Tuesday, January 15, 2008


My kids are "home alone" fairly often these days. Often Fiona prefers to come along with an adult, though she's increasingly happy to be home. And I've never paid Erin to be responsible for her siblings when I'm away.

Recently I've heard it said that it's unfair to expect eldest siblings to be responsible for younger children without paying them as you would an adult or older teen from outside. I've heard adults talk about having cared for younger siblings and resented that it interfered with their after-school activities and down-time. They mentioned finding their siblings a huge burden.

I still don't pay Erin and while I'm sure she wouldn't give back the money if I started paying her (she does have a serious iTunes addiction, after all), she certainly would never expect to be paid.
For a bunch of reasons.

First, a few hours a week does not eat into Erin's down-time or extra-curricular activities. Homeschooling gives her loads of time. Her late evenings and weekends are not precious in the same way that they are to schoolchildren.

Second, homeschooling has helped create an inter-sibling dynamic that is comfortable and respectful and that works. Erin does not find being with her siblings a burden any more than being with her parents is a burden. (Let's not go explore that last scenario any further, okay?)

Thirdly, one of my expectations is that being part of a family means contributing to making that family work -- without pay. I don't get paid to do laundry or carry in the groceries, and neither do the other people in this family. The kids understand and they contribute too. Sometimes that means setting the table, or picking up dirty laundry or feeding the chickens. And sometimes it means preparing lunch for your littlest sister while your mom and dad are away.

The biggest reason she's not paid, though, is that when we leave the kids home I am not asking Erin to assume an "in loco parentis" role. I am asking her and her siblings to behave in an appropriately responsible manner, to work together in ways that make the experience safe and enjoyable for all of them. Obviously if there is a serious safety issue or unresolvable conflict, she would need to exercise leadership commensurate with her age, ability and role in the family, but I am not asking her to be in a position of authority over her younger siblings -- I'm not putting her "in charge." Instead I'm saying "you guys need to work together so that this is safe and enjoyable for all of you."

And there's one final reason why I don't pay Erin to babysit her siblings when I work my clinic mornings is that, well, it's that she's usually asleep the whole time I'm gone. Hooboy, it's amazing how the teen shift in circadian rhythm has compounded her night-owl tendencies!


  1. I don't pay my kids to do chores either. The three of them are left at home more often now that they're older, and as you say, teen rhythms being what they are, the oldest is often asleep!

  2. I wouldn't pay my kids to babysit each other either. I expect it of them. Maybe that's very Asian or something that's expected in larger families?

  3. I never paid my older daughter for keeping an eye on her younger brother when necessary, and I have never paid for chores either.

    I tend to agree with you. Being part of a family means working together toward common goals. Yes, each person is an individual, but together, we are a family. We help each other and do for one another because that benefits all of us.

    Call me old fashioned!

  4. I only pay my older ones to watch their younger brother on those rare occasions when I am asking them to give up something special or a paying job to babysit for me. I don't think its fair to ask them to give up an important event or money with no reward, just because I have something I want to do. If they are going to be home anyway, or if they were just going to do something with friends, then they do not get paid and watching their brother is just part of being a family member. Doesn't happen often, but I think its fair.

  5. And I suppose one other important component to your scenario is that if Erin was not happy with being left with her siblings she would be comfortable enough to tell you, and you would get together as a family to discuss the matter, and work together towards a resolution. That alone makes your situation very different from that of many other families.

  6. I'm curious about the comments regarding "not paying for chores". Does this mean you wouldn't give your kids an allowance?

  7. Hi Brit, my kids all get an allowance. It isn't tied to chores, for a number of reasons. First, it's a tool for learning money management. Second, helping each other is what families do -- I'm not paid for doing laundry, and neither are they. Thirdly, if the reason to help our around the house is for money, then if you don't want the money (because your financial needs are small, or because you've found an easier source of income) you're perfectly entitled to not lift a finger around the house. I wrote more about our allowance system here if you're interested.

  8. I just got back from a mission trip to Honduras where the older siblings often carried their baby sister or brother on their hip when they came to our activities. I'm sure their parents weren't paying them any more than my family pays me for the meals I prepare or the housecleaning I do. In our family, all the kids contribute to chores without being paid. The same goes for "babysitting" each other.

  9. My kids don't have assigned chores and when the boys were younger and got allowance it was never tied to anything at all. I also have never paid the older kids to babysit their siblings. I expect them to contribute to what needs doing in the house. I should add that my oldest 2 boys never had to do chores and both are adults living on their own and have no trouble doing laundry, dishes, cooking etc. IMO motivation is everything:)


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