainly OK to ask your children to help out every so often, but they should never feel like it is their constant and sole responsibility.
- Children have the opportunity to express hakaras ha’tov to their parents when they’re older and need their help. Not only is it a matter of hakaras ha’tov to take care of elderly parents, it is a beautiful form of kibbud av v’eim.
- Children should never feel like they “owe” their parents a favor. I don’t believe that children should be listening to, or helping out, their parents because they’re looking to return a favor. These kinds of feelings often exist in a friendship—yet the relationship between a parent and child is more powerful and special than a friendship.
- Your older children will resent their siblings if they feel forced to watch them. We’re not talking about minor sibling rivalry; we’re talking serious issues.
This doesn’t mean that your older kids are off the hook. Rather, it means you need to approach this kind of situation carefully. You want the focus to be on the fact that you are trusting them to help you with an important job. Here’s how I would phrase it: “Dovid, you have shown me repeatedly that you are maturing rapidly and are capable of doing things that many kids your age cannot do. Daddy and I will not be available for the next few hours, and we would appreciate your help with the younger kids.” If you have kids who have no problem helping out, there is no problem in simply asking them. The only time you need to tread carefully is when you are worried that they will resent your request.
Additionally, it is certainly a good idea to let your children know that a family is like a team, where everyone pitches in. Being part of a family means that we are all responsible to help out and be there for one another. However, the parents should be acting as the “captains,” so to speak, being the ones to most often take charge and show responsibility for all.
The phrase “Mom knows best” is kind of true. If you get the feeling that your kids don’t want to help with the siblings, never force it. It’s cheaper to hire a babysitter than to spend thousands of dollars on family counseling.
Something else to think about is that your second-to-oldest might be better than your oldest at watching the younger ones. This is somewhat typical; it’s what I like to call the “firstborn mentality.” It would not be a good idea to verbalize this. You can simply compliment the one helping out: “Everyone has different talents, and you are great with your siblings!”
Additionally, it’s important to give special time to the older kids. Remind them that the reason they are being treated as adults is that they have proven that they are mature, amazing older siblings. It is also important that you express to your children how much you appreciate their help. Don’t assume that they know how much they are appreciated and valued.
Be’H, may we continue to shep nachas from all of our children. v
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a well-known rebbe and parenting adviser. To sign up for the weekly e‑mails and read the comments, you can visit www.yidparenting.com.