Inappropriate Responsibility – Did you ever hear of such a thing! Surely all responsibility is a good thing. But no, when our kids take on responsibility that isn’t theirs to take – it is inappropriate. To be honest, adults can do this too – this is what gets us stressed; we take on things that aren’t ours to worry about – our kids can do the same.

Often this happens to the first born – the child we rely on to help us keep everything together. For our family, it is Jessica who we tend to give inappropriate responsibility to, and who at times takes on inappropriate responsibility. When Jess starts reacting, holding to the letter of the law and demanding equality, I know that she is floundering and trying to reset her boundaries – and to be fair to her I have to look at how much I have been leaning on her, and if we have crossed the line. Inevitably this is the case – either she has taken on concerns that aren’t hers, or I have relied on her too heavily.

We need to be the parent – and they need to be the responsible child, but never the parent.

When Daniel was born Jess so much wanted to be the little mother – and she could have been but I had this instinct that I needed to be the mother – completely. Not that I didn’t ask the older ones to help me, but there was this guard about giving them the joy and responsibility of being mother. This was when I started to be aware of this potential issue in family life.

As the children grew old enough to stay at home to look after their younger siblings giving me the freedom to pop into town by myself, I decided against it. I knew that the younger ones didn’t respond well (right or wrong) to the older ones and I wanted to protect and encourage their relationship as siblings above my freedom to go to town by myself. This was another situation where I guarded against inappropriate responsibility.

I heard Greg Harris explain it from Proverbs 13:20

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise,
but the companion of fools will suffer harm.

He tells the story: (my paraphrase) When our first born is a toddler and we are doing the dishes and we hear him cry in the lounge room, we put down what we are doing and go and see what is wrong. We help him get over whatever is the problem. But by the time the fourth child is in the lounge crying, and we are in the kitchen, we send in the oldest to help his sibling. And though this sounds helpful and good family dynamics, what is happening is that the oldest receives instruction and encouragement from the wisdom of our years, and the 4th child, receives the instruction and encouragement from the wisdom of his older brother. Is it any wonder that the statistics for the first born in terms of ability, leadership and achievements are (statistically) so much higher than other siblings?

I think this insight is spot on. Who is influencing, teaching, and guiding your youngest children? Who is encouraging them to think Biblically, to respond with character?

If we were to continue with this picture that Greg Harris paints but switch it around so that all of our children can grow from the wisdom from their parents, it would look different in that the oldest would be in the kitchen doing the dishes and we would be free to instruct and encourage our younger children.

Of course the demands of family life often require that our older children help out, I’m not disregarding how a family works together but the ultimate responsibility to teach, train, guide, direct, and encourage must be ours and we must not abdicate it to our very capable oldest children.

The challenge is – am I giving my younger children the same instruction, the same wisdom, the same input as I gave my first born?

Our older ones can help with the practical tasks that need to be done but when it comes to speaking to our younger kids’ hearts we need to be the ones to do it.

We need to help them persevere, be kind, and use their manners. We need to be the ones to help them solve their problems, be it emotional or physical. We need to be the ones to remind them of God’s word and how to live by it. Yes, the siblings can encourage each other to good works, but we need to be the foremost voice in our kids’ lives, not their older brother/sister.

Finding the Balance against Inappropriate Responsibility

Here are some ideas to help find the balance between working together as a family and yet reducing how much inappropriate responsibility is given or taken by one of the children:

Determine in your heart that the decisions you make today, will affect their sibling relationships tomorrow. Determine in your heart that them being best friends is one of your goals. How they relate to each other today, will affect how they relate to each other tomorrow – will they be surrogate parents, or strong allies.

Insist on being the parent when you are in the house. If there is a problem you are the first to deal with it and then you can ask an older sibling to help you if you need help. If they run with parenting responsibility, remind them that you are here and you have it under control. (Special note – being a different temperament than you, they may think you don’t have it under control – that is where you need to remind them that you may do it differently than they do, and when they are a mum/dad they can do it the way they want to, but God has made you the parent of this family.)

When you leave the house and give the responsibility to the older child – make it specific – verbally give them the responsibility/authority and when you come home, verbally thank them and remind them that you are now in charge.

Observe and think about the times you feel the older one takes on (or is given) inappropriate responsibility, what are the circumstances? How can you avoid those and get the authority and responsibility levels balanced in your home?

When you go out have some times when you are visiting for the sake of your children (play dates), in which case you look after the little ones, and make some visits about you and your friend in which case you can ask the big ones to look after the littlies. But don’t get them to do that every time you go out. Remember you need to train your little ones how to behave when you are out and about and you can only do that when you interact with them when you are out and about.

Start giving responsibility to your younger ones – expect them to grow up! Give them responsibility for chores, responsibility to find solutions for their own problems, responsibility for doing the right thing themselves without being told. We need to keep bumping up the levels of responsibility in our home so that everyone is growing in this area – not just the oldest.

This issue is a two pronged one – we let them take inappropriate responsibility, and they take it! Both parties (the parents and the older child) need to know our place – it is our place to be the parent, and their place to be the brother or sister.

Further Reading:

What to do When you Don’t See Change Happening in Your Kids: Though we don’t want to be results driven we do want to see our kids change. What can we do when we don’t see change happening in our kids?

Remember these 4 Training Stages to be an Effective Parent: These 4 training stages helps us to teach our children rather than just tell them. Without these 4 stages we are likely to frustrate our children.

Does Your Child Lack Initiative? Do Something About It:   Initiative takes a child beyond obedience and helps them be truly responsible – but it often depends on how a parent encourages responsibility.

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Inappropriate responsibility happens in a family when a child takes on more authority than he or she should. We need to remember that the responsibility of family life is the parent’s, not the child’s.

Inappropriate responsibility happens in a family when a child takes on more authority than he or she should. We need to remember that the responsibility of family life is the parent’s, not the child’s.

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