Tending to the Older Ones

I had a humbling mother moment today when I realized one of my kids was feeling really low.  “You don’t tell me ‘Good Job’ very much and instead, I’m always getting in trouble” he mumbled through tears.  Ouch.  Was he being dramatic and irrational?  Perhaps a little.  But once I opened my ears, put down my defenses, and really listened, I realized this was my child crying out for some encouragement.  Double ouch.

He is the oldest child.  He is the one I have the hardest time understanding.  We are very different as people, which only presents more of a challenge as we attempt to connect in the day to day.  I am challenged to find ways to praise and not critique; to build-up and not tear down.

It’s often so easy to place the heaviest burdens on the shoulders of our oldest children.  We have the highest expectations for them because they are paving the way and setting the standard for the family.  I recognized today that with the burden I place on my older children has to come a whole measure more of encouragement to build them up as they carry extra responsibilities.  It made me realize that my remarks can have a host of interpretations–those meant to improve a behavior may actually come across as a put-down and overall critique.  I need to do a better job of recognizing his good, praiseworthy behavior; to applaud his successes.

And when push comes to shove, I ultimately need to be the mom willing to listen.

We have friends in town who take their children out on “date nights” one-on-one with mom/dad and the child.  I think this is a wonderful way to spend a little extra time investing in our children and family.  Sounds like I need to plan a few of these with my oldest man–maybe a trip to the movies and out to ice cream afterward?  Hopefully times like this will keep our lines of communication open and help him continue to feel comfortable sharing with me.  Parenting is clearly no easy task!

Biggest bro and baby sis


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  • Kathy

    I like the date night with each child. I often am concerned about not giving my older 2 enough attention – especially #1. Thanks for the reminder.

  • So good to keep in mind as we grow our family. Our oldest (and only one out of the womb) is barely two, but my husband and I are both second children, and need to keep in mind our little boy is living a different kind of experience than we had. What cute kiddos!

  • Natalie

    Keep up the great work Bethany! As a mom of five myself, I know the challenge of individual time. I just took one of my oldest (14 year old son) to chick fil a last night after swim practice. He even went to the grocery store with me right after to help! Priceless. It was a great time to catch up. The clock is ticking before he moves on to the adult world and I hope he always wants to meet his mommy for date night. 🙂

  • Fricke

    Thanks for sharing this one, Bethany! Big brothers have a lot riding on them, and they need our support. 🙂

  • Saoirse

    My 6 year old brought a similar situation to my attention one day while we were potty training his little brother. He asked me why we literally cheered when his brother just went to the potty – but he was seldom praised for anything. The more independent the child the harder it is for me to remember how we all crave positive reinforcement. I try harder now – but also told him to remind me as I sometimes take him for granted because he is so independent ( and easy.). It was quite the humbling parenting moment for me. I like the date idea. Might have to put those on the calendar for my gang.

  • Bethany, you are so right!!! Parenting is definitely NOT easy! I am definitely experiencing something similar with Landon! He seems to be constantly in trouble or in tears. I had an ah-ha moment the other night as I witnessed yet another tearful outburst from him during bath time. It must be hard to be a three-year-old little boy, and to WANT to be 5 SO BADLY like your big brother, yet not really be capable of doing everything like he does. It must be hard to be three, yet have parents who EXPECT you to behave like your 5-year-old big brother. The poor guy just can’t win. He’s automatically grouped with the “big boys” due to his attachment to Tanner (and maybe even his size?? He’s so tall!) even though he’s only a little guy. I’m trying to keep this in mind these days as I navigate our more frustrating moments 🙂

    A few weekends ago, I put aside a Saturday afternoon to have dates with each of my boys. We made a big deal out of it and even took pictures beforehand. Each of them picked their own activity with a little guidance from me. Landon chose Chuck E. Cheese, and Tanner and I went to a shop in the mall to paint little ceramic figurines and then have ice cream. (The painting was a really fun date — I’m noticing that conversation with him is so much easier when his hands are busy or he’s concentrating hard on something — kind of like when they want to sit on the toilet for #2 and have a DEEP conversation with you — LOL!!) It was AWESOME to spend just and hour or two with each of my guys one and one and we’re already talking about what we’re going to do next time 🙂

    Anyways, not to say that I have things figured out by any means!! But … the date idea was pretty awesome for all of us! Hang in there with M! What an awesome big brother he is to all of the littler ones!

  • Positive reinforcement can be such a big deal for most kids, not only at home but also in the classroom. We made a point of telling our son’s teacher how much her positive comments had meant to him, and she noticed that when she gave positive feedback, his behavior was great because he wanted to rise to the occasion. There is always a place for discipline and constructive criticism, but in conjunction with positive attention.

  • Reesa

    My almost-6-year-old son said something similar to me this morning. He was pouting that I told little brother (who’s almost 2) that he’s funny but I never tell him that. Of course, toddlers are very silly, but the sentiment behind what my oldest was saying is the same as what yours said. Guess this is a tough age for our kids – more independence and less applauding for simple tasks. Time to plan some one-on-one time for us too!

  • Kellie “Red”

    Bethany, you make so many great points in this post. I am also harder on certain children than others, so it is good to keep in mind their individual temperaments, needs, self-confidence, etc. I think the date night is an excellent idea!!! I find the hardest thing about having so many children is that I have a hard time meeting their individual needs. I get so little one on one time with them, and that is hard for me too. We just returned from vacation, and it was wonderful to get some good one on one interactions with each of my children on the trip. It wasn’t just one small thing here or there, but some serious one on one time for everyone. My older two have very easy dispositions, but I struggle mightily to interact and connect with one of my younger children. I need to keep this post in mind as that child ages a bit, and make sure I take the time to let them know how special they are to me.