Feb 19, 2012


I have shared much on this blog (as well as Facebook, our E-Newsletter and in face-to-face conversations) about our parenting "methods" and beliefs. Almost without exception the one that raises the most objection is our practice of having our younger children partnered with an older sibling. Each older partner is available to the younger to help them with day to day routines such as tying their shoes (and first finding said shoes!) and in keeping an eye on their partner when we are away from the property. The olders each have regularly assigned after-meal jobs as well as an area of responsibility and they are generally expected to have their younger partner with them during these chores in order to help in training the youngers to someday assume the responsibilities themselves.

The concern raised is that we are expecting our older children to raise their younger siblings. I can see why, at first glance, it could appear this way but after further discussion most people come to see the method behind the madness.

What is the goal in parenting? Is it to situate our children to have the best, most exciting childhood, ever? Is it to see our dreams carried on in the form of mini-me's? Is it simply to prove to ourselves and others that we can do it? While each of those may, on occasion, play into our parenting, the reality is that when we parent we are endeavoring to raise people. We want to see our children grow to responsible adulthood as capable and confident individuals. We want them to be compassionate and considerate of others. We want them to shape the world around them. By partnering them with younger children we are giving them the opportunity to develop these skills.

When they help their younger siblings move through their morning checklists* they are not only reinforcing their own routines, they are also seeing the difference in a child who has learned order and routine VS one that just floats through the day. When they are having to scoop feed with a seven year-old at their elbow they are not only modeling responsibility, they are also learning patience. When they help reinforce a new skill like clearing the table they get to share in the joy of seeing a child develop and grow. When they are expected to keep a hand on their partner as we move through a grocery-store parking lot they are developing their sense of safety in a protected and guided environment. They are learning responsibility, to troubleshoot, to delegate--all skills that will serve them well in whatever they chose to do with their lives. I asked the teens in the room with me as I type this for their opinion of what it does for them to have younger partners and Grace looked down at Seth who is lying on the couch with his head in her lap and said "It's enjoyable!"

For the youngers it gives them more freedom to explore and learn. There is only one mom and one dad in this house. We child-proof our house but the reality is that we live in a small house on a farm. Farms, while offering an idyllic childhood are also some of the most dangerous places for children. By having older partners that are responsible to help keep an eye out for them they are able to venture further and with more relative freedom. They get to have one key person who is available just for them when mom and dad are focused elsewhere. As partners change monthly they get to learn to deal with different personalities. The sometimes sad truth is that some of our children are spaced many years apart. There are 22 years between our oldest and our youngest and odds are good that some of our older children will be out of the house before our youngers are old enough to really remember them even being in the home. By partnering up they develop a closer relationship that will hopefully lay a good foundation for their relationship for decades to come.

On another level...

*if they were in public school they would be expected to have "buddies" while on field trips and the like but the same at home is inappropriate?

*they could be hired as a babysitter or mothers-helper by another family and it would be understood in that context but not when it is their own sibling?

*We could hire an au-pair to help but if it is our older children we are asking to come along our side to help it is anathema?

*if our nineteen year old wanted to be a elementary school teacher they would be applauded but if they want to help teach their own brothers and sisters it is seen as a waste of her talents?

*we can send our four year old to preschool but having her spend an hour coloring and being read to by her older brother is somehow short-changing her?

There is no denying that raising a larger-than-normal family stretches the members of the family in ways that are hard to anticipate and harder to prevent. In a very practical way assigning partners helps us make sure that the day-to-day details such as making sure that everyone's teeth are brushed get covered. It also frees up time to allow us to tend to things like reading to our children, teaching school and having one-on-one time with them individually. Partnering our olders with our youngers gives us the freedom to tend to the business as well. If we need to call customers or have an animal that needs attention we can do so, knowing that someone has our back, that we can deliver that baby goat without wondering if the three year old has taken that moment to try their hand at "cooking" or if Noah is still working on math or if he has decided to go into auto mechanics and has dismantled the station wagon headlights. In the end, though, having partners is not about lessening the work on us, the parents, although that certainly is a pleasant result. Assigning partners is about blessing our younger children with additional attention and guidance and about reinforcing appropriate skills in our older children.

*checklists--our children have checklists to follow each morning. Checklists include getting dressed, making your bed, brushing your teeth, doing your hair, picking up your room, having Bible/prayer time.


Jeanne S said...

I really don't understand why anyone would criticize your partnering method! It's sensible! The idea that older children "shouldn't" have some responsibilities for family chores (including watching the younger siblings) is part of why recent generations have so little sense of responsibility, family connections, ability to handle everyday tasks at adulthood, and common sense. I only had 2 children, spaced 4 years apart, but that was enough to run me ragged at times; if I'd had more kids, I think partnering the older with the younger would have been the only way to get anything done at all!

goatldi said...

Gee let me think. It has been my experience that those who want to make "their point" will do whatever it takes. Pity.

Now my friend continue on. Your families gain and the rest can go to the pumpkin patch at midnight!