We are on the verge of entering the golden age of parenting.
Our oldest daughter, Elissa, who turned 10 this summer, is inching closer to being able to look after herself and our youngest daughter for small periods of time without adult supervision.
So in a matter of months, my wife and I should be able to leave the house for a few hours of spontaneous fun. No more booking babysitters weeks in advance. And better yet, no more heading to the movie theatre to catch a Disney or Pixar film. That’s right, I can go back to being dragged back to rom-coms—probably just in time for The Notebook 2 to hit the theatres.
Our daughter is keen on the responsibility that comes with being the oldest child in the house. This past spring, she completed the “Home Alone” course in her Girl Guides unit, giving her a number of tips on what to do when you are by yourself. (This two-hour course was in direct contrast to what she learned when I showed her the Home Alone movie last Christmas, where she figured the best way to handle things on your own was to set up a series of intricate booby-traps involving paint cans.)
We are also excited by the prospect of no longer spending $40 to $50 on a babysitter every time we want to go out. Paying for a babysitter is like having a fun tax for parents. “Oh, you want to have dinner and a movie tonight? That’ll be an extra $55. And please be home before 11p.m.”
So when I casually mentioned to Elissa that she would be looking after her little sister for free, I was quite taken aback at her response.
“What? I’m not looking after her for free!” she retorted.
Welcome to parenting in 2014, where entrepreneurial tweenagers will try and nickel and dime you under your own roof. (And then two hours later, that same kid will ask you for a denim vest from Justice).
I was quick to point out to Elissa that it’s an assumed responsibility for older siblings to look after younger ones. Much like setting the table or clearing the dinner plates, there shouldn’t be a fixed cost associated with certain chores around the house. Can you imagine that scenario?
“OK, Dad. I cleared three plates at 50 cents each, you owe me a buck-fifty.”
But then I did a quick Google search and realized this was actually a pretty legitimate topic of discussion. Lots of parents seem to wrestle with this question: Should you pay your own children to look after their younger siblings?
There is certainly a camp out there that believes older siblings should get paid some money to look after their younger brother or sister. (Most likely these are adults who were the eldest siblings in their families back in the 1980s and are carrying some sort of grudge that they never got paid for doing this 30 years ago.)
If anything, there is an argument to be made that if you are going to pay your own child to babysit any younger siblings, you should do so at a discounted rate. For example, if you have been paying your regular neighbourhood sitter $10 an hour, perhaps you can cut that rate in half to $5 an hour for your own child.
But then you have the other side saying, “Hold on a second. Don’t you get free room and board? And what about the unlimited data on your tablet? And didn’t I just buy you a denim vest?” There is absolutely something to be said for the idea of giving your eldest child some responsibility—without any cash payout attached to it.
Read more: Is your tween ready to babysit?>
As I try and find a middle ground on this debate, I wonder if raising the allowance for the oldest child would be the most logical and fair conclusion. If you raised the allowance by a few dollars per week, you are acknowledging that there are some increased responsibilities for the oldest child—but at the same time you aren’t breaking your own bank each time you head out on a date night with your spouse.
And if you are increasing their responsibilities around the house, you can also try throwing in a few more chores on top of babysitting.
“Hey, it’s your turn to mow the lawn. And when you’re done that, you can clean off the barbecue grill. I’m busy watching football now, because in two hours, I’m going to see The Notebook 2.”
Follow along as Ottawa-based sports radio host Ian Mendes gets candid about raising daughters, Elissa and Lily, with his wife, Sonia. Read all of Ian’s The Good Sport posts and follow him on Twitter @ian_mendes.