Ever since the birth of our second child, we have referred to our first born as "Big Sister..." and the baby was called the "Baby." But when our "baby" turned two, we slowly started calling her "little sister" here and there. But I'd been cautious since her birth as well with the whole 'Parentification' of the oldest child syndrome, and didn't want to give too many responsibilities to our oldest child. You can read more about Parentification in my old post here, but basically it's a psych term to describe having the older children take on the responsibility of raising the younger children in the household (and also can be used to describe children having to raise their own parents, but we'll save that for another time :)
Yes, I know there were days of Little House on the Prairie where there were farms with families of 12 children, and the oldest would help with the youngest kids. That's just what you did back then. It's also because there wasn't any birth control :) My grandmother was one of 11 kids as well and it makes my uterus hurt to even think of having that many children.
Ok, ok back to my topic of discussion... I have really worked hard on giving my oldest just a few tasks to help me with the 'baby.' Things like, "can you hand me that diaper please?" or "can you hand her that toy?" Now, since they are just 24 months apart, there aren't a whole bunch of things she can do to help like feed her breakfast, or get her dressed. In fact it's funny when my oldest wants to really help and does try to get her younger sister dressed and put her shirt over her head! It's really cute :)
But for the most part, I don't want my oldest to feel like she has the responsibility to care for her younger sister. Why you ask? Ahem..well, just a few reasons:
-Kids should be kids, not parents
-I don't want the oldest to feel the burden of having to raise the younger one
-I don't want my oldest to feel resentment when she gets older of having taken care of her younger sibling
-I don't want my oldest to feel the 'worry' for her younger sibling that regular parents have on a daily basis. Now I know it's just natural that the older sibling will look out for the younger sibling(s) without us asking them. Like when they go off to camp together, or your neighborhood gym's childcare place. But I don't want the extra worry that can go along with that to be too extreme for them.
-I don't want the youngest to be spoiled and feel like everyone will look out for her, when she needs to learn to look out for herself like everyone else does. Avoiding the whole 'entitlement generation' saga and being spoiled.
-I want my children to be close to each other. Asking the oldest to do more causes unequality and competition among each other = resentment and hostility.
-I want me children to grow up as equals with less fighting and tattling and more of a 'team'
-I try not to label them in general as 'shy' or 'outgoing' and 'big sister' so they don't take on those labels as excuses or use them as a negative
Now I know as they get older there will be the questions from my youngest child, "why does she get to go do XYZ and I don't?" Well, because she is 2 years older than you. Yes, there will be the unequality there and vice versa with the youngest getting away with a few things because she is younger and 'doesn't understand yet.' But hopefully those times will be few and far between :)
So for now, I try to say more of the, "You are such a great sister!" vs. "You are such a great big sister!!", when I want to point out how helpful and caring they are to each other.
BUT, not that I am so harsh on it all, I do give a few "you are such an awesome big sister" to show her how being older and caring towards younger, less helpful people is a good thing. So just like everything else, I do so in moderation :)
How do you handle your kids' roles at home?