Recently, a friend of mine who, like me, has four kids, was telling me some of the ways her 10-year-old daughter is so amazing with her 6-year-old sister: She gets her going in the morning, cajoling her into getting up on time, eating a decent breakfast, remembering her homework and getting out to the car on time, etc. Much of the time, the big sister can get the little sister to do things the mom can’t, despite my friend being a terrific mom. Little sister just listens to big sister better! Although my friend is grateful for her little helper, she is beginning to feel inadequate. “My 10-year-old is a more effective mother than I am!” she laments. I can totally relate.
In our family, the four kids all take turns parenting each other despite their wide age ranges. The parent-of-the-moment is the one who A) is more fed up with their sibling acting like an idiot (their word, not mine) or B) wants to help me out because they can see I’m feeling overwhelmed, unwilling to take one more moment of grief from anyone!
I’ll admit it – I’m so grateful when one of them steps in to convince/urge/bribe/coerce their sibling to do what needs to be done, for several reasons:
- It DOES take the pressure off of me.
- It shows me that they really do listen to Thomas and me about what’s right and wrong and that when push comes to shove all of our teachings really stick.
- It makes my only-child heart swell with love, pride and envy over how siblings can help each other out.
- And, finally, and maybe most importantly, it shows me how much they love and value each other that they aren’t about to mess up their sibling relationship just to be defiant. It’s almost expected to be defiant to a parent, pushing boundaries. But they aren’t going to do that to their combination sibling/friend/roommate.
The trick here, of course, is to make sure I’m not completely checking out as a parent, turning the reigns over to the kids, giving them responsibility they don’t really need to have yet. So I remain the parent, the strong one and the final, authoritative word (along with Thomas, of course). But once in a while, it’s pretty great to know I have some built-in parenting helpers.
I’m the second of four kids and the only male. I, too, enjoy seeing the kids call each other out on their bad decisions because it does confirm that they are listening, learning and see the value in what we are teaching them. And it shows me that they’ll all probably be really good parents one day. It’s a tricky balance though to not give them too much responsibility (they are still kids, after all) nor too much power. When they start giving us parenting advice, based on their own successes with their siblings, it’s annoying (especially when they are spot-on). While we appreciate their help and their insight, Courtney and I ARE the final word and the actual adults and parents here. Helping out is one thing but the buck, and the parenting, has to stop with Mom and Dad.