Are Older Siblings Overburdened by Responsibilities? Or Are They Empowered by Them?

by | Jan 27, 2015 | Chores, January, Mailbag, Parenting With Authority | 64 comments

I have a backlog of great mailbag questions I got during and since the ol’ hiatus. So, here’s another one. The idea that I might be overburdening my kids with responsibilities around the home is something that I have definitely worried about myself, but, so far, what we’re doing seems to be working well for us.


Hi Kendra,

First, thanks so much for your blog!  Although I only
have an 8 week-old son, I make mental notes from almost every one of
your blogs for the future when, God willing, we will have a house filled
with kids like you:)  Here are the questions I have for you:
How do you respond to people who criticize you by saying that your older
kids are raising your younger kids or imply that your older kids are
missing out on their childhood by being responsible for taking care of
younger members of the family?  How do you balance the need for your
older kids to have fun without their younger siblings while instilling
in them that they are, literally, their brother’s keeper, or is that
even something you worry about?  I hope those questions make sense and
if not, feel free to ask for clarification;)
Thanks in advance!
Thanks for your question. This isn’t a criticism I’ve really faced in person, or even on the blog that I
can recall. But it is something that I have personally worried about from time to time.
My kids’ childhoods look a lot different than mine did. They have a lot more responsibility than I
ever did. All of our kids (except Lulu) have daily chores, plus they are expected to do whatever jobs I assign them as they come up during the day. They earn money for a few specific jobs, but most of them they do just because they are a part of this family.
Our three to six year-olds can throw away diapers and other trash, they can
gather and put away shoes, they can help set and clear the table. They
can empty little trash cans and put toys away. They can get themselves
cold cereal for breakfast in the morning.
Our seven to ten year-olds can do the above plus feed and water the
chickens, and collect the eggs. They can put leftovers away and load the
dishwasher. They can read stories and put little kids down for naps.
They can cook eggs or oatmeal for breakfast, prepare simple lunches, and
make leftovers for dinner . . . and clean up afterwards. They can empty
the dishwasher and they can take out the trash and sort the recycling.
They can get the baby up in the morning and change her and feed her
Our ten year-olds and up can do the above plus cook simple meals and clean up afterwards. They can do laundry and clean bathrooms. They can ride their bikes to the store to buy a backpack full of groceries, or to the library to check out or return books, or to their daylight sports practices. We will, of course, evaluate each child individually based on their temperaments and maturity levels, but so far we have felt comfortable trusting our kids older than ten to babysit their younger siblings while mom and dad are away from home. This includes mealtimes and bedtimes.
My kids have a TON of responsibilities. Really, they do. But, mostly, they don’t mind TOO much. Here are some of the keys, I think, to why it’s working for our family so far.
1. They Know That the Reason We Are Different is Because We Are Awesome
It all comes back to Family Culture. My kids know that not all families
are like ours. They know that, in fact, the vast majority are not. But
we experience our different-ness not as weird, or a hardship, but as . . . awesome.
Yes. They have a lot of little brothers and sisters to look
after, but they also have a lot of people to play with, and a lot of
little people to love and hero-worship them. Yes. They have a lot of
responsibilities, but that’s because they are given more trust and more
opportunities than other kids.
Also, my kids know me well enough to know that I always mean what I say, and that Tierneys don’t complain. Those two policies alone, really cut down on the majority of grumbling. We’ve all mostly figured out that if we all just do our parts cheerfully, things go a lot more smoothly.
2. We Try to Play to Their Strengths
I read once that Daniel Boone grew up in a big family, and that his main
family chore, even as a young kid, was . . . hunting. He loved it, it
was something for which he had a natural aptitude, and, clearly, it was
hugely beneficial to his family. It really got me thinking about all the
chore charts and chore wheels of the parenting world, and how those
focus on “fairness” and “equal division of labor” rather than on what
kids like or are particularly good at.
I know that between the husband and I, I’m better at some things, and he’s better at
other things. So, I do almost all the cooking and event planning, and
he does almost all the schedule keeping and going to Costco. Because
things work out better that way.
We have enough kids that we can mostly do the same thing for them.
For in-the-moment chores, I tend to assign them to whomever I see first, but the kids have regular daily chores, and those are assigned by aptitude. So my oldest (and most Daniel Boone-like) does grocery shopping and other errands. He much prefers it over other chores, and I really love that I can realize that we don’t have any cream to put in the soup I was planning to make for dinner, go take a nap, and wake up to find that there’s cream. Everyone wins.
As far as sibling-centered chores, those are all assigned as-needed, and they are actually very sought-after. Mostly because after lunch and dinner, I hand out chores to everyone, and all the big kids would much rather get a little kid in pajamas and read a story than work on the dishes.
3. We Don’t Have an Expectation of “Fairness”
We don’t do chore charts, we just do chores. I found that, for us, having systematic division of labor in our home created an attitude of entitlement in the kids. They thought they had “earned” such and such a reward by doing their daily chores and, therefore, it was their due. So, we quit doing that.
Now, my kids know to expect to do things to help our family throughout the day. But it’s not always “fair.” People get assigned jobs because they’re not doing anything else productive at the moment, or because they’ve been driving me up the wall, or because I think they’ll do a better job than anyone else. It’s not always predictable. It’s not always equal. But it is just.
4. More Responsibility Equals More Privileges
One of the things I say most often each day is, “What are you doing to help our family?” Everyone pitches in around here, or things just don’t get done. But, obviously, the older kids are going to have to pitch in more than the little ones. I occasionally remind them that if they have a problem with their birth order in this family, they’ll have to take it up with God. I wasn’t in charge of that.
But still, it’s a valid observation. The way we handle it is to make sure that our kids that have more responsibilities also have more privileges. The big kids do more work, but they also get to stay up later at night. That often means they get desserts and screen time that the little kids don’t get. I make sure that they have more privileges and that they realize that they have them.
I’m also aware that if I’m going to ask my big kids to look after their little brothers and sisters, I need to not undermine their (reasonably used) authority over them. So, I back the big kids up whenever possible. One of our family rules is that little kids listen to what big kids tell them to do. I’ve sometimes had to rein older kids in a bit, but mostly, having a hierarchy works. And if I want to be able to go to the dentist without bringing seven children along with me (and I do want that, I really do) I need to reinforce the hierarchy.
And, really, seeing the way they interact with each other is SO sweet. The little kids drive the big kids crazy. Sometimes. But they also love their older siblings so, so much and think they are SO cool. I never knew that kind of blindly adoring love until I had children of my own. But my big kids have it every day.
5. They Can See That They Are Actually Useful
This is the part of giving my kids actual, real responsibilities in our home that I love the most. Okay, that’s not quite true, the part I love most is not having to do All The Things myself. But a very close second, is the fact that I have children that aren’t having to have their confidence propped up by participation trophies. They have the REAL confidence that comes from being actually useful and accomplished.
I could not run this house on my own. I couldn’t. I need their help. This family could not run without the help of my big kids. That’s something they can feel. They know how to cook food and do laundry and take care of other human beings, all things I didn’t learn how to do at all until I went to college, and didn’t learn to do with any skill until I was already married. (I did learn other useful skills like sewing and how to use power tools, but not cooking or cleaning.)
My nine-year-old can make pancakes, scrambled eggs, and bacon. All by himself. He takes a lot of pride in it.
That’s the GOOD kind of pride — based on hard work, and serving others — that I want my children to have. And it’s by giving my children real responsibilities and expecting a lot from them, that they are able to find true self-esteem.
That’s what I’m hoping anyway.
Some other posts you might find interesting:

Encouraging Independence in Children: How We Roll

Can’t Buy Me Love? Not For Chores Anyway.

Expect Great Things (and you just might get them)

Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You’re thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I’m not a doctor or an expert on anything in particular. I’m just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith.

If you’ve got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear @ gmail . com . Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.


P.S. A big BIG thank you to all of you who voted for this blog in the Sheenazing Awards.

I am honored to have been named Best Lifestyle Blog and Best Looking Blog this year. And I’m maybe even more excited to have been named runner-up Coolest Blogger to my friend Haley at Carrots for Michaelmas. You guys got that one right for sure. Haley is TOTALLY cooler.

Blessed Is She won for Best Blog By Multiple Authors . . . also very cool!
Head over to A Knotted Life to read about all the winners. And, you should definitely check out the most recent post from this year’s runner-up for Most Under-Appreciated Blog. Molly from Molly Makes Do has done a recap of the little-known Cultural Showcase portion of the Sheenazing Awards. It’s, um, hilarious. You guys won’t BELIEVE what I’m wearing.


  1. Mary @ Better Than Eden

    This is super helpful, thank you. I constantly requestion myself on these things and there's always that pop psychology voice in the back of my head making me doubt myself. But this approach makes so much more sense and resonates with me a lot and is what I tend toward anyway. I just need to feel confident in trusting and expecting my oldest to do more. (Now to carry it out…*I* need to be the one to set the 'no complaining' and ' follow through' example and I fail at that a lot.)

  2. Anonymous

    Having a five year old who is an only (for the next few weeks or so, until the twins come), he has been horribly spoiled. I have not given him nearly enough responsibilities. A lot of it is because I get into a routine and I know what needs to be done and like to just do it- and teaching kids to do it takes up and patience that I am lacking.
    However, I see how bad that is going to be for him in the future, if it continues. But, aforementioned twins on the way, and I foresee my five year old (almost six) taking a big leap in the responsibility and self-sufficiency department this year out of necessity!
    I just commented on a post on FB of Haley's about Benjamin making cereal and lamented how my son, who is about Benjamin's age cannot. I am terrified of him pouring milk from a full gallon. How silly is that?!

    • me

      For the gallon problem, let him try pouring milk from a mostly empty gallon first. He can get used to the grip and the weight. Have him do it with you watching a few times. It'll get easier abd he'll be proud of himself! If your have new gallon of milk or mostly full one, you could put some milk into a pitcher or large cup for him to use in the morning. (I admit I still get nervous watching even my 9 yr old handle a gallon of milk sometimes!) If he spills, show him how to wipe it up – everything can be washed – messes happen to the best of us!
      Ease him into some new responsibilities before your little ones arrive – he might discover he likes doing things for himself! Give him some time, let him try hard things, and praise him as needed.
      Good luck, and I hope you have a happy and safe delivery!

    • KC

      I agree with practicing! Also, you could get a little pitcher to put milk in in the evening and then it will be ready in the morning for him to pour into his own cereal. My eight year old pours out of any gallon, but my six year old is only allowed when it's at least 1/2 way empty. Otherwise it's trouble. I also think it's common for the oldest to do less until a certain age. My oldest didn't unload the dishwasher until seven, but once she was going it, I realized that there was really no reason the five year old couldn't do it, so she started in too. There are many chores that they've started at the same time even though there's a two and a half year age difference. I think I just didn't think the oldest could do it (or that it was worth the effort) but then realized that my expectations were all off and it really was fine (and actually helpful!).

    • Molly Walter

      The Montessori ideas of "practical life" activities for kids are great for developing these skills – things like pouring, cutting, folding, sweeping, dusting, etc. at young ages. All you need is the right sized tools and a little bit of time and young kids can learn these things. As for the gallon of milk – how about find a little pitcher with a lid. You can put a day or twos worth of cereal milk in there and he can learn to pour without risking the whole gallon!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks you guys! These are AWESOME tips! I think, since it wasn't really an issue for me to make him breakfast, and lunch, and do all these things I just didn't realize that he WAS able to/old enough to do on his own. I seriously still helped get him dressed until he started kindergarten, just because I was used to doing it, and didn't have other kids to take care of so I just continued doing it without thinking.
      There are so many things that I would just do out of habit that he should probably have been doing on his own for a while, just because I didn't have anyone else to take care of and didn't realize I was babying him!
      Having other children soon after your first is SO good for the first child!

      I am the oldest and, while I admit I didn't have many responsibilities and could have benefited greatly from more- I could make myself cereal and get myself and siblings ready for school by 3rd grade. I did all the laundry then, too.

    • mrs. s.

      Not silly at all! A full gallon of milk is tough for kids to pour. We had our oldest (now five, as well) in a Montessori preschool and it really opened our eyes to how much responsibility a three and four year old could handle. There are websites that sell kid-sized pitchers for drinks in the fridge (they have spill-resistant lids, too!) that you could buy. We bought little plastic baskets (I think they were desk organizers) and filled them with snacks like string cheese, fruit, veggies, etc. to put in the fridge so she could serve herself a healthy snack when she was hungry. We also bought a child-sized broom, some dish towels, and a dust pan and let her clean up her own messes as well. We bought real plates and glasses, though smaller ones that were more manageable for her, and put them in a bottom cupboard so she could set her own spot at the table. She was actually excited to do chores and get her own snacks. We've tried to give her chores that she enjoys, like feeding the cat and dog. Still working on getting her excited about making her bed, though… )

    • Erin Klarner

      How about practicing pouring something out of a gallon jug that doesn't smell when it dries places (like water)? Then you graduate to milk when you get the hang of it. My 4 year old showed she could do so many things I didn't think she could when I had our newborn now-1 year old sleeping/nursing on me; I'd rather have let her try to, say, make toast than wake up Captain Colic.

  3. Ashley Sue

    Thank you for writing this down so well! I grew up with a lot of work and responsibility, so I think that my children should as well. I often have been criticized for how much i expect out of my children. I struggle with them at times because my kids have such a different life that I often see them as spoiled or very unwilling. Your post helps me see responsibility in a "normal" American homelife And that I am expecting too much at times. Thanks again!

  4. Amanda

    This really is helpful because like Mary, I always have the voice of pop psychology (and my mom) in my head making me doubt our choices.

    But I can't argue with results seen in your family or mine. We haven't quite figured out how to live this out with our special needs 13 year old daughter but our birth children are all responsible and super helpful. My 6 year old got himself up last Saturday, got dressed in his soccer stuff, and woke us up (we were awake actually but talking in bed) then proceeded to eat breakfast. During breakfast he looked outside at the snow and said "hm, I think I should shovel the sidewalk" and shoveled half the sidewalk before his dad even got out there and they both went off to his indoor soccer game. A week ago we were late to soccer practice and he ran in ahead of us and apologized personally to the coach for being late and joined right in while we got the little kids settled in the Ymca childcare room. We didn't tell him any of that, he just took responsibility for being late and knew he should apologize and get to work right away.

    Personally when I was a kid I wished my parents gave me both more responsibility and more freedom. I was so bored mentally and physically! Especially as a preteen, I was ready to do so much more but wasn't even allowed to cross a busy street to walk or bike to my friends' house 1/2 a mile away. And my little brother, who I adored, went to school all day by that point and we grew apart because he didn't need me anymore.

    Seekingrenewablog, try buying half gallons of milk for a bit. That's what my parents did when they taught my earlybird brother how to pour his own bowl of cereal at 2-3 years old. But my 6 year old poured a nearly full gallon of orange juice this morning and it went surprisingly well, no spills. But I'd expect spills the first few times, just keep a rag handy and have them clean that up, then they learn two skills!

    • Kendra

      It was just my sister and I, and we had two parents and a live in nanny to look after us, so I didn't have a lot of responsibilities or learn many homemaking skills. I kind of wished, as a young adult, that I had shown more of an interest in that sort of thing. But since there were only two of us, and I was a class A stinker, if something needed doing, my mom or the nanny would just do it. I did, however, learn to sew, and get to use power tools, and get encouraged like crazy in school and sports. And that has served me well!

  5. KC

    This is all so good, Kendra. I, like you, grew up with a very different "lifestyle" than my children now have (four under eight). I tell them all time that they are learning to be holy and selfless through their service to our family and should thank God for that!

  6. Haley @ Carrots for Michaelmas

    This is good, Kendra. Daniel and I have similar expectations for our kiddos but we're just now seeing the oldest (five) becoming super helpful and proud of his capabilities and so it's lovely to see what things might look like 6 or 7 years down the road.

  7. Molly Walter

    As an only child I actually envied my friends with siblings come chore time. When I got old enough for most household chores there was no one to share the load with, just me. I also envied them as we got older when siblings could drive…. I had to get rides from my parents, but they could get rides from older siblings (so much less embarassing when you're 15).

  8. Martha

    Thank you so much for writing this!
    My daughter is 2 and rather bright. Because of this, I've already insisted she start helping around the house – she has her own laundry bin that she puts her clothes into, brings to me when it's full; I've arranged her room so that she can put EVERYTHING away (including her clean clothes), she is expected to take her (plastic) dishes to the sink, and her chore is to feed the dog.
    Sometimes, around others, I feel like I am CRIMINAL for insisting on these things – even though I do so in a way that is kind, I hope, and not like a drill sergeant, and offer lots of help and show her how to do things. But I know she can! And she loves to help and she is so proud that she contributes. With number 2 due in 8 weeks, I feel like it's to everyone's benefit that she thinks of herself as "the big helper" now!

  9. Kaitlin @ More Like Mary

    I just read that your SEVEN year old can put a baby down for a nap and my heart skipped a beat! Three more years, three more years, three more years……..

    • carolyn

      I'm with Kaitlin! I would love more detail on how you manage this. Your babies sound like mine, they have to have their own crib in a quiet dark room to sleep. My toddlers tend to follow this trend, and are very unhappy about naps.

    • Kendra

      Mostly I try to bribe them. Lulu is so sweet and easygoing that even as a baby she's happy to be put down to sleep by anyone, but other kids haven't been shuffled off onto a sibling as easily. Usually, I'll tell them, "Mommy will put you to bed if you'd like. But if Bobby puts you to bed instead, you'll get a story and a song." Sometimes Frankie just wants me to do it, no matter the trade off, so I will, but most often, they'll pick sibling + story. And pretty soon, they're used to it, and it's what they expect.

  10. Rosa Patterson

    I totally agree!!! Especially the part about the kids having real, meaningful work. It definitely gives them purpose and self-esteem. Also, I just clicked over to Molly Makes Do and died laughing at the description of your outfit!!!!

  11. WritingWillow

    I love this because it is all so true, especially the meaningful work and good sense of pride in their own accomplishments. I think my favorite part is that you try not to undermine your bigger kids' authority over the little ones (within reason). My sisters are 8 years younger than me and while I had plenty of caregiver responsibilities, my parents constantly pulled the rug out from under me with them (so to speak) because they were the babies. When I actually had to watch over them when our parents were gone I had hardly any control over them. Things are better now because they're 16, I don't live at home, and I have the "cool older sister" vibe going for me, but it was really tough when we were younger.
    Also, I love that picture of Betty and Lulu at the beach – so precious!

  12. Amanda

    I love this, and I subscribe to most of what you're saying 🙂 Question, though – at what age did your oldest start getting responsibility for the youngers? My 6 year old is, for instance, sometimes put in charge of keeping the 1 year old entertained and safe in the playroom, but he doesn't seem ready to guide anyone else. He gets silly when they do. Any idea when that changes?

    • Kendra

      Thanks Amanda. I think, especially for the oldest, how to get kids to properly exert authority has a lot to do with their temperaments. Leadership comes very naturally to my oldest (as does tyranny), so he was very happy to assume a position of authority. I had to (and still do have to) work with him on being a benevolent leader, and cooperating, and not just automatically saying (bellowing) "no" to everything. My oldest daughter is naturally very nurturing, which is also great for someone in a leadership position, but she needs to be encouraged to be strong with them, and get them to respect her.

      Even Frankie gets put in charge of looking after Lulu sometimes, and he's three. Anita gets put in charge of both of them playing outside during schooltime, and she's five.

      Really, in practice, for a six year old watching a one year old, I'd focus on just playing together. Our family rules for a situation like that are, "No tattling unless it is dangerous or destructive," and "Always know where the baby is," and "We give babies what they want." (Unless the first rule applies, of course.)

  13. Mia Jude

    Great post Kendra. We are expecting our third and will soon have three under three. We are already getting comments from family members about their concerns for our childrens well being. Something specifically is room sharing. We have 4 bedrooms, so once this baby is born, all of our bedrooms will be filled, one kid to each room. However we hope and pray to have more kids which means kids will be sharing rooms. One of our parents comment on how kids need their privacy and how she never had a room to herself and felt like are never had privacy. Kids in my house growing up shared rooms and I don't remember it being that huge of an issue, but than again.. I WAS the lucky one who had my own room. I'm not going to stop having kids just so my current kids will have their own room, and I'm not going to turn my loft/basement/ play room into extra bedrooms either (which has been suggested by others.) sometimes I want to burst and say "so you don't want anymore grandchildren/nieces/nephews just so the kids get a little privacy??" I don't know.. What do you think Kendra?

    • Kendra

      Well, I don't think OUR room situation is going to make your family feel any better, but it might make YOU feel better. 🙂

      We have a four bedroom house: the master, a boys' room, a girls' room, and a guest room. Jim and I are in the master, and my parents visit often and sleep in the guest room. The boys' and girls' rooms are basically just where their clothes are. As for the boys and girls themselves, not only do they not have their own rooms, they don't even have their own beds. They just move around and pick where to sleep between available beds in available rooms (including the guest room if we don't have visitors). Sometimes they choose to sleep on the floor if there aren't any beds left in the room where they want to sleep.

      My oldest, who is twelve would LIKE his own room, but that's unlikely to happen for him. The rest of the kids don't like sleeping alone one bit. And there is much negotiating over who is sleeping where and with whom.

      It's made them very flexible and great about sleeping in hotel rooms and such. But I do realize it sounds kind of nuts.

    • Hannah D.

      I don't know if my 10-year-old self would agree, but moving around and picking places to sleep sounds like fun! I've never heard of a family doing it before. It doesn't sound nuts, it sounds like it works for you all.

      I don't understand the American cultural standard that each child needs his/her own room. It doesn't make sense … kids don't really need privacy, or all the space to themselves, and actually some kids *like* having a roommate (or several).

    • Mia Jude

      Thanks Kendra. That does make me feel better. Does your 12 year old want his own room for privacy? I guess the privacy thing probably wouldn't come up until closer to the teen years. I know we will have places for our kids to sleep, but depending on how many kids we have, they might not get all the privacy they want.

    • Amanda

      We have 4 kids (soon to be 5) and a 4 bedroom house as well. We have a 13 year old adopted daughter, 6 and 4 year old boys, and a 2 year old. Our 13 year old has her own room because she's so much older than the others and is deaf and yells in her sleep. Seriously, like shouts "I don't want peanut butter on mine" in her dreams and she can't hear herself, haha! She begs to share a room with her toddler sister but we've explained why that's a bad idea with the age gap and her own loudness and the toddler's early waking. Anyway, the 6 and 4 year old boys have shared since 3 years and 4 months old. They wouldn't have it any other way and often choose to sleep on the floor to be even closer…and just to be weird I think. The 2 year old will share with the baby when the baby is born. If needed someday we'd let the boys get a bunk bed and another boy could join their room. They begged for their little sister to share their room once she turned 6 months or so and were shocked, shocked! when we said that wasn't the plan, haha! They had fully expected to get a new roommate and kinda want the new baby to be their roommate too.

      I shared a room growing up and liked it until about 12-13. It was never an issue before that at all and even then it wasn't a huge issue, I just kinda wanted my own space and my sister did too and my parents separated us. Our family was not big on cultivating good sibling relationships either and I think that would have helped us get past that stage if necessary.

      Check out Pinterest ideas for shared bedrooms, there are some ideas that are soooo cute! And many people have kids share when it's not necessary even. We have rooms we could have made into bedrooms but chose not to because we think sharing rooms is fun for the kids.

    • Mia Jude

      We have a 3 year old boy and one year old daughter and we are expecting another boy in April. We plan on putting our 3 yr old son in the biggest room we have and expect to have the boys share a room once a 4th comes along. I just always figured that if we could let a kid have their own room it would eventually be the girl because girls probably would feel more strongly about having their own space come the teen years. I had two older brothers that were 5 and 7 years older than me and they shared a room while I had my own room. I was the only the girl. I liked having my own space but by the time I really cared anyway I pretty much felt like an only child because my brothers were in college and out of the house by the time I became a teenager. So I never felt like I was lacking privacy or needed more. So I wouldn't know if I would've missed it badly if I had brothers or sisters closer in age to me.

    • Kendra

      I do think older kids deserve some personal space and a place to keep personal items. But its a long road from there to "needing" your own bedroom. If my kids need to be alone they can go for a bike ride, or into the tree house, or find an empty room and read a book. I support kids having some peace and quiet, I just don't think they need to "own" it.

    • Lauren

      Anonymous, did you read the same blog post I did? Did you see the pictures of those smiling, happy children? They sure look joyful to me. I think you can rest easy that Kendra and her husband haven't ruined their children's lives by having a large family in an average sized house. May God's love and blessings be poured out on you.

    • Kaitlin @ More Like Mary

      I shared a room with my younger sister from the time I was three until I left for college (and then I shared with roommates!) I'm positive I'm closer to her than my other sister because of our room sharing. It was so fun chatting late at night, painting "our" room when grew out of the little girl theme, and just generally being together. I'm so very glad that my parents didn't give us all our own room even though we had the space for it.

    • Caroline

      There were seven of us kids growing up together at once in our house, and we shared rooms- and yes, as we had our moments of fights and shouts, but I wouldn't trade it for anything- it brought us all closer and we all count each other as best friends now. My husband and I have four and my two eldest 7 and 9 year old girls, share not only a room but a double bed and have some of the best times at night before bed- reading or playing till lights out. I will be putting my 21 month old in with my 3 year old in a couple months too- it's my experience with my kids that they want company, and it's a good way to foster a close friendship. I honestly don't understand the big deal some people have with siblings having to share a room- life goes on!

    • JenniferM

      Pardon if someone has said this already, but privacy shouldn't even be desirable in a Catholic household. Yes, everyone needs a place to keep personal items and a place they can go for a bit of peace and quiet, but if your child HAS to have their own room (as in doesn't have enough siblings to share with or is the only child of their gender) you should have an open-door policy in your home. Accountability should be the norm, not privacy, especially with older children.

  14. Schafergal

    Excellent post, Kendra – as usual! Definitely marking this one for future reference. I'm just starting to remember to have Josie (age 5) do more around the house. She's definitely capable, and it's good for her for all the reasons you stated. It took my husband telling me (after life got chaotic with the babies) to let her do more. It may not be done "perfectly" but it's still much better than not done at all!

    Congrats on the Sheenazings – you definitely deserve them!


  15. Tia

    As an only child, having our chore days was like a party and I was always super excited to help out. I wanted more responsibility — for things like cooking especially. Once I was a teenager, I had a neighbor buddy whose mom was a SAHM with much higher cleanliness standards than we had, and she would actually help me clean up at home, just for fun. I think kids actually enjoy this stuff, and get much more out of it, than our culture would have us believe. Plus by having them do this from a young age, you're teaching them that work can be joyful.

  16. Christine

    Great post – I especially like how you raise the kids to know that the family is different, and to think so positively about it ("our family is awesome").

    I'm also intrigued by the idea of a hierarchy among the kids, where the older ones have some authority over the younger. One large family whom I really admire seems to have something like this going – the older siblings constantly help direct and teach the younger ones. I never knew if the parents set it up that way, or it just developed organically. I'd love to hear more about how this looks in your family.

    • Kendra

      I think it's something that just happens out of necessity. The Pope can't personally oversee everything himself, so he appoints people to help him and they have authority over the people below them, and he supports their authority, but is ultimately responsible for them. If I can't or don't wish to personally oversee all tasks, projects, and children at all times, I need to delegate not only the job, but the authority too. Or it doesn't really work, and I'm in there settling every little disagreement that comes up and I'd never be able to leave them without my personal supervision. But this way, I put the big kids in charge, and they are accountable for what happens on their watch, and the little ones are required to listen to them as if they were me. (Always with the caveat of "unless it's dangerous or destructive.")

    • me

      This hierarchy is something we encourage in our family. It allows me to get stuff done – the big ones know they need to keep an eye on the little ones, and the littles usually listen to the bigs. I usually try to support the older kids if there are issues. Any difficulty I might with a wanna-be tyrant I try to deal with away from the little ones. The older kids usually don't mind because baby sitting beats laundry most days!
      This has paid off as they age. For example; a few years ago, I had to have an emergency c-section well before my due date. My husband went to the high school, got the 16 yr old out – she had to go pick up the toddler from the sitter, be at home for everyone else coming home from school, and was in charge for the next two days. She had able assistants in the 14 and 12 yr old, and between them, every one was dressed, fed, and safe. (There were 8 kids home at the time). They did some fun activities and made it to Mass. This meant my husband could shuttle between me and the baby (who was an hour away in the NICU by that time) without having to worry about the rest of the kids. It was such a relief in knowing that we could trust them all to (mostly) cooperate.
      So cultivating this sort of structure when they're young pays off in the long run!

  17. Hannah D.

    Kendra, do you think that having a housekeeper helps you keep the right balance of responsibilities and chores for your kids, so that you *do* rely on them, but it's not excessive? I mean, do you think you would struggle with this, and be in danger of asking too much of the older kids, if you didn't have help?

    I ask because I want to have a big family (I have a nine-month-old right now), but I have this fear that I'll get overwhelmed and start demanding too much of my older kids. And I know it's far down the road for me, but I'm already thinking that, if I want to homeschool, we might want to get someone to help with housekeeping. Thanks 🙂 As always, love to read your take on things.

    • Kendra

      I know families who manage many children and homeschooling without outside help. But for myself, once we decided to homeschool, I wanted to take that on as something I could focus my energy and attention on, like a "real" job. Having a housekeeper to take on the big cleaning tasks that would normally fall to me, like the laundry and vacuuming and scrubbing of bathrooms, has allowed me to focus on doing school with the kids in the mornings.

      I do not think it's an absolute necessity, but it sure has improved my personal quality of life.

      We spend our summers in Chicago, and while we are there the big kids do their own laundry and help around the house beyond their normal daily chores that they have during the school year. It makes me feel better to know that we COULD do it, if we needed to. But it's nice to not have to do it all ourselves when we are doing school. We're running many loads in the dishwasher and in the washing machine every day!

    • Lauren

      I'm quite confident that Kendra is well aware that many people cannot afford outside help. But having outside help doesn't undermine anything she wrote. Big families aren't bad for children and neither are chores. Even a lot of chores.
      Historically, children were put to work in far greater capacity that in modern times. The notion that children need to "just be a kid" and not be "burdened" with responsibility is absurd. Again, 150 years ago, children were viewed as an economic asset– specifically as extra hands to work their parents fields for free. This was done without question or hesitation. Fast forward to modern times with a lot of psychological hooey thrown out there, and now there is this notion that we are damaging our kids by giving them a large family to love and grow with them… all because there are clothes that they must fold. Please!

    • Lauren

      Also, "It was not their choice for their parents to have more kids than they, the parents, could handle themselves…" Thank goodness! In my house, both the adults and the children live by the understanding that the children don't know what is best for them. What a sad commentary on marriage and family that there are some that think that CHILDREN should get a say in how many souls are brought into the family and the world- for a lifetime. Plus eternity.

    • Hannah D.

      Thank you. That makes sense – about swapping big housekeeping tasks for homeschooling because being a homeschool teacher is well, basically a full-time job. And the kids' chores are comparable to what they'd be doing even if you didn't have help.

      Also, I'm dismayed that my question led to an "anonymous" comment that's rude and now I regret asking it – and please delete my question and ensuing comments if you'd like.

    • Kendra

      Thanks Hannah! Don't worry about it, you asked a perfectly reasonable question. I actually don't allow anonymous comments anyway. I'll just delete the rude one and the rest can stay!

    • Caroline

      Lauren, great reply! And about the Anonymous comment…. well, there are always Saturdays for the big cleaning jobs- that's when my Mom tackled the big chores, with our help. But don't worry, we still got to play and we have all grown up with great memories, despite those chores and lots of brothers and sisters. I wouldn't trade any of my brothers or sisters for a little more play or "alone" time. I wonder if all this push in recent years for less responsiblity, more childhood thought is part of the reason people don't seem to grow up – even when they are grown up. Adolescence just goes on and on and on…

  18. Nanacamille

    Congratulations on winning two categories. Your big Kids work hard for the family. Being the first Jack has lots of pressure on him all the time but he has also done things the other kids haven't. If it doesn't kill you it makes you stronger.

  19. Kris

    Love this post! This is largely how we run our household also (except I "only" have 5!). But I wanted to chime in about chores based on interests rather than rotation. I discovered that bit of wisdom a good bit ago and I can't emphasize enough how much I agree with that. And so do my kids. When given the opportunity to "swap" chores with a brother, they largely wish to stick to their own thing. They take more pride in doing their "thing" well. And having your olders babysit your youngers so you can run errands or go out to eat is the best thing EVER!

  20. Jennifer


    I just wanted to say a big Thank you for recommending the book 100 lesson to teach your child to read. I have a 3.5 year old daughter (my oldest) and a 17 month old. She is anxious to read and is loving the book. I am a former kindergarten teacher and this has been my favorite resource for teaching a child one-on-one how to read.


    • Kendra

      You're welcome! We've had a ton of success with that book. I'm going to need a second copy. We've worn ours out!

  21. Cammie Wollner

    I've found #4 and #5 to be so true around here lately. My oldest is discovering that helping more means more time staying up and I'm also loving watching her discover things that she likes to do (at the moment cooking) and seeing her pride in her work when she throws ingredients together and a meal comes together. She has way more responsibility than I did, even when I was much older than her, but she's also always asking to do more.

  22. Elizabeth

    Great post! I just wanted to weigh in as the product of a system like this myself; oldest of 9- homeschooling family, I had all these responsibilities and then some. Now I have my own kids, number five on the way, just starting to homeschool kindergarten for my oldest. No family is perfect, and while I have things I want to do differently than my parents, as everyone does, I do not feel any resentment at having to be more responsible and involved with my siblings than most teenagers. I am almost sensing more resentment in younger siblings as they grow up, and the older ones have a hard time acknowledging that their authority must change to respect for those younger. I think its important to give the older ones responsibilities/authority, but also teach them how to handle it properly. Just something I've been considering lately for my own kids. My oldest already tends to be overbearing with siblings…. In the end we can only do the best with what God has given us and leave the rest to Him.

    • carolyntbj

      I'm the oldest of 6. I had a lot of responsibility over my sibs growing up. At 8 I was pretty overbearing, but with time, I grew up too! 😉
      Shared a room from 1 year till 22, with the exception of 1 year when I was 12. Sometimes I was SOOO irritated with my little sis – her mess was everywhere!!! But then we both matured a bit. Stayed up late chatting in the dark. Hanging out together on purpose.
      At 22 I started living 10 months(to 2 years) at a time overseas – being a homeschool teacher – first in Angola and currently somewhere in Central Asia. At first my youngest sibs were really angry with me for leaving. Tho as they have grown they have forgiven me. When I was overseas and the sibs started making life-changing decisions – obviously without me – I knew they were growing up themselves. I think in that sense it was easier for me to 'let them grow up – respect their decisions' than possibly if I was on hand to just have 'what are you THINKING??!?!?" pop out of my mouth. Twice-a-week email means you can think through what you really want to say. 🙂 Now I have much better internet and the 6 of us have a sibling skype chat that is open all the time. Sometimes there is actual type-conversation going, other times it's more bulletin board 'hey, y'all look at this!' Usually we don't group voice-call but the ability to have one-on-one calls really helps to keep me connected with what's going on with them. I'm much closer to my sibs now than my parents. And I totally worry about them/pray for them/listen to them/miss them/wish that I had a star-trek transporter so I wouldn't miss important things/know that God is better than the big-sister, but still… 😀 And yes, my three youngest sibs totally have issues with my parents – as the older ones left there was no buffer any more – a shock to all parties.

  23. Kristi

    Bravo! Thanks for giving a voice to those of us who are more insecure but have found the beauty of this system.

  24. Mary C.

    As the oldest of nine, I think you do have to teach children how to work and how to be self motivated. The trick is when they enter into teenage years, the balance is reaxamined. The need for privacy and independence becomes much more FELT even before it can be articulated. In order to avoid resentment there has to be a place where a tween or teen can say, "you know I feel overburdened, can we talk about this?" Oldest child burn out is a real thing. I feel unless you have lived it, it is an easy thing to discredit.

  25. rural rebel riot girl

    This is an interesting question. I never thought about the affect that sibling care responsibilities had on me until I was in 7th grade. I wasn't able to participate in some school activities because I had to be in charge of making sure my brother and sister didn't destroy the house after school because my mom worked. I didn't really get an allowance and all of my friends did so that also made an impact on how I felt about my chores. I remember feeling 'lucky' my dad was home every Saturday night so I could babysit for money to save up for things that I wanted like jeans. We had school uniforms and we were allowed to buy two pairs of pants and a skirt which had to be for chuch. My responsibilities increased as I got older and my mom became ill. My brother and sister were so angry with me for leaving to go to college away from home after my freshman year. I wasn't around to drive them or go to their activities. I had done enough carpooling with other parents so I knew that they would help my brother and sister when I went away cause they knew the situation with my mom. My sister told me later that they missed me and had to become more responsible so yeah, they were angry at me for awhile. My parents were strict but I think it helped all of us have a good work ethics and to care about other people. Sorry for the thesis.

  26. Christine

    Thanks as always for your thoughts. My question is similar to one that was asked but I am more interested in the chore/responsibility aspect than in the sibling authority one. At what age did your oldest child/ren start doing chores responsibly? We currently have 6 and 2 1/2 year olds. The 6 year old wants nothing to do with chores, helping around the house, even recognizing my authority. I feel like maybe this is a personality issue? I feel I have always been clear and firm with him and when he chooses not to do what is asked, he loses privileges. But he keeps right on choosing not to do it. We have given a lot of thought to paying for chores but are afraid that will result in ONLY the paid chores being done, while we both feel some chores, and certainly anything we just ask for on-the-fly, should be done just because he's part of the family. Do you have any guidance or suggestions here? Basically where we're at is that he pitches a small fit over being asked to do small chores like setting the table. So we have not yet graduated to larger expectations.

    • Kendra

      I think this is an issue more to do with particular temperaments. Some of my kids have a really hard time being responsible about chores, but it comes easily to others. With my reluctant chore-doers, I've tried to approach it two ways . . .

      1. I'm more stubborn that he is, and I never surrender. I just kept on assigning him to clean out the car, even though he rendt his garments and gnashed his teeth. And s-l-o-w-l-y he got better at it. He still doesn't like it, but he can do it in a reasonable amount of time now. (At twelve!)

      2. I try to (also) find chore for him that he enjoys. For my son, he likes the feeling of doing something he's particularly good at. So, going off to run errands, or lifting things that are too heavy for the other kids, or changing batteries in things, stuff like that. He still has to do stuff he doesn't love, but he also gets assigned chores that give him more satisfaction.

    • Christine

      If I figure out something he likes doing, I will try that approach. : ) But I get what you're saying. Thanks for answering.


  1. Stop Laughing at Me, Chore Chart! - Catholic All Year - […] Are Older Siblings Overburdened by Responsibilities? Or Are They Empowered by Them? […]

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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