My older three children are relatively close in age: 13, almost 11, and almost 9. The younger two are a fair amount younger: they are now 5 and about 9 months.
This makes for a very different sibling dynamic than when I had a 4-year-old, a 2-year-old, and a baby. Then, they all required adult supervision. If I was the adult in charge and we needed to go somewhere, all three would be coming.
Now, the older two at least can stay home by themselves. And over the past few months I’ve been sorting out how the older ones might assist in the care of the younger ones.
Like a lot of people my age, I started babysitting pretty young. I know I had parents in my neighborhood hiring me to stay with their kids while they went out when I lived in North Carolina, and we moved away when I was 12. Looking back, this seems a little crazy. There weren’t even cell phones! But I was responsible, as 11- to 12-year-olds go, and I was Red Cross Babysitter certified and all that good stuff (I still use the diaper changing technique I learned from that course, making sure to put one finger between the baby’s ankles with my left hand while I’m wiping with my right to keep the little angel’s ankle bones from banging on each other…The diaper pin safety techniques I learned have proved less useful…).
Now I have children who are the age I was when I launched my babysitting business. Times have changed, but possibly less than I think they have.
The current thinking is that the 13-year-old can be in charge of the next two siblings for an hour or two if the adults are out and about with the little kids. These three mostly do their own thing, so there’s not much supervision required. I recently left the 13-year-old in charge of the 5-year-old for 30 minutes while I went for a walk with the baby and my husband was out. I was a little more nervous about this, but decided it was OK if the 5-year-old was watching videos or playing a video game, and I was close enough to come racing back. The 5-year-old is a bit, um, spirited, and I wouldn’t want my eldest to actually be in charge of any major disciplinary situation. In any case, they did fine.
I wouldn’t leave the baby with the older kids, but he’s increasingly mobile, which means he needs to be watched constantly. So I’m figuring out what is reasonable (and fair) for using the older kids as mother’s (or father’s) helpers. The current thinking is that when we ask, they need to play with him for 10-15 minutes while mom or dad takes a shower, or cooks lunch, or takes out the garbage or other related household tasks. Longer stretches for other things could be compensated. For instance, the 8-year-old played with the baby in a separate area of the basement (that I could see) while I ran on the treadmill for 20 minutes. If things had gone awry, I could have stopped and gone over, but there was no way I could have run without her help. I paid her a few dollars for this and she was quite excited about it. (Why the 8-year-old and not the older two boys? She is more likely to volunteer for it, though I’m trying not to dabble in gender stereotypes here. Both older boys are very nurturing and loving with their baby brother too. The 8-year-old is also very interested in earning money, as she knows we set the kids up with a bank account at age 10 and provide a match to anything they’ve saved).
Anyway, if you have a large age gap between siblings, I’m curious when you started using the older ones as babysitters or parents’ helpers and what your general policies have been on which gigs should be compensated. Plus, if you did a lot of babysitting as a teen/pre-teen, when did you start?
In other news: This weekend was almost back to normal in terms of activities. We had three baseball games (T-ball, softball, and Little League), plus soccer and outdoor church. Masks for everything of course, staying outside, and keeping our distance from other family units, but it was nice to see other families again. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before I’ll be complaining about being busy…
Photo: Needs constant supervision…