It was tempting for sure. Like most everyone, I had a very responsible first born child. I wanted to maximize my “resources” and tell him to keep an eye on his younger brother. But in trying to build a long lasting friendship between my two sons, I tried to be very careful not to do this. I kept telling myself, “It’s not his job. It’s mine.”
I think putting the older kids in charge or their younger brothers and sisters puts all the kids in a no-win situation. The older kid is not equipped to handle the younger one. To be honest, sometimes, I can’t even handle it. The younger one hates the older one because, “…YOU’RE NOT MY MOM!” The older one wants to do a good job for you. That’s the way he’s wired. But he’s not equipped. Especially if something goes wrong. If they wander off and the older kid has to drag him back kicking and screaming. Or if there’s an accident. That older kid will feel that guilt for a very long time.
I’ve even seen some parents who will call their older kid away from their own fun and friends and tell them to watch their younger sibling so that the parents can sit and talk. Really people? It’s not the kid’s job – even if you’re single. These older kids grow up not wanting kids of their own. They’ve been there. They’ve seen how much work it is. No thanks. They don’t enjoy their brothers and sisters since they’ve been forced into temporary parent mode. That relationship is unnatural. The resentment can build towards the parents or towards the younger siblings – or both. And that resentment can last for years.
My only exception to this is if I “hired” my older boy. I’d ask him ahead of time to see if he was available. (That’s just a form of respect. He’s 12 – got nothin’ going on.) Then I’d lay out for him what’s expected of him. For instance, I wanted him to play with his brother, not just making sure he didn’t burn the house down. And, of course, all the safety rules.
The very last thing we reviewed is “What do you do if the two of you start arguing about something?” He said, “I’m not sure.”
I said, “You lose. That’s what I’m paying you the money for. And if there’s anything unfair or that needs to get straightened out, I’ll work that out with you later. But for tonight safety and peace are the goals. So, I’m paying you to make sure that happens.”
This worked wonderfully.
Now, I have always told my sons, “When you’re trying to solve a problem, don’t create another problem.” And if I wasn’t careful, my older boy would have some sweet cash to spend at the toy store and the younger one would not. That’s another problem.
So, I gave the younger boy a job too. “Your job tonight is to be obedient to your brother. He’s in charge of everything but you’re responsible for obeying him. Now, I’m not giving you as much money as your brother because he is in charge. But you’ve got a very important job tonight as well.”
This worked great for my little family. Try it with yours and let me know. You could even try paying the older one to look after the younger one right inside your home if your kids are not yet able to be home alone. For instance, you could “hire” your older kid to watch the younger ones in the basement play area for 1/2 hour while you go get dinner on. See how it goes. If it’s too much for either one of them, you’re just a holler away.
It’s amazing what 50 cents will do.