My two girls are about seven years apart: the oldest will be going into third grade this upcoming school year and the youngest is a very active and loud 1-year-old toddler. Within the next few years, my oldest will be able to babysit. With two kids far apart in age, a frequent comment I hear is, “It’s so great that you have a built-in babysitter!” However, I’m not planning on making my oldest babysit a younger sibling unless it’s something she personally wants to do.
A lot about your parenting choices is shaped by how you were raised—and my feelings toward sibling babysitting are because of the expectations I had around the house as a kid. When I was a child, I was in a similar scenario to my 8-year-old. I am the oldest of four siblings, and the two youngest are eight and 10 years younger than I am. Once I was old enough, it was one of my duties to babysit my sisters on Saturday evenings.
Should Older Kids Babysit Younger Siblings?
I know my parents had good intentions—and it did teach me so much responsibility that I think shaped who I am today, and who I was as a young adult. But I’m not going to require the same chore from my child. Here’s why:
She had no say in the large age gap
The large age gap between kids is why babysitting is an option, but my daughter didn’t have a voice when deciding on this family dynamic. My husband and I were the ones that chose to space our kids out significantly. We think there are a lot of benefits to having a larger age gap between kids—but there are also drawbacks. When our oldest is mature enough to be left alone, our youngest won’t be yet, so my husband and I will have some extra years without the parenting freedom that comes with having older kids. However, we’re the ones who made that choice just between the two of us.
Babysitting is a lot of work
Anything involving childcare is not easy, and that’s a lot to put on someone that doesn’t want to do it. I am all for my children having age-appropriate chores—and of course, there’s going to be plenty of chores they do not want to do—but a few hours of childcare is different than 20 minutes of vacuuming, washing dishes, or folding laundry.
Free time when you’re young is important
When you get older and are balancing work, parenthood, house maintenance, etc., it’s easy to be overly nostalgic about the freedom of youth. Teenagers do have less life responsibility than adults, but that age still comes with a fair amount of stress. As a teen, I remember being in eight hours of difficult classes with nightly homework, participating in multiple athletic teams, and having a part-time job. I didn’t really have much free time.
I anticipate my daughter having a similar schedule as a teenager, and I think it’s important that she enjoys the blocks of open time that she has available to just have some fun and relax.
Other chores can still teach responsibility
I want to do my part in teaching my children responsibility around the house while they are still under my wing. There are plenty of other chores to give children besides babysitting that I know will provide a good foundation once she’s out of the house and on her own.
She also will learn responsibility from watching her little sister every so often—she’s not off the hook for entertaining her for a bit while I get things done around the house. She just won’t be responsible for a long stretch of babysitting while her dad and I aren’t home.
Childcare is paid labor
I don’t think of babysitting as a “chore” because chores are unpaid tasks to do around the house to help out, but babysitting is a job. Childcare is work that I think should be compensated. If my daughter does decide she wants to babysit, we’ll treat it as a job and she’ll get paid hourly. We’ll also prep for her the same way we would prep for a babysitter that we hired from outside the house.
I know there are also plenty of valid reasons on the other side for having older siblings babysit. But based on personal life experiences, it’s important to me to teach my daughter household responsibilities in ways other than providing childcare to her younger sibling—unless it is a job she wants to take on.