Question about large families


We have 5 children and I’m wondering how much is too much in terms of letting the older kids help out with the younger kids. My older kids love to help out with the baby, and I find myself asking for their help a lot. One criticism I hear a lot from people about large families is that the older ones end up “raising” the younger ones and too much is expected of them in this regard. In a sense, they are being robbed of their childhood because they are expected to take on parental roles too young.

My dilemma comes from the older kids actually wanting to take care of the baby. I always let them help if they want. Sometime, however, I need them to keep an eye on her while I finish up something else. Am I worried too much about the criticism of people with one or two children? How do I know if I’m taking advantage of my older kids? Is this actually a good thing for them in terms of responsibility?


I come from a big family. We, at various times, had cousins live with us that ranged in age from 0-4. So, sometimes it was a very full house with several little ones. My parents instilled a love of other children and we were all very hands-on. There is almost eight years difference between my youngest sister and myself, and we are extremely close. She calls me almost daily from college, but she calls my mother, too! I remember begging to play with her and hold her and feed her and even change her. Her first word was my first name.

I don’t feel like I missed out on a childhood at all, and I have plenty of reason to play that card. (I was sort of rushed through school and went to college very early due to teachers being a tad pushy about what they thought my “potential” was.) But it had nothing to do with caring for younger siblings! I only remember how much fun it was to take care of my little siblings and to be there for them throughout their lives. My parents were still the parents, I was just the older sister and continue to be. At times, I’ve been the mediator between my younger sisters and my parents, helping my younger siblings to try and understand where my parents are coming from with their thoughts and perspective.

Part of raising a Catholic family is instilling a love of children and the joy in raising little souls. While I don’t believe older children “raise” younger children, I do believe they have the ability to lead by example, encourage and share their love.

All of my siblings, having grown up in that kind of environment, want buckets of children (if God is willing and it’s feasible). Fortunately my husband shares that love of children, though his two sisters do not. There was not a lot of sibling-to-sibling caring interaction between the three of them, and his sisters view children as something to be delayed, dreaded if unplanned, and as more of a hinderance than a blessing. It’s sad.

I would be glad that you have children who are so eager to be helpful and love their little siblings. Who can resist a baby or toddler? Only the hardest of hearts. I think the fact that they jump to help you AND each other speaks volumes–my mom always says she has such comfort in knowing that when she and Dad are gone, we all will still be the best of friends and have each other. I think those close relationships start as children and grow into deep friendships as we get older.


As the oldest of 12, I hope my input can be somewhat helpful to you.

My Mom avoided letting us help with the younger children for some years. In fact, I was not ALLOWED to hold a baby or change a diaper until the 7 baby, and only then with Mom or Dad right there working on the 8th baby’s toilet/wardrobe at the same time. In the following years, I was allowed to help more, which I genuinely enjoyed. I was also responsible to be the “built-in babysitter” throughout my junior high and highschool years, as well as when I was home from college. I really didn’t mind this at all, because the little ones and I had good relationships. As you are probably aware, kids typically have more trouble getting along with siblings closer to their own ages, which was true also in my case.

Another thing my Mom did to avoid the stereotype of children taking on too many responsibilities was to delay the delegation of household chores. I wasn’t required to help on a regular basis until I was 7, and then it was only dishes. I REALLY wanted to do the laundry, but my Mom didn’t give that up for another 6 years!!! I could tell why, too… I love doing the laundry!

When the older siblings are reqired to take on parenting roles, their relationships can suffer. It can cause resentment for the elder sibling to be charged with disciplining the younger children. I was not allowed to discipline the children at all, and was often reprimanded just for raising my voice if things got out of hand on my watch. My parents have since relaxed this rule, and now, my sisters in their mid-late teen years are given much more leeway and judgment in dealing with the younger children. I see the problems and the frustration this causes sometimes, and at the same time remember the frustration I went through when I was powerless to do anything.

I guess it is different with every situation, but I would not worry about asking for the help of the older children. I think it gives us a realistic idea of what real life is, when we are expected to do our own parts, and more, when necessary.

I hope this helps, but this is only my subjective experience! God bless you for accepting His blessings so willingly!


My mom was 3rd to oldest in a family of 9 kids. By the time she married and had her first child, she was quite accustomed to taking care of babies (and I think that is one reason she was/is such a wonderful mother, but, I digress…)

Dad says it was funny when I was a newborn, I’d cry and as she rushed to pick me up she’d say “hold on, Judy’s coming” or “don’t cry, Judy has you” (where most moms would say “mommy’s coming”) – she was accustomed to comforting crying younger sibs :slight_smile: .


Hi ,i am the mother of ten children.Some are grown now with thier own familys,i still have five teens at home.All of them are very involved from birth on.I believe haveing a few kids or alot of them is basically the same,only difference is the amount.We try to instill them with Love,guidance,responsiblty,ya know show them the way till they can do for themselves.I’ve learned to stop careing about what some one else thinks along time ago.What works for one may not work for another.All of my children ,big or small are constantly involved with each other,with the joys of live or the harder times too.It s never too early to show kids how to care for each other.Chores ,sure all of them have chores eventually,age does give you a idea what they can do.If the shoe don’t fit ,i just try another one on them.I’ve met many other children because of haveing so many children,and what i’ve learned is that the grass always looks greener on the other side at one time or another to all kids.A single child may never want to go home from my house as he or she has no other siblings,same with my own children, i’ve experienced this with a couple of my own,The big Why do we have to have so many KIDS in our family.They come out of it ,its just a part of life they live thur.Some days are rough ,some days are smooth,today is a smooth day,i thank God for this! :slight_smile: Hugs,freshwater


If your older children want to be involved and are asking to help, then it would seem to be an intitiative you would welcome and praise. It is when they actively avoid it or are complaining that you might need to reflect on whether you are asking too much of a child in the care of a sibling. My mother was the eldest of a very large family and to this day harbors a bit of resentment about the extent to which she and her sister were required to “parent” her sibs.

We do not have a large family, yet our 3 children are expected to help us and each other with practical, everyday chores that are part and parcel of being a member of the household. Simple things when they are young–like picking up after themselves, helping a younger sib reach something, tie a pair of shoes, read a story, put away their laundry, etc. My girls are in that pre-teen stage where they can’t seem to get enough of babies and would love nothing better than if we could have one drop on our doorstep tomorrow. However, the choice to parent implies a commitment on the part of the adults, not the exisiting children, along with the concurrent obligation to honestly assess the ability to manage the care and consider the needs of all children in the family.


****We aren’t too big on worrying about giving a “childhood” to the kids here. After all, I’m raising men and women not children. Also the concept of having a “childhood” is actually fairly recent in history.

All the kids have chores they can handle, even the 3 yr old. (He’s the perfect size to get laundry out of the dryer - he doesn’t even have to bend over! :wink: They LIKE being a functioning and important part helping the family! Because everyone does what they can, none feel like they are doing everything or “raising” the little ones. A very helpfull tip I got about 4 years ago is to always have the YOUNGEST child able to do it be the one to do it. It can be easier at times to have an older child do it, even though a younger one could with a bit of effort. By always having the youngest able do it, you avoid relying too much on the older ones and ensure that all the children get a fair amount of responsiblities. So far, none of my children are feeling like they aren’t having childhoods.

Let your children help with the baby to a point if they enjoy it. Children have an instinct for knowing how to bond. As much work as all those feedings, diapers, clean ups, and walking the floor can be - those are also the moments when some of the closest bonds are made and your children want that with their little sibling. If they ask, I’d let them with supervision. (I don’t know the ages of your older ones, so you’ll have to judge what they can handle being alone for.)


Hi susie g.!

I’m the oldest of seven children and I’m 18 years older than the youngest. Growing up, I helped out a lot with taking care of them, and I loved it. I’m very close to every single one of my brothers and sisters. They still look up to me and I “take care” of them–just in a different way now! :rolleyes: I wouldn’t change anything for the world… :slight_smile:


I’ve seen some families–particularly homeschooling ones–where the parents didn’t give their older children’s studies enough priority. I was homeschooled through high school, and people were always telling my mother that she “must have so much help at home” because of me. Not really…or at least not the way they meant it. Most high school students who want to go to college have A LOT of studying to do. Homeschoolers are no exceptions, and I had to be at the books a lot.


I’d say let your children help out, but keep in mind that you have to keep an eye on the older ones too. Don’t let them become master babysitters and nothing else… :wink: As far as responsibility goes, that’s a good thing, really, provided they still have time to be their age. The only thing I would really object to is letting the older kids discipline the younger ones. Yelling at a misbehaving sibling is one thing. Spanking is quite another. Older children–no matter how responsible or fair–shouldn’t discipline the younger ones. The grace to discipline fairly comes with being a parent–not with being the big brother or sister.

God bless,


That must be the longest post I’ve written yet! :smiley:


My mother was the youngest of nine and she readily admits that her older siblings helped raise her. They lived on a farm so there was plenty of work for everyone to do.

I was the oldest of 5. I don’t remember helping out with my younger siblings much until the youngest came along when I was 11. But Mom needed the help then.

The one thing that my mother always did was to respect the rights of the older children. There were certain rights you had just for being older just as there were some perks to being younger. Even though my sister and I shared a room Mom would often make a point of keeping her out of the way when I had friends over. Some of my friends were expected to ALWAYS allow the younger sibling to play with us.

When there WERE disagreements between siblings my mother tended to give the benefit of the doubt to the older child. We weren’t the type to get into out and out fistfights but we did have our disagreements. Mom did say, “You’re older. I expect more from you,” but she didn’t say it if the younger one knew better as well.

I guess my point is that you let the older children help, especially when they actually want to do so. But you also need to honor them by allowing them some obvious age related perks.


Hi Martha,Hi Island Oak,i like what you both wrote here.Yup,if a kid is getting overwhelmed its a good idea to get to the core of it.Yes,we as parents are the ones to Parent!I some times have to remind my teens that i am the parent!Well,being a teen ,many times they want to grow up too fast.Alot of parenting depends on what stage your child is at in the moment of life.Two fifth teen year olds can act very differently ,even tho they are the same age,ect…depends on where they each are at mentally,emotionally,physically.Careing is a Big Word,it is in my life a responsiblity to CAre for each other,not only in chores.I 've done the list thing with my kids,i’ve thrown that away,point system,i 've thrown that away.Each day is as individual as each child is.We work together the best way we can at any given time.Yup,teens love to walk past some thing they could of picked up,ect…,one thing we do have is a pow wow around here.All family members past the talking stick around,no one interrupts,they get to say how they feel,whats on their minds,we get a second chance to give words to what anyone else has said.We do this weekly,it helps ,not prefect,yet it helps.We talk about any thing we want,not just problems,the highs and lows ,expectations,future plans ,ect…Only little ones around my home now are,i leave that parenting up to the mothers and fathers,we just care .HUGs,freshwater


Let’s see…being the baby of 7, I can’t really offer too much except to say that I have a feeling my siblings were very involved…LOL – I always have older relatives saying “oh, you were so lucky b/c you were soooo spoiled by your brothers and sisters…they were always teaching you things above the typical “4yo” level, etc. etc. and on and on…” — so while I don’t remember any of it per se (I do remember my sister would read me the readings before church started, and explain them to me so I could understand later during mass) – I know it had to have happened…


[quote=susie g.] Am I worried too much about the criticism of people with one or two children?

From what you have said, yeah. Keep in mind that nowadays, in the words of one of my fave Saints (St. Josemaria): “I see clearly that attacks on large families stem from a lack of Faith. They are the product of a social atmosphere which is incapable of understanding generosity, trying to conceal selfishness, and unmentionable practices under apparently altruistic motives.”

“…it is natural for the children to help with the household chores; and a mother who knows how to bring up her children well can manage this. This way she will have spare time which, if used well, will enable her to cultivate her personal interests and talents and to enrich her culture. Fortunately, these days there is plenty of technical equipment, household appliances and that sort of thing, which can be great time-savers if full advantage is taken of them and they are used correctly.”

[quote=susie g.]How do I know if I’m taking advantage of my older kids?

Well, for one, if you are making it impossible for them to study adequately etc, then you know you are taking up too much of their time. In general, they are part of the family and it is natural and good to have them participate in helping out the family. Your kids sound happy to help, which is a great sign that you probably don’t have to worry that you are taking advantage.

[quote=susie g.]Is this actually a good thing for them in terms of responsibility?



Hi Leaner,i too was the youngest in my family,had all brothers above me.I was the only girl.The boys always looked out for me,i couldn’t stand it when i was a teen.Now we are older,i am fifty.We all look out for each other.My oldest brother,he still wants to be in the watch out for him so much now,he don’t even relize.Most the time i just let him think he is in the lead.My mother woke me up out of the delusion when her brother died ,about being the youngest ,at least the way i was seeing it before.When her brother passed away ,we were standing next to his grave,she said 'see how i am standing here ,well one day you may be the one doing this same thing,you have to look out for your brothers,you could be the last one standing."Since my mom has passed away two years ago,i think we all have come closer in our obligations in careing for each other.So ya see it don’t stop when we are kids,it follows us all thur life.I’m glad that my mom taught us about careing.I had always wanted a sister when i was a kid,i prayed to God for a sister.What he gave me instead was two boys and eight gave me what i wanted ,only it was in his time ,not mine.Hugs,freshwater :love:


Hi Life is beautifull,uggh getting my kids to do thier home work,they really don’t like homework.I have one daughter that finishes it all at school.The others its like pulling teeth.This year my youngest son is doing great with reading,always was his sore spot about home work.I am amazed he is reading book after book,and can’t wait to show me how much he has read.Yes,i agree about home work.HOme work is more important than house work ,period.I don’t know what happened,with my older children,they grew up left home,when i look now,their house keeping ways are all so different.They all know how and what to do ,now the ball is in thier court.Hugs,freshwater


Rob’sWife and Freshwater have some excellent advice
It’s your thread susie g. but I’m learning from it.

Mom of six here and not a week goes by that I don’t have at least one of my kids make a comment about a classmate or friend who is an only child or has only one sibling…“they must be so lonely!” Our big three help a good deal with the little three and for that they get the love, love, love, love, love of their siblings and vice-versa. The big three and I had a conversation just the other day about caring for siblings is like doing corporal works of mercy: caring for the sick=getting the bandaid and wiping the tear; feeding the poor=making the pbj; clothing the naked=running after that cute little three year old after the bathtub with the pj’s!

A big family is a good place to learn to love like Jesus taught us.


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