How to Encourage Your Oldest Child to Take Ownership in Their Role

Mollie and Suzanne were the beginning of this Crazy Cool Family, and one-by-one — starting with Don since Mollie and Suz were a pair before Don entered the picture — they built a family of nine. Mollie felt the burden and responsibility of being a big sister when Madeline was barely sitting up.

We added Macy eighteen months later. Mollie was six years old at the time, which meant she would have to entertain Madeline or hold Macy. When McKenzie was born, Mollie started to realize how hard being an older sister really was, especially when Mom was in the other room forever nursing a baby. Mollie would read stories, fix cereal, help the girls get dressed. During those times, she felt responsible for the other little people in the house.

Deep down, first-born children wonder what life would have been like if the other kids had not been added to the family. When asked if she would have thrived as an only child, Mollie answered, “Maybe thrived, but I would not be the person that I am today. I’m a firm believer that siblings are one of the biggest ways that iron sharpens iron.” She went on to say how learning to be married, having a child, and being in community with others started early in life with siblings.

Here are a few of the questions Mollie answered about being the big sister:

What were some of the perks of being the oldest sibling?

  • Empowered to be the leader because the other siblings want to do what the biggest sibling is doing.
  • Set apart from the younger kids in the family.
  • No hand-me-down clothes.
  • Have my own room.
  • Benefits like going to friends’ houses or staying out late.
  • Spend more time with parents at the beginning or end of the day.
  • Perspective and wisdom gained from being the first to walk through situations in life and being able to help.
  • Being the guinea pig for parents to figure out what they are doing.

Was there ever a time you didn’t enjoy being a big sister?

When the last two little boys were added to the family, Mollie cried at the thought of being responsible for more people because she wanted to live her own life. She was up to her eyeballs in teenage stuff, and she wanted life to be about her for a little while.

When did it flip? When were you glad you had so many siblings?

Mollie’s perspective changed when McCade was born and the realization that human life is incredible, and she embraced the fact that she’s the first, oldest, biggest sister. Another factor that changed her view of siblings was that her faith became her own, and she wanted all her siblings to love Jesus like she did.

What would you say to all the big brothers and sisters out there to help them connect to their siblings?

  • “I’d ask them, ‘What do you love about your siblings?’ This question pulls out good things that they love about their little brothers and sisters, and it’s the foundation of gratefulness.
  • I’d tell them that all the responsibility they have for their siblings is an honor given by God because He created them to be the oldest in the family.
  • I would encourage them to see how important their words and actions are to their siblings. They get to help create who their siblings become.”

How would you advise parents?

“Figure out what blesses your oldest kid, and do that for her as a reward for living out the role of the older sibling. Love on them the way they need to be loved.”

  • Spend extra time with him (maybe at bedtime).
  • Make sure you are showering her with words of encouragement about what a great big sister she is.
  • Bring home a special gift to show him your gratitude for the role he plays in the family.
  • Compensate her for her time when she is in charge (it doesn’t have to be the same amount you would pay a babysitter). Any amount will tell them they are important.

The role of the oldest sibling is a powerful and influencing role in your family! When you get the oldest on your team, the other siblings will follow. Be aware, and make them aware of the responsibility, honor, ownership, and value of being the oldest. God has set them apart and hand-picked them to be the oldest. And God knows exactly what He is doing!

If you have a question or a parenting issue that you’d like us to discuss in a future podcast, email us at [email protected].

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