Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Raising Your Youngest Child

Raising Younger ChildrenAfter being parents for 15 years now, one of the things that concerns Andrew and I the most is our stamina--can we make it through the whole process and still be sprinting as hard at the end as we are at the beginning?

When our oldest, Grace, was born we didn't know what we were doing but we were full of ideas and energy and determination. However, as the years pass I can see how my parenting style has changed and how the mom I've been to Grace is a different person than the mom I've been to Lillian.

While I think it's impossible to be completely static with your parenting throughout your entire career (and why would I want to stay exactly the same? I think I am generally a better parent now than I was at the beginning) Andrew and I have talked about how important it is to keep up the energy and be as good and as strong a parent for your youngest child as you are for your first.

For example, with our first child we were all about schedules. Bedtime, naps, all those things were commandments. Now having teenagers in the house has completely changed my efforts to get the youngest to bed on time. Stay up, go to bed--who cares? While I think that not being as rigid in this area is probably a good thing overall it has taught Lillian to be slightly less disciplined than her teenage sister was at the same age.

When Grace wanted her first bike we told her that she'd have to earn at least half of the money herself and she did. It was a wonderful thing for her to scrimp and save to find a way to make that $20 but when Lillian came along did she even need to earn money for a bike? Of course not, because she already had one. Two in fact. A hand-me-down that Grace had given her and a brand new one our neighbors offered her. Tough life huh?

With our oldest we were poor and struggling students but by the time our youngest came along we could afford to do so much more. Family vacations, going to the movies, fancy lessons were all things we could offer and what parent doesn't want to give their child things that make them happy?

The thing is, giving your child things isn't good parenting. Sure, it's important to make sure they're properly fed, clothed, doctored and educated but part of that education is teaching them to be independent which comes from providing for themselves--a much harder job with the youngest than the oldest because there are even more people in the house waiting to supply every need to that smallest child.

Here are a few suggestions gathered from our recent self-examination. Take them for what they're worth and maybe they'll help you too.

Money
I gave you a sense of what I mean in this area already but unless your financial situation gets worse as you go along in life then you're probably able to give your youngest child a softer life than your oldest.

I mentioned how we taught Grace to earn the money for her first bike but then how we also realized Lillian was being given her bike without any effort on her part at all. So we took the very unpopular route by getting rid of the hand-me-down bike then telling Lillian that she could have the brand new bike our neighbors had given her when she earned it.

We set a fair price then made her work for it even though it was sitting in the back yard gathering dust while she weeded and raked her way along the path to financial freedom. It took her months but it felt much better to require the same work from her (or rather to teach her the same lesson) as we had with our other children.

Rules
This is probably the hardest area of all. Imagine the scenario: you have rules about what kinds of movies your oldest child can see. Let's say they can't see PG-13 movies until they're 12 or 13? It's easy enough to enforce this but as soon as the oldest child starts seeing PG-13 movies it's that much harder to keep your younger children from seeing them too. After all, you've got the DVD right there, the youngest child really wants to be included, you feel bad to put them to bed while the older kids see it so you let them stay. It's harder to get those youngest children to bed early anyway once you have preteens in the house (and you won't imagine how impossible it is once you have teens!)

My younger children have seen things I never would have let my older children see at the same age but we get tired and the slope keeps slipping along until pretty soon we've got the younger kids doing things that are really only suitable for pre-teens which pushes them into growing up much faster than our older children ever did. And not in a good way.

While this isn't entirely bad--I notice my youngest child has a wonderful sense of confidence--it tends to mean that we hold the older children to stricter standards than the younger ones. Not only is that unfair but it doesn't do the younger kids any favors by letting them get away with more.

For us this takes a concentrated effort to remember that "Grace wasn't able to do this when she was this age. It was a good standard then and it's still a good standard. Make Lillian wait." Which is rarely easy. It sometimes means getting a babysitter for only the youngest child while the rest of the family goes to a movie, it sometimes means simply telling the youngest child "no" and sticking to it no matter how they whine that the older kids get to do it but in the end I think it'll be a good thing.

Chores
There are eight years between Grace and Lillian. When Lillian was born I needed help with the new baby and my three-year old so I asked her to help quite a bit. I had her helping me with the baby, cleaning up and folding laundry, doing her chores and playing mom right along side of me.

However Lillian is now seven and it was very easy to continue to have Grace and Spencer doing most of the chores around here. First, because it was convenient, they were already trained. Second, because they were good at it. They do chores much better than an untrained seven year-old would so why would I want to turn the job over to someone who'd do an inferior job?

Well things changed. The first thing to go was Grace and Spencer. I didn't kick them out of the house but their chores got substantially reduced. I told Spencer that he'd been mowing the lawn for three years now and that he'd done a great job. He was free to get his own mowing jobs now for money and wouldn't have to worry about mowing our lawn any more. Then I took David under my wing and said, "Guess what? You've just inherited the mowing!"

Not only was this a good thing for Spencer (it knocked his responsibilities up a notch) it was great for David. He was thrilled to be able to try something reserved for men and his big brother and while he sometimes will complain about the chore it's been teaching him that same work ethic that's had Spencer doing handyman chores for cash around our neighborhood.

Same with Grace. I have her doing a couple specific smaller chores designed to help her homekeeping skills but basically gave the majority of work to David and Lillian. It sounds hard perhaps but it's not any more than I required from Grace at that age.

The other thing that has changed is that I've altered the way I think. When I need something done instead of automatically turning to the older kids who will do it the best I remind myself to turn to Lily and David and ask them to do it. If Andrew and I are heading out for the night and the kids need their mac and cheese made up (that's the standard meal here when Andrew and I go out, the kids get mac and cheese) instead of asking Grace or Spencer to boil the water and make it up I get Lillian or David to do it.

If Spencer is gone for the evening and can't finish his part of the dishes I don't automatically ask Grace to fill in I ask the younger kids. To sum it up: instead of passing things to the oldest child I've rearranged my thinking to automatically pass the chore to the youngest and it's been great.

Even in the past year I've been doing this I've seen great results. You see that picture at the top? David has a pet frog and Lillian decided that she too wanted to have a frog. She checked out books from the library to read up on their care then decided the best way to earn the money was to set up a cookie stand. There she is, on the street corner, selling her homemade cookies and making a killing. It only took her a month or so to save enough for the tank, frog and supplies--all without her coming to me and begging for a pet the way she would have before.

I figure if my oldest children deserve rules and discipline then the least I can do is give a bit to the youngest ones as well. After all, I love them too, right?

***

Congratulations to Becky of L'Anse, Michigan, Kelly and Sonya of Forest Park, Illinois for winning this weekend's prize packages from Pak Naks. Cute charms, aren't they?

Sponsored by Wedding Paper Divas for wedding invitations.

43 comments:

glitzen said...

Wonderful post! I have had to remind myself about this too, even though my two youngest are close in age (10 and 12) and my oldest is gone at 23. Its my ten year old who needs to learn the skills her older sister had at that age. I am like you, its too easy to let the older one do it because they do it best.
Thanks for the insight, it will inspire me to begin again.

chelle said...

Being that I am at the beginning (not quite, almost) of this journey these are tips I hope to file away in my memory!

girlymama said...

wow. what a post.
we're already noticing those 'gaps' in our parenting and our oldest is still only 6!
what great tips - thanks so much for sharing your insight on this!

a Tonggu Momma said...

I SO appreciate this post. As we continue to wait to adopt from China (over three years now), the age gap between the Tongginator and her future sister continues to grow. We will probably have a six or seven year span between them. I am filing this information away.

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

This is a good post with great ideas. Thanks.

Easy Ways of Earning Money said...

Nice stuffs!! Thanks for sharing.

Nate and Stacia said...

I can't even tell you how much I've worried about this! But since I'm almost to #2, I still have a little while until I'm to this point. But thank you so much for the good ideas! Great post!

MaeRae said...

This post hits so close to home. My oldest 16 has had everything put on him for a few years now. Even though his 12 year old brother has been switching off and on for the last year with dishes it seems that we always look to the older one to pick up the slack. He asked us just the other day why he has been doing the same chores for the past 8 years and the youngest 8 does almost nothing. Time to divy up the chores. THANKS!

thediaperdiaries said...

I struggle with this too so I love this post. Great ideas and tips.

Carina said...

Sounds like you've made wise decisions. I guess you'll know for sure when the therapy bills start coming in later.

Just kidding. =)

Laura Moffitt said...

I have to thank you for all the wonderful books posts you have done. I have a friend who is trying to help her 13 year old son to read more classic literary and I thought of the post you did not too long ago about that and sent her there, but while I was looking at books I enter oh so many of the ones you talked about into me Good reads 'To-Read' list. So thank you from both of us!

Chele said...

Beautiful post Michelle! My kids are 13,11,6 and 3. So I completely understand and have done pretty much the same as you. It is hard when you have an older child too! Thanks for reminding me it is okay! :)

Suburban Correspondent said...

Good points about the chores - it can be so much easier to continue relying on the oldest ones. But don't worry - as teens they get so much busier socially and academically that you're forced to draft the younger ones into service anyway. It all evens out.

And once you're paying for the older ones' college? The family's poor again. What goes around comes around...

Amanda said...

Fantastic post. I only have two boys but they are 4 years apart. The youngest is only 6 months but already the hand me down stuff is a reality!

Liz@thisfullhouse said...

Yep, we gave up sprinting and hope to be able to cross the finish line, alive. As if, parenting ever ends. Awesome post, my friend.

Anonymous said...

I was from a large family and you are so right! 7 years between my sister and I and we will never see eye to eye. Too many years and no interest between us. She got I didn't. Times change watches and radios became cheap we bought our own they didn't $89 to $5 difference in the price. Rules were the same. Then we had the babbies of the family and wow they are more like my kids. It is life.

Krystal said...

ah, i have three boys who are all under 6 and my oldest is developmentally delayed....
thank you for these tips.

Lara said...

Thank you for this post! It is something I have definitely been thinking about lately as I watch my oldest feel like she has more of the burden put onto her. My youngest is only three, but even my six year old can do more than she does. It seems I always default to the eldest child to do things for me. Going to work on that. Thanks!

InkMom said...

I am the oldest in my family, and my youngest brother is 9 years my junior. I remember being so frustrated that I had been held to much "higher" standards than he was. Turns out, he's an adult now, and he's probably better adjusted than I am!

Now, my 4 children will all be VERY close in age . . . try 4 and under when the baby is born in November. (Twins help with the age-band density in our family, that's for sure.) And since this will be it for us (my body has given up and CANNOT handle another pregnancy) I'm hoping that tight cluster will make it easier to deal with the things like PG-13 movies . . . or maybe it will make it harder.

At any rate, you're right . . . you do the best you can, and the best you can do evolves day by day. Even in the same family, even with my twins, each parent-child relationship functions differently and must be handled on an individual basis.

Great post.

Daisy said...

I remember buying my daughter's bikes at rummage sales. My husband and I laughed a little when we found out her neighbor (quite a bit more well off than we were) was jealous of her "cool" bikes! It just shows me that money may have been short, but she wasn't shorted.

Michele said...

When my sister (5 years my senior) went off to college, my mom was strict on her living in an all-girls dorm. In her college a co-ed dorm was one where men were on one floor and women were on another floor. My parents said "No way!" Five years later I went off to school and selected a co-ed dorm. "Great idea. We'll feel safer with having boys around," they said. Oh, and co-ed dorm in my school was men in one room, women next door. My parents didn't blink an eye. Yes, my parents were much stricter with my older siblings. But the funny thing is I was probably the one who broke the least rules, got into the least trouble, and was pretty much a goody-goody. Whether it was because they were less strict with me or not, I don't know. Or maybe they were less strict with me because I was so good. Either way, most parents become more laid back, I think, with 2nd, 3rd, and 4th children.

Hairline Fracture said...

Excellent post. We are not there yet, but I will file this away in my long term memory. I remember Dr. Kevin Leman writing (I don't remember which book it was in) that as kids get into adolescence and have more homework, sports, etc., they don't need to keep up the heavy burden of chores that younger brothers and sisters can do.

MommyTime said...

This post really has me thinking. My kids are 5 and 3 right now, and we've just this summer instituted an official chore chart with daily tasks on it. Right now, they're pretty small: make their beds, put their dishes in the sink, help set the table, tidy up toys, plus a weekend assumption of helping with the general Saturday cleaning or laundry folding. I think this is age appropriate, but I always wonder. At what point are they old enough to learn how to do chores that will be unsupervised? And how does one make decisions about allowance in relation (or in no relation) to chores?

Melissa-Mc said...

Amen to all of this. I see so many youngest children get jipped when the parents completely check out mentally and emotionally (usually in their teenage years). Although I am not always as consistent with the younger ones, I tell myself I HAVE to keep up the stamina to be the best parent I can through all of it.

Inkling said...

This is a great post. So helpful!

I have been taking a nine year old under my wings to train her to be a mother's helper to my six month old son with the intent that when she is 12 or so, we'll let her babysit without me being in the house. I find her eager to learn, eager to help, and willing to help me with cleaning when she gets our little guy to sleep.

The thing I don't get though is that there is a nine year old down the street who is actually much closer to our family (she calls my son her cousin, and she calls me Auntie though we aren't related at all), and yet I would never in a million years trust her with my child out of my sight for a second. She is much more immature.

The only thing I can figure is that it might be birth order. The immature one is a firstborn, so she has no one to look to. I find her irritatingly like a six year old most days when we have to be around her. My mother's helper has a 12 year old sister. She's also gainfully employed as an "extra" in movies in Vancouver, and saves all that money for a car and college.

I don't know though. I'm just glad I found a girl who loves my child and is willing to help me (even for free), and is willing to learn and plans on staying with us for the long term. But I still feel badly for the girl down the street who wants to babysit but isn't a candidate by any stretch of the imagination. Any thoughts?

Alison Kelley said...

I love this post, you are such a wonderful writer Michelle and your words just hit home.

If only we were given a hand book designed for each child we bring into this world.

Thanks for this great post and food for thought!

Heather said...

This is a fantastic post.

Hazel said...

I didn't follow these steps and I deeply regret that my youngest grew up far too quickly in her efforts to keep up with an do the same things as the other three. Was it harder with less than five years between all four (no twins)? Was it harder that in their teenage years I was a single parent? Yes to both but those are excuses not reasons!

Karen said...

Very timely post for my life... kids ages 12, 10, 7, 3. Thanks for the tips and things to think about!

Jenna Consolo said...

Fantastic post! I've had this same issue on my mind. Especially since I had my first "set" of kids and then a baby with my second husband, now the soon-to-be three year old gets away with murder! I came downstairs the other day to find him watching Jurassic Park! He called it a "Dinosaur Movie", with wide eyes and was madder than a hornet when I raced to turn it off. My 'big' kids weren't allowed to watch that for a very long time! And even with my two teens (15 and 13), it is hard with the youngest of that set, at 9, to always feel like I'm keeping him separate.

Ho hum.

But then, I guess the other route would be a set of sextuplets or something where all the kids are the same age ALWAYS, and, well...

NO THANKS!

J at www.jellyjules.com said...

We have just the one child, so many of these issues don't apply. And yet, they do in a way. With one, life is pretty simple and easy, and I find myself all too often doing for her instead of teaching her the lessons she needs for when she goes out into the world.

Thanks for a good reminder.

Headless Mom said...

Great tips! Having one in college has certainly changed the dynamic around here regarding chores. I do, however, 'force' some sibling time now and then so I can get some things done. For instance, a local outdoor mall has a fountain that the kids play in all summer and I have sent them out for some free fun. It got them all out of the house on a hot day and gave me a little time with no whining about being bored!

april said...

I'll be very honest here:

There have been times I've thought about dropping your blog from my reader because there are many posts that don't interest me. But I end up staying for gems like this post. I don't care what's popular in parenting...your parenting really really interests me (and I like the book review posts, too).

Have you considered writing a book on parenting? Frankly, I think most parents are spoiling their kids these days. We need more strict (but fair and loving) moms like you.

Keep these posts coming. I end up saving almost every single one on my computer.

jiesa said...

This was a really great read!

Janet said...

This is very helpful. Of course, mine are very close in age and there are just the two of them, but even so, DeBoy got chocolate at 8 months when the Queen was 2 1/2 for her first (of course, he got it because she fed it to him). And he's seen a few movies that I didn't show to her at age 3 (like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty - scary stuff that). As an oldest child, and watching my sister-in-law force her oldest child into constant care of her younger siblings has made me very aware of not expecting the Queen to be a grownup before her time.

alaskabound said...

Great blog! I have only just found your blog, but really liked this post. I too have 4 kids, with 6 yrs separating them. I do rely heavily on my 7 yr old for help, but everyone is responsible to help. However, I have had to remind myself to help keep an eye on the division of labor when I say things like "everyone clean up the toys" because the oldest does end up doing the lion's share, while the boys (4 and 3) get distracted part-way through and start playing with something. Anyway, I loved your advice...

On a totally separate note--we are moving to Fairbanks in Oct, for several years. If you have time, I would love to see if you have advice on living in Alaska for a mom with small children. If you would like to email me, my email is ejsuth@hotmail.com Thanks, Esther

Nancy A. from Two Mountains said...

Oh my...My husband and I can SO relate to this post having had 5 kids. I can see why I like reading your blog so much...we seem to think along similar lines. Over the years, we also readjusted our way of parenting when we noticed our youngest had a 'way too easy life' compared to his 4 older siblings...and privileges our eldest sons never had! Our eldest has already left home (and has become a dad himself 2 days ago), our 19 year old son will soon leave home (military duty) then our 16 year old daughter, 13 and 9 year old sons will readjust once again. Thanks again for sharing. All the best.

oh amanda said...

Such great insight. My 2nd is only 10 months but I think about these kind of things constantly. Thanks for giving me some been-there-done-that advice!

Marketing Mama said...

That was really interesting, thank you for sharing that. My little one is still pretty little (19 months) but I totally have noticed my rules being more relaxed with her, especially about what tv (or how much) is appropriate to watch. Thanks for giving me good food for thought.

And I wish my mother would have read this 20 years ago, when I was 13 and taking care of my 3 little sisters!!!

Grace @ Sandier Pastures said...

What a great post. As the oldest child in a brood of six, I always felt my parents were so strict with me but not with the younger ones. Our youngest is a girl, 13 years younger than I am and she didn't have to do the chores I did or strived for the things she wanted.

I only have one child now but in case I'll have more in the future, I am definitely going to follow what you have written here.

Very insightful post, Michelle!

~3 Sides of Crazy~ said...

Sounds to me that with great rationale and delegating, your stamina is doing just great plus raising great kids who will share the fun and the responsibility.

Alice Wills Gold said...

You'll never be able to quit blogging if you have that many people commenting. I loved this post. The older I get, the more I worry about being fair, but I am so glad that I have a looooonnnnggg time to work out all my parenting kinks. I don't know how these people with only one child ever improve in their parenting. It has taken me 4 so far and I still don't have it down...I am thinking by 5 I am going to be perfect. :)

And I don't even make my kids work for their bikes. It's a good thing we set our own standards.

Chief Family Officer said...

Hi Michelle - I'm cleaning out my old posts and found one where I'd linked to this post of yours and came by to re-read it. I still love it, and since my kids are a bit older now (6 and 4) it's even more meaningful now than it was then.