Paying your children for babysitting (or any other household chore) is definitely a matter that has some controversy. In a capitalist society, we do often rate the value of ourselves or things based on its worth in dollars. However, as a democratic society, we also understand the value of having a voice/casting a vote. Our primary relationships are those within our family, and in that group we learn about relationships. Families are complicated…yes. Each family is different and similar. So, this discussion takes into account that each family’s decision regarding paying siblings to care for another sibling reflects the values of that family.
Our primary relationships are those within our family, and in that group we learn about relationships. Families are complicated…yes. Each family is different and similar. So, this discussion takes into account that each family’s decision regarding paying siblings to care for another sibling reflects the values of that family.
A family is a group that consists of individuals. As a family therapist, I often talk to families about their values. The values of a family are reflected in their roles, rules and rituals. Older siblings often take on the role of a caregiver for younger siblings. This role may be imposed or may be voluntarily chosen. Either way, the parent(s) determine by whom, when and how this task of caregiver gets carried out. As the executives of the family, the parents determine the decision-making process. The decision to pay or not to pay will vary from family to family. Understanding how each family makes their decisions, and maintaining consistency in that process is the key.
An authoritative parenting style has been touted as the most healthy parenting style. The authoritative parent has high expectations balanced with understanding, reasonable and explicit consequences for children’s behavior, and attention to the child’s social and emotional needs. In contrast, the authoritarian style, does not balance the high expectations of the children with the responsiveness of the authoritative style, instead the parent tends to be strict and firm. There is little room for negotiation or communication. The alternative styles of neglectful and permissive parenting, both can put children at risk in the short-term, and can also result in long-term damage. Neither of these styles allow for healthy communication that helps children learn good decision-making and provides clear boundaries in a family system.
As for getting paid for babysitting, the debate usually revolves around the issue of family contribution versus individual rights/needs. One potential point of conflict is that older siblings could possibly be denied opportunities to earn money babysitting (or elsewhere) or to participate in other activities due to responsibilities at home, namely taking care of their sibling. There may be times when the sibling can be expected to care for their sibling when it does not interfere with other obligations they may have (i.e., school, extracurricular activities), contributes by allowing parents to fulfill other household obligations or due to an emergency. When the babysitting responsibilities become more regular and take up several hours or an entire day or evening, it may be worth having a discussion with your older child regarding any remuneration.
Knowing your family’s values and a willingness to have a conversation (not a lecture) about this teaches your child a lot about having a healthy relationship. After all, we learn much better by example. The decision about getting paid can come in steps, and also can be an issue that remains open for discussion. Allowing your child to have their say is important. Making a decision that takes their thoughts and feelings into consideration can bear rich fruit in the short and long run. As a parent, know that you are clear about your motives: This has more power than “Because I said so” as your child gets older. Of course, you don’t have to agree, and can maintain a willingness to review the issue in the future as circumstances change. One important note: Your child’s consequential feelings toward their siblings can impact their relationship. In the case of taking on what may be viewed as too much responsibility, the child may develop resentment towards their sibling. This is not to be cast as emotional blackmail, but more as something to keep in mind as a parent and with the family’s overall wellness in mind.
Ultimately, making a decision that works for your family is what matters. All families are not in a position to pay their children for babysitting, particularly at the going rate. Likewise, parents often provide their kids with a lot of other perks like, spending money, an allowance, a cell phone, entertainment, etc. And what about the idea of each member contributing to the family; that’s worth discussing. There may also be other factors that impact the family’s ability to be flexible on this issue. It is even more important to talk to your child and children about this in a manner that is age-appropriate: What you share with your child regarding the facts is relative to their age, their cognitive abilities, and what is their business versus adult business. The bottom line is to make decisions based on your family’s values, your current situation, with an open mind, and a loving heart.