Generation Cedar

It was when Kyla, my 8 year-old literally whisked her 2 year-old brother up, after he had a potty accident (which I was cleaning up) to change him, that something profound occurred to me.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say something like “those poor older children who have to help care for their younger siblings” or even a similar lament from a grown child of a large family. (It only seems to be a critique among larger families.)

And we feel it and join in the pity, even if silently. (I’ve done it myself!)

But that reaction isn’t the least bit akin to the attitude of a true believer.

It goes similarly like my last post, where I pointed out the importance Christ put on serving “the least of these” and how our children certainly fit that description, but how we (culturally speaking) do not regard our own children worthy of such humble service.

By all means, when I realize my children are the closest, easiest way to serve Christ Himself, why would I not teach them that very lesson? And why would I deprive them of the sacred service?

I’m not talking here about siblings taking over the job of a parent–that’s dysfunctional and altogether something different. I’m talking about siblings helping each other and understanding it’s a delight and honor to do so. If I don’t teach my children the value of service, especially to their own family members, how have I fulfilled my duty to teach them about Christ? I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

And how will they learn to serve their own families with a Christ-like attitude? I don’t want to make a giant, incorrect assumption here, but I would venture to say that one of the MAJOR problems we have in American families is a selfish mentality that loathes serving one another. Imagine if each member of a family took Christ’s teaching seriously, that the humblest servant of all would be the greatest in the Kingdom? That to take care of each other’s needs willingly is the same as caring for Christ Himself?

And maybe He put so much emphasis on it because He fully understands our inherently selfish nature. It does not come natural to put others’ needs before our own. But it is the Gospel fleshed out.

We gravely handicap our children when we insinuate they “shouldn’t have to” help take care of their younger siblings in need. And when you hear an older child whining about such service, stop yourself from feeling pity until you have weighed the complaint against Scripture’s standard of love.

So when my little ones offer to serve each other, don’t pity them. (By the way, children can be more naturally servant-hearted at times–like yesterday, with Kyla, and we can grow that instead of discourage it. Another reason Jesus pointed to them for our own example.) Rejoice that they are following in the footsteps of Christ and let it teach our own hearts to do the same.

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28 Responses

  1. Beautiful! I only have three and my younger two definitely have the helping mindset most of the time. I had never really thought of it in this exact way before, but usually tell people who complain about the older ones raising the younger ones that it’s great practice for when they have families of their own. I was the oldest of 5 and was never expected to help my siblings or my mom. I want my children to love and serve. Thanks for the example and reminder of what Christ-like service looks like.

  2. Yes! Thank you for putting into words what I know in my heart. Watching our children help and serve one another is the greatest blessing!

    “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” Phlp. 2:3 We once saw this as how we should treat those in the world or in our church. Today, we see that it applies to our attitude toward everyone – within our own family, too.

    Thank you so much for your sweet reminder! May our Lord richly bless you! 😉

  3. When in the WORLD did Kyla all of a sudden turn 8? I remember when you were pregnant with her. 😉

  4. I like this idea and growing up I remember helping out my younger brother with almost everything. Now we are adults he keeps looking at me to help him. With my kids, I am trying to have the younger kids learn to do stuff for their older siblings as well, that way everyone learns the love of Christ.

  5. I agree with you! We have 4 children ages 9,6,3,& 1. I don’t expect any of my children to take over, raise the younger children, but I want them to have the initiative to be responsible and caring for others. I think that definitely starts by teaching it in our own family. I had 2 younger siblings, and I would “mother ” them if you will. Haha 🙂 I am sure they loved that. I probably seemed bossy, but it was really because I loved them and cared. Also my mother babysat children in our home, and if we kids were home during the day when other children were there, we helped out with them as well. I am thankful I was taught this way and given the responsibility.

  6. Preach, mama! My older kids are incredibly nurturing and kind to the younger ones, and I’m glad to see them loving one another with acts of service. At this point, I’ve never heard a complaint from any of the three big kids, and the littles love them so much I really think I’d be harming my kids if I didn’t let them care for one another. People who make that criticism seem to come in two flavors: those who have only seen those few dysfunctional parents shove all responsibility onto their children (or other relatives), and those who have no experience with any children at all and don’t know how much they’re capable of. They simply can’t imagine little children loving one another while being well-loved by their parents because they’ve never seen it.

    Then, I have experience with one other kind of
    naysayer, hopefully rare, who swears up and down she “raised” a sibling and some nephews, when I was *right there* her whole childhood, and can see quite clearly that she was actually sticking her nose in where it didn’t belong, annoying grownups, and inflating her own contribution (light babysitting) to unbelievably absurd levels of martyrdom. To hear her tell it, you’d think nobody cared for those kids. But her mother was actually the one doing the raising. You’d never know the truth to listen to her, because she talks a good game, the hero of her own little universe, but…well, she’s delusional. I hope that’s uncommon, but I fear it’s not. People build their narrative, and they stick to it, come Hell or high water.

    1. Cindy,

      Interesting, that latter example you mentioned. I’ve seen it too. And you described it so well (“the hero of her own little universe”) or a martyr, in some cases. An older child is asked to help bathe siblings from time to time and before you know it, it’s “abuse.”

  7. Yes! This post is spot on with the truth of the gospel my husband and I are trying to teach our kids as well. Thank you for the encouragement to keep pressing on! You are doing a great job with your kids!

  8. How I have missed reading you!!!

    Love this! We were given one child, but she was always helping with my friend’s younger children. Now I get to take care of my friends two small children (for the last two and a half year) and I am so happy she gets to serve them. It is a great lesson she wouldn’t have day in and out if I didn’t take care of them.

    I was listening to Dobson one time when she was about 3. And he said we do ourselves and our children a disservice by looking for friends who only have kids the same age as our own. That we are wasting an opportunity to teach our kids to serve the parents of the younger kids by letting them have time with the adults while their kids were taken care of. That stuck with me for life and changed everything I was doing then. :}

  9. I’ve actually felt sad sometimes for our youngest because she missed out on the joy of helping with littler siblings. Thankfully we have friends with younger children. Our 2 youngest were so thrilled to become aunt & uncle to our eldest’s little boy. They delight in the time they have with him and love to help him. This is how God intended it to be. Delightful.

  10. Where is the line between helping and raising though? I struggle with knowing where I should expect my children to serve and where I shouldn’t.

    1. Maybe it’s in attitude – are you grateful for their help? Or find yourself getting angry when they falter on what you have come to perceive as their responsibility?

  11. Beautiful! I have 4 children ages 10 to almost 1 and love to see the tenderness the bigs show the littles and how my young ones look up to the older ones. BUT I am also an older sister to just one sibling who is 12 years younger then me. I often joke she was my 1st baby! I learned so much from caring for her. How to hold a baby, feed a baby, calm a baby, diaper a baby, and the unconditional trust and love of a baby. And the huge commitment that comes with a child. We have always had such a close relationship and I am grateful that I was allowed to help in her care.

  12. How else does one learn about how to care for a young child if he/she never gets to “practice” under his/her mother’s tutelage?

    Years ago I called a woman from church about having her 14 year old daughter babysit for an evening. She was hesitant as her daughter had never changed a diaper before-she wasn’t sure she could do it. I was taken aback. I came from a very small family but my mom often cared for other children and I remember her guiding me through diaper changes, bottle feeding, swaddling, etc. Once I knew how to do it, I helped a lot. You need basic skills and an awareness of the amount of patience needed before you are on your own with your kids.

  13. It truly is a blessing to watch the older kids care for the younger. Not only does it give them the opportunity to serve and nurture, but a chance to be a part of growing together as a family.

    Having said that, for the parent it can become an area of temptation to heap too much responsibility on the older kids to care for their younger siblings, all because they seem willing. Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed families scolding their older kids for not reigning in the younger one’s disobedience or mischief. Or parents that sit on the computer/cell phone (either for leisure or running their business), expecting the older kids to manage the home. I’ve caught myself on the computer for home-school related research or organizing, allowing the baby to get fussy and then being annoyed with my older kids for not keeping him happy. In reality, that is my parental responsibility and privilege. The most important role of the parent is for the training/correcting (both in discipline and spiritual growth) of each of their children; no older sibling should be handed that responsibility. Meeting physical needs is a great way to introduce being a servant (both older to younger and younger to older), but an older sibling should never be expected to carry out correcting or training. The bible is clear when it says, “Children obey your PARENTS…..” As all of the children grow older in age and maturity, then the “submit to one another,” has a greater place.

    Thanks for your thoughts. We really do live in such a self-centred society and that goes both ways: the children being selfish and expecting everything should be done for them OR the parent expecting their kids to carry more than they ought to.

  14. What a blessing to see this in my house today, although I can’t say I was thrilled with the accident at the moment it happened. I know I don’t tell them enough, but I am so incredibly grateful for my children when they help in these ways without even being asked.

  15. I’ve seen “dysfunctional” child-child care. This is when the 3-year-old takes care of the 1-yr-old because the mom is on drugs and can’t be responsible. I’ve also watched my nephews taking care of their little sibs–lovingly (and maybe a bit irritated at other times!) and always with an unwavering loyalty. This is life training, not because they have to practice parenting, but because responsibility and love are the way of Jesus.

    My mom has 7 sisters and 3 brothers. The older 4 sisters each had a little “charge” and were proud of their special sibling. Those special relationships within the family still hold today.

    Thank you for defending the way of Jesus. This is an important discussion.

  16. When I was eight my youngest sister was born and a I was captivated! I was allowed to help out and babysit as we got older and those are some of my happiest memories of my teens. I enjoyed the sense of responsibility. She is now a Children’s nurse and has volunteered abroad caring for sick children. She is also a great Aunt to our children. I would have missed out on so much helpful experience and friendship without her!

  17. From a whole different angle–some of my kids are disabled, and according to Dr’s, will never live independently. Six, ages 10-12 are at home, and help each other all the time. When we run errands, they team up and hold hands, and take disabled ones to the bathroom. They know they will one day be responsible for their siblings. I pray that we teach them to do so “as unto the Lord”, and never in a resentful way. Sometimes they are far more patient with the disabled ones than I am! I’ve been asked if it’s fair for the kids to have to be responsible for the others when they are grown, and we die…Life isn’t fair, it’s about Loving and serving where God puts you.

  18. PITY THEM?!?!

    But helping is GOOD!! It’s GOOD FOR THEM!!

    How else are they supposed to develop a real, actual, healthy self-esteem (instead of one propped up by inflated achievements, hollow compliments, and self-aggrandizement)???

    I didn’t “have to” help. I didn’t “have to” do anything. I was an only child with parents and grandparents that wanted to dote on me, fix my meals for me, solve my problems for me (even clean my room for me).

    I wanted to spend my time with friends who were the oldest children of large families, “helping out” with their brothers and sisters and their chores. Of course those little people were annoying, and the time to do anything we wanted to do to ourselves had to be worked out, guarded, and earned. That was the whole POINT. Helping made me feel about six inches taller (no small feat for a high-functioning autistic kid) and made the leisure time sweeter BECAUSE it had been earned.

    I wanted to spend my time with my aunt’s youngest daughter (8 years younger than me) because she had nobody, and my aunt had an entire homestead’s worth of work to do, and I felt like SOMEONE (again, not something that happens a lot for an HFA 10 year old) when the kid smiled at me and my aunt sighed and said, “Thank you.”

    I got my first Real Chore when I was 12 (!). My mom had died, my dad and I were on our own, I had to pack my dad’s dinner bucket. I felt like I MATTERED. I wasn’t tempted to disappear for hours (or if I was, I was internally driven to be home by 6 o’clock to make that sandwich and cut up those veggies and write “I love you Daddy! Be CAREFUL!!” on a napkin). Obviously, my father was a grown man. He kept two houses, worked in a coal mine, and cooked meals. He was fully capable of packing that pail himself. He’d done it for ten years. THAT WASN’T THE POINT. The point was that I was a 12-year-old kid who’d just lost her mother, who was old enough to see that she wasn’t like the others and not wise enough to fix it, who thought she had neither place nor value anywhere in the world. The point was that Daddy was wiser than a lot of “experts.” Packing that pail made me stand straighter, let me know that I was somebody who mattered for something. I quit sicking out of school– I quit needing to, because the taunts and thrown objects didn’t hurt as much any more.

    All over 15 MINUTES spent washing an aluminum lunchbox, putting some simple food in it, and filling up a Thermos with water (all the way to the tippy top, because although there is plenty of water in a coal mine, you can’t drink any of it, and that water might have been his lifeline if he’d been trapped behind a cave-in, at least to my mind when I was 12).

    No, don’t pity the children who “have to” help.

    Pity the ones who have nothing to do but play. The ones who are pretty objects on a shelf, who are not learning to be adults someday.

    Pity the ones who have no one that needs them.

    1. Wow! MC, thank you for sharing here! People like you are inspirational! My Grandmother is my big role model in my life. She also lost her MOm at 9 y.o. and had to help her father and siblings. She lost most of them, but she became resilient and went on to get married at 17 y.o. and have 3 children. Today she has 10 grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren. She has traveled abroad many times. She’s 84 years old and still going strong! 🙂

  19. We have a family across the way whose children spend a fair bit of time with mine. The mother took her three children and moved back in with her parents to get out of an abusive relationship that counselling did not resolve.

    Momma, in an effort to help support her kids with a worthless degree, works very long and very late hours in food service. Grandma works long hours from home reselling things online. Grandpa still works in a local metals plant. The older two children (13 and 9) often find themselves responsible for each other and the baby (3).

    I’ve never seen a closer bunch of kids. Other than a few minor issues of growing up (I don’t know too many 14-year-old girls who don’t have a tendency to get too big for their britches, or too many 9-year-old boys who don’t struggle with being excessively competitive), they’re exactly the kind of friends I want my kids to have. Thoughtful, compassionate, and responsible.

    The oldest child has recently become very active in music, necessitating that her younger brother take more responsibility for the baby during the evenings. It’s really touching to hear him speak to her so tenderly (most of the time lol!) and to watch him take her hand (or carry her if she’s feeling recalcitrant) across the street.

    I seriously doubt they feel excessively burdened, or would trade their lot for anything (other than maybe a little more financial security than what comes with a single, minimum-wage income). I see them frequently, so I think I’m watching a little more closely than “from the road over.” They seem to be happy, healthy, “normal” kids, who just happen to have a little more empathy, responsibility, and life-experience than many of their peers (decidedly a good thing in this coddling, indulgent day and age).

    The jury’s still out, of course. They’re 14, 9, and 3. It remains to be seen what kind of fruit they will bear in the long run. But it sure looks good right now!!

  20. Thank you for this! As a mama to 10, I have been feeling that I cannot even hand the baby to an older sibling while I search my purse for change because of stranger’s comments on the older children “raising the younger” (after observing us for less than 5 minutes). In this day and age, so many people think children should only be allowed to have fun and sadly, the outcome is not pretty.

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