Burdened Children


    Lately I have been noticing that a lot of my students have been arriving to school late in the morning or just being absent from school more often than they regularly are.  Upon further investigation and discussion with them when they do come to school, I have become aware of what I consider to be a growing problem.  It seems that a lot of my students arrive late because they have to take their younger siblings to school in the morning.  Additionally, sometimes they are absent because they have to stay home and take care of their younger brothers and sisters while their parents run errands, attend doctor’s appointments, or go to work.

    I completely understand that life has a way of creating unexpected situations and that emergencies and extenuating circumstances sometimes warrant extreme measures.  However, from a parent’s perspective, this is really irresponsible behavior.  I’m totally against imposing the responsibility of caring for younger siblings on older kids.  These older kids are not the parents of their brothers or sisters and it is unfair that they be strapped down with that kind of responsibility.  If parents cannot assume responsibility for more than one child, they should not have anymore children.  I think that it is extremely selfish to have more kids if you are going to expect your older ones to help you care for them.

    Now, just to clarify, I’m not saying that your older children should not help you with your younger children from time to time.  For example, I would sometimes ask my older son to pass me a diaper when I was changing my younger son.  I don’t consider that a lot to have asked him and I still ask him to help his brother with small things like hanging up their uniforms and their jackets when they get home from school.  That is as far as it would ever go because I would never ask my oldest to babysit my youngest or to take him to school in the morning.

    Maybe I am being too harsh.  After all, I have always had my husband to help me with my boys when it came to caring for them, providing for them, and taking them back and forth to school.  My sister, on the other hand, is a single parent and she has had to make some tough decisions regarding how my nephews get to school in the morning.  She has had to rely on my older nephew to take my younger nephew to school because she has to be at work by a certain time.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I feel for her having to juggle a full time job and caring and providing for two boys without any kind of help, financial or otherwise, from their father. 

     At the end of the day, though, these are things that I feel people should think about before they have kids.  Why should children end up paying the price when parents are faced with life’s unexpected bumps in the road?  I’m sure that this type of situation is more prevalent in low income inner city neighborhoods where children are living in single parent homes and parents are struggling to make ends meet.  I’m really not trying to be judgmental or to make anyone feel badly but I am definitely trying to draw attention to the fact that a lot of people become parents without being realistic about what it takes to raise children in today’s society.

    Those of you who are parents know that one of the things that becomes painfully evident when you have a child is the tremendous cost of raising one.  To have children when you do not have the financial means to care for them is just unacceptable.  I consider being able to provide childcare along with all of the other necessities part of the responsibilities of a parent so forcing that part of parenting on your older children when it comes to caring for your younger children means that you are shirking your duties. 

    As a teacher, I cannot even begin to describe the profound effect that this family situation has on a child’s academics.  First and foremost, it affects their attendance because they are often late due to taking younger siblings to school and also absent often.  Secondly, they miss out on a lot of instructional time due to their attendance which causes them to fall behind on assignments and classwork.  Lastly, it causes them to become resentful at having so much adult responsibility thrust upon them and makes them act out in school and mistreat their younger brothers and sisters sometimes.

    I don’t have all the answers as to how we can fix some of these problems.  Maybe the problem lies in the fact that a lot of people are having children that are not financially or emotionally equipped to do so.  Another issue might be the fact that we have a lot of single parent families in this country and they are not receiving financial support from the other parent which causes them to have to expect their children to assume a lot more responsibility in order to help out.  In any case, it seems to me that the children are the ones who are losing out in all of this.  Where do we draw the line as parents, between teaching our children to be independent and just expecting too much too soon from them?  I’m thinking that, when you can’t tell the difference between who the parent is and who the kid is, it’s about time to draw that line…

© 2011, Tough Cookie Mommy. All rights reserved.


  1. that’s a tough issue….I believe education should be a kids main job. I’m a former teacher and I too saw many parents put their child’s attendance on the back burner.

    On the same token, I think there needs to be more support for parents struggling to keep their (older) children in school. more help with the younger ones. especially when they have no family/friends to help them. i’m not exactly sure how that could be done. quite a challenge….

    • Jill, it is a tough issue. While I completely understand that it is a struggle for some parents, I am so worried that children are being burdened by too much responsibility and being forced to grow up too fast. I agree with you that more support systems need to be in place in order for struggling parents to keep their children in school.

  2. It’s totally a tough issue!
    And it’s also just another one of the myriad of reasons as to why I had to stop teaching – the social worker aspect was becoming the full time job, and if I actually managed to teach something, bonus! … and I never wanted to be a social worker. 🙁

    • Steph, that is exactly how I feel sometimes. My students have so many things going on in their lives that impair their ability to focus on school that I have to address these issues sometimes. As teachers, we wear so many hats that academics is not the only thing that we end up having to teach our students.

  3. As an only child, I always wanted siblings. I especially missed the taking care of each other relationship I imagined between siblings. I always dreamed of an older brother that would “protect” me. Considering that background, it is important to me to foster a sense of responsibililty between my kids for each other. We are all part of a family and to me that means taking care of each other to the best of each of our abilities. I don’t consider having the kids watch their little sister or help each other with chores as putting a burden upon them. To me it is giving them the gift of a strong relationship with their siblings and empathy for others. Also, some sense of pride and belonging in the family – pitching in, teamwork etc.

    That being said, I think the issue is that the parents aren’t putting the older children’s schooling in high enough priority. Giving your kids the best possible foundation for success is every parent’s responsibility. Obviously the best that one parent can do won’t be the same that another can do, but each of us should be trying to give them the best that we can. Even if that means letting go of some pride and asking a neighbor or other classmate’s parents for help – that is the parent’s responsibility to do whatever it takes so their kids can get the education they need and deserve.

    Pride is not a good enough excuse.

    But this is just my opinion and since I am an only child I don’t really know first hand.

    • I think you make a valid point about the fact that parents are not prioritizing their children’s education in some cases. I’m sure that when you say that you don’t mind asking one of your older children to watch their younger sibling it will probably be while you are in a different room of the house. I just can’t wrap my head around having one sibling babysit another sibling while the parents are away from the home. Maybe in a situation where the older sibling is considerably older than the younger one it is not such a big issue. However, I don’t think it is appropriate for a 13 year old to be responsible for taking care of younger siblings while the parents are gone from the house. That is just a recipe for disaster, if you ask me…

  4. I’m with you 100% on this topic. As a former kinder teacher often older siblings were often the ones taking care of my students. It’s unfair for parents to rely that much on such young children.

  5. That really is a tough issue. In our house, education comes first. My husband is a youth and high school football coach, and he extends that philosophy to the field as well. All of his players teacher’s have his phone number. If there are attendance/behavior/academic problems – the kid doesnt practice or play, period. The parents-teachers-coaches work together in the best interest of the child. In our house, we have 8 kids. We are a blended family and all the kids spend part of their week at the their other parents house. While we don’t expect older ones to parent younger ones, we do expect the FAMILY to work together as a TEAM to get things accompished, make sure EVERYONE gets where they need to be on time, prepared, and ready to learn, etc.

    For example, I have to be at work by 9am. Ce starts school at 7:45am, Drew at 8:30am, Josh at 8:40 and Isaiah at 9am. My husband leaves early to drop of Ce. I leave in time to drop Drew at a high school 15 mins before class starts, and drop Isaiah and Josh at the elementary at about 8:20. Isaiah takes Josh to the Kinder playground and watches him until he can enter his class at 8:30. We have given him the responsiblity (he is in 5th grade) and he actually enjoys it and likes to help out. Once he leaves Josh he heads to the cafeteria to meet up with friends before class. I dont feel like we are throwing our responsiblities on him, I think that as a family we work together. I have to be to work on time, and we had to devise a plan that worked – however, we are not sacrificing any childs attendance or success with our solution. Maybe thats whats different than your students.

    Same goes for most everything we do – at dinner older kids help out making plates, everyone participates. You will likely find older kids helping with homework – etc. Its true they arent the parents but we all view it as helping the family. Then again, you might find my 5 yr old helping an older kid with something too. If I have to bring work home, you might even find my 15 yr old son offer to make a simple dinner. I love that my kids are thoughtful and mature enough to help the family and not think of it as a burden.

    As for making a kid stay home to watch or care for another kid…NEVER in million years. Isnt that illegal or something to keep a kid out of school like that?

  6. Dont mean to hijack..but wanted to say that I completely understand where Daria is coming from. I was also an only child with the same desire for sibling relationships. I am so thrilled my kids are experiencing that. My older ones do babysit the little ones (even for hubby and I to go on an occasional date night) but they are always “asked” if they are willing to babysit if they dont have previous plans, and although we dont “pay” them, we usually bring home some special treat for everybody or make a point to take everyone to do something a little extra fun. Of course, the kids doing the babysitting are 13, 15, or 16 and of legal babysitting age.

  7. I can say that I was one of those burdened children at various times in my childhood, but my parents strongly emphasized education, so they made sure it didn’t interfere with school. I didn’t have any responsibilities with my first sister, who was 5 years younger. But when my second sister was born when I was 10 and that introduced added burdens for me. The first year she wasn’t in daycare yet & my dad drove my mom to work, so I’d have to watch the baby until he got back then run to school. Not fun, especially knowing how NYC traffic can be sometimes. Once she was in daycare, I had to race to pick her up because they charged extra past 4pm and my parents were both at work. It got annoying sometimes, but I can’t say it affected my education any. I didn’t miss school and I was a straight A student.

    All that to say that, while my situation wasn’t exactly what you’re describing, I do think that parents need to be careful about over-burdening their kids, especially when it affects school, which should take top priority. I didn’t mind my responsibilities for the most part, except for the days that I actually wanted to do something else with my friends. 🙂 I’m sure if I were actually missing school or going in late, I would have really resented it…

  8. Well said Maria. This is a tough one. I don’t understand it and there is no easy solution.

    After my father died and my mother went to work, I was basically raised by my older siblings. My sister was expected to skip school to get me ready for school each day, Holiday parties, pick me up from half days, and a bunch of other stuff she wasn’t old enough to even be responsible for. My mother had no expectations when it came to school work, she didn’t mind when both of my older siblings dropped out of hs after becoming young parents. It’s sad really, I was the first to graduate hs and college in my family.

  9. I can see both sides of this, but as much as I respect and love you Maria, I disagree. I do believe a 13 year old is old enough to be asked to watch their siblings while we are out of the house. Kids are of legal babysitting age at 12 and are often paid by other families to babysit their kids. Why wouldn’t we have them babysit too?

    In my opinion, it’s about maintaining the balance – as in almost everything in life. If it does become a Burden that the child resents or interferes with what the older child needs also – then it isn’t ok. But, teaching kids to be responsible and allowing them the independence of being in charge for a couple of hours seems fine to me. I would never consider leaving a 13 year old alone over night by themselves -let alone babysitting – but for a couple of hours while the parents have a date night seems reasonable.

    My oldest is only 9 so far, so we haven’t gotten there, but (depending on the kid) I think this is part of being a family.

    • Daria, I love and respect you so much too! However, we will have to agree to disagree on this, respectfully. I think we have unique perspectives on this due to the fact that you were an only child and I was the oldest of three children who had a lot of responsibility imposed on me by my parents fro my younger siblings. It just seems like it is unfair to the older ones to be strapped down by the younger ones. I do appreciate your honesty and your points did provide me with some food for thought. 🙂

  10. I totally, TOTALLY, agree with you. As a single mom of 3 boys, no matter how hard it is for me I AM THE PARENT. Those kids, all 3 of them. are my responsibility.

    When I was younger, I was that child you are talking about. I had to take care of my sister who is 12 years younger. I had to come home from school everyday to relieve the babysitter. I resented not being able to have the life that I should have been having as a teen. And to this day, I believe it has affected the relationship I have with my sister.

    I have to be honest and say that I think parents that do this and” justify it” are fooling themselves. The siblings don’t love taking care of their siblings. They don’t enjoy the responsibility. And they will, at some point, come to resent it. I just hope they take your words to heart.

    I know from every fiber of my being that being a single parent is hard. It’s tough. I live it every.single.day! When the kids get sick and pass it on and I’ve had to take days off of work 3 weeks in a row, because that’s just how the flu works, it wears on me. But I would NEVER make my other children “responsible” for their brother. I have to say I am blessed in that I have always made it clear, during an interview, that I am mom first and that there is no one else to step in for me. Take it or leave it.

    In addition, my youngest still attends after school care. EVEN THOUGH his brothers are home, have a license and could watch him to save me a few (ok, a lot) of bucks. It’s just not fair to them. It’s a burden. He is not their child. They did not choose to have him.

    Kids should be kids and that doesn’t mean changing diapers, and cleaning the house, and being responsible for, and disciplining siblings. NEVER, EVER, NEVER. Not under any circumstance. Period.

    Sorry, for the long-winded response. I’m kind of passionate about this.

    • Jill, I have to say that I am totally with you on this one. Maybe we feel this way because we were forced to assume a lot of responsibility for our younger siblings. I also see how it can be a problem as a teacher who sees some of her students losing out academically because of having this role imposed on them by their parents.

  11. I’m only 4 years older than my sister and I can flat out tell you I resented being asked to babysit her or have her tag along with me. For 20+ years I have carried around this “so called” responsibility that many parents believe they are teaching their children. Let me tell you it has had lasting problems for my sister and I, and for my marriage early on having to choose between my responsibility to my family and my new family. I also don’t believe the benefits that the parents receive from these arrangements are worth the burdens placed on the children under any circumstances. For those without extended families or support systems, I do think you must consider whether you are capable of being a parent to both children without sharing your responsibilities with your children. Sometimes it’s a matter of sucking up your own pride, and asking a family member or friend for help. Other times, it’s a matter of prioritizing. For 4 days last week our baby was fighting a fever, back and forth to the doctor we went. My 3 year old sat with us after preschool at the Dr.’s office for about an hour. She was miserable. All we did is remind her over and over again that she couldn’t play or talk loudly in the Dr.’s office. The next morning we woke up and the fever had gotten worse. My husband being raised as an only child, was perfectly fine with our 3 year old missing school and accompanying us to the Dr.’s office again. I immediately phoned my mother begging her to drop my daughter off at school because I couldn’t endure her suffering at the Dr.’s office again. She’s a kid. Although I know this isn’t the same issue, I feel I have a responsibility to both my girls. Causing both to suffer because of my unwillingness to seek help just wasn’t the answer for me. For my husband, it’s just preschool. For me, missing preschool is a road that I don’t even want to begin to go down with my girls because I was that child.

    • Eleana, thank you for your candid feedback. It seems that those of us who were the older children responsible for our younger siblings have a very different point of view when it comes to this whole issue. My readers who were only children and never had to care for their younger siblings seem to romanticize this whole arrangement as an opportunity for siblings to bond. Perhaps our testimonials regarding how much we resented it and the effects that it has had on us long-term will help to sway their opinions somewhat.

  12. Maria,
    Reading your last response, I thought maybe you had a good point. I was an only child – and maybe I need to talk to my kids openly and honestly about how they feel about babysitting, etc. I sat down independently with both 15, 13, and 11 yr olds about how they feel about babysitting or other responsiblities with their 5 yr old brother. All three have different feelings on the issue, and Im glad we had the talk. It doesnt seem to be a resentment issue in our house at this point – but I’m so glad the lines of communication are open and the older kids know that I don’t expect them to parent their little brother – or do things that Mom should do. Thanks for helping us open communication in our home about this! I certainly don’t want my kids to ever have the resentment that some of you who cared for younger siblings feel.

    • Heather, I am so glad that this post created an opportunity for you to have genuine communication with your older children. Most older siblings don’t really have choices when these kinds of responsibilities are thrust upon them. It speaks volumes about the kind of parent that you are that you took the time out to talk to your kids and really get a sense for how they felt about the whole issue. Thank you so much for passing by and telling me all about it, it meant a lot to me.

  13. Greetings. My brother & his wife are physically separated as there is no legal divorce in our country (Pholippibes). Of course both parties have their faults but currently my brother provides for the tuition, pocket money, books for the 2 older brothers (16 & 13) aside from milk for the 3 year old girl & food for all 4 (all 3 children, 2 older one decided to stay with mother out of pity for her- she manipulated them- & their youngest, only sister. The CURRENT ISSUE is that SHE (in charge of rent for “their place” but can’t hold a job down for more than 6-12 months- I believe she is a sociopath- so all 4 ended up moving 3x within 2 years from separating from my brother, and the REAL PROBLEM is she can’t find a nanny (no one decent enough stays for long because mother is really financially & psychologically unstable since day 1) SO SHE MAKES THE 2nd CHILD/ BOY stay home & miss school because no nanny can put up with their mother. Both older brother are intelligent & belong to the premier exclusive catholic boys’ school on the country & the mother is depriving the 2nd child of a bright future by manipulating him to stay home with the 3yr old because no one else will because of her overall psychological & financially unstable state.

    WHAT TO DO????

    From the only living concerned paternal aunt

    PS. My brother (my nephews’ & niece’s father & I are not in speaking terms because no
    Matter how much he is able to “provide” to his children he is still a sleazy scum bag sorry to say as a brother too! He may be a good father but his being in dire straits has caused a strain in our relationship since we are the only 2 left (our father, mother & only sister recently passed away & he has decided that he owns everything that was left behind by all 3).

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