A friend asked me this question today.
“ My only frame of reference for a large family are “The Duggars”. On that show, the parents have spun off some of the parenting responsibilities onto the older kids (i.e. “buddy system”, etc.). Is that what you do in your household?”
So, I will try and answer it the best I can. First, I will confess I have only watched maybe four episodes of “The Duggars.” So, I am not really sure how they do things. In our house we have done different things at different times. Second, I am not sure what” parenting responsibilities” mean in this question. It is our responsibility as parents to teach and train our children in the WORD of God. I think every family does this differently. My parents had us do chores, take care of our siblings, and even run errands to the grocery and other places. Some people might think that is the parents job to do those things. I personally think it is better to teach our children community and good work skills in the home (family environment). This prepares them for married life, work place environment, and church life, not to mention parenting their own kids some day. So yes, our kids do lots of chores, take care of their siblings without pay, and even do the grocery shopping. We do use a buddy system. Here is how it works.
When we go out as a whole family, like to church or on a special outing, then we do use a buddy system. Each kid is assigned a buddy. We usually keep the same buddy assignment for several months. Right now the assignments are like this:
Daniel (17) with Stephen (4)
TylerAnn (16) with Josh (7)
Rachel (15) with Davey (10) this is almost always the hardest assignment
Lydia (14) with Zach (5)
Brenden (13) with Jeremiah (9)
Rebekah (12) with Anna (1)
Each buddy is responsible for each other. Therefore, the younger is also responsible for the older. They need to help each other get ready to leave the house (dressed in appropriate attire), they need to make sure they are in the van and buckled, they need to makes sure they are where they need to be at all times, and if they have health issues (food allergies) that they are addressed, they need to make sure they don’t get left behind when we go home.
So for an example of how this looks. As we load up into the van. I will say to Josh (7), “Is your buddy in the van?” Then Josh needs to make sure TylerAnn is in the van. I might then say, “Bekah do you have the diaper bag for Anna?” and so on. By having them both responsible for each other, the younger kids learn to think about others and be responsible. Because soon they will be the older kids.
During the day at home, these same buddies will often work together in schooling and chores. An example of this is during our morning group lessons. I have each buddy sit beside each other. Then as we read and discuss the older can include the younger in the lessons. If we are reading out loud, the older can have the younger follow along in the Bible/book. As they do chores, if TylerAnn is making supper she may have her buddy Josh help. IF Lydia is folding laundry, then she may have Zach help her. And so on.
Another time we do buddies is if I have to go somewhere and leave kids at home. Then I assign them to keep track of each other. Again it goes both ways. My older kids will often be tempted to get on the computer or video games if I am gone, but if I say to the younger ones that there is to be no electronics and they are to keep track of their brothers. This is an easy way of helping my kids help themselves. The older kids know the younger are watching and make a better choice, and the younger learn the importance of obeying.
Some of my kids naturally tend to be more nurturing and helpful with the little kids. Some of my kids struggle to think outside of themselves and their own needs. Some of my kids need more help than others (like Davey with his special needs). All of my kid are very independent. Some of my kids listen to their older siblings with respect. Some of my kids can be very bossy and demanding. Some of my kids will not listen to their older siblings. Some of my kids work together better than others. Because of these differences, we like to change up the buddy assignments to help each of them learn to work with difficult people. By learning to be gentle, kind, and patient with their siblings it prepares them for adult life. By learning to listen even when they don’t want to they are being prepared for difficult work and marriage situations. The buddy system isn’t just to help me manage the kids, but also to teach my kids good character.
We teach our kids that they are accountable for themselves and each other. Therefore, even if someone is not their assigned buddy, they are expected to help them if needed.
Each of my kids have different ways that they are naturally a help to the family. So for the most part I encourage that in them.
Daniel loves babies, and is a very laid back kind of guy. He puts the babies down for their nap almost everyday. Of course, that is after I feed them, if they are still being nursed. If a baby is fussy, Daniel will rock and hold it for hours and not get frustrated. But, once a baby is no longer a baby he would rather someone else deal with them. So, he prefers to do household chores, to best serve the family.
TylerAnn is very patient, gentle and a natural nurturer (I am NOT). The kids all see her as a second mother. She is a born leader, and if she is being respectful, cheerful, and responsible than everyone is following her lead. She often needs a break from our family due to the fact that all her siblings, young and old, seek her out for a confidant. She has even become my close companion and friend. She doesn’t do babies, but she enjoys preschoolers and elementary age kids best. Often the kids will go to her at night if they have a bad dream or get scared. The kids know she is NOT their mom, but they also know she will not turn them away.
Rachel is a natural teacher. She doesn’t have to be asked to read to the kids, or play with them. She often makes up activities for them to do and learn from. She loves to take the kids outside no matter the weather. She has potty trained almost all of her younger siblings.
Lydia is most like her mom. She is a director and organizer. She is good at getting the jobs done, and done right. She is a morning person and takes it on herself to start breakfast, and care for the little ones as they wake up. She prefers to spend time one on one with a sibling than as a group.
Brenden is an adventurer and loves to take his brothers on adventures and do crazy boy projects with them. He will often take the brothers on a hike or spend hours making forts with them. He also is a great handy man, and will see a problem and fix it without being asked.
Bekah is a baby lover. She is a little mommy. She changes diapers, gives baths, and feeds babies without complaint.
The little ones are already starting to show their natural character too. Jeremiah knows Davey is limited and looks out for him. Even Davey knows how to help with the babies when I am busy. He will often call them to play with him, so I can get other work done.
So, yes, we do use a buddy system, but mostly we just encourage each kid to help in the way that they are most gifted and enjoy serving in.