Question 1: How many siblings did you grow up with? Did responsibilities in your family differ by gender, with the girls having certain chores and the boys having others? Explain.
My Mama was a very unique woman. I’ll explain in a bit. But first, I was the dead middle child of seven siblings. The oldest was a girl, then twin boys, then me, then two more girls, and finally, the baby of the family, a boy. If you’re familiar with any movies or television shows, you might see that it is regularly portrayed that siblings hate each other. Especially boys hating on girls and the other way around. Due to the abuse we encountered throughout our childhood from Mama, we were much different than those portrayals. We banded together and all held a sort of kinship and “I got your back” attitude.
As for chores and responsibilities, they did not differ by gender. Not in the least. My mother was a veritable slave driver – on me. It was my job to wash all the dishes, scrub all the floors, pick all the dandelions in the yard, vacuum, you name it, I did it. Many mornings, I wasn’t even allowed to wear clothes while doing the dishes at 6AM. The other siblings had other chores and responsibilities partitioned between them but none as much as me.
The only gender differences that we had was in the way we dressed. Boys could dress any old way except we couldn’t wear t-shirts and shorts in public and also had to wear a shirt while swimming. The girls, on the other hand, had to wear dresses and skirts, which were always out of style and threadbare. Needless to say, they led a miserable life, being picked on endlessly all the way through their school years.
I have a younger brother and sister. Looking back, the most obvious gender difference was that I was supposed to cook and sew, but my brother wasn’t. However, he had to do the “dirtier” jobs of emptying the trash and taking care of the pets. All three of us were all expected to contribute to daily kitchen cleanup and other household chores.
There were a dozen or so children in my family, give or take. Some chores – like kitchen cleanup and weeding – were shared, but others – like laundry or mowing – were strictly divided by gender. The girls did more work in the house, cleaning, vacuuming, etc., and the boys did more work outside, mowing, digging ditches, etc. I can’t imagine any of us girls being asked out to shovel gravel, but at the same time, one of my brothers did some of the cooking as part of his chores for a while, so the division between girls’ work and boys’ work wasn’t so strict as to leave no room for flexibility.
I “grew up” with 10 siblings, but I have more now – one more sister who was born about a year before I left, and another little sister who was born in 2011. We are more girls than boys, but the two kids after me are both boys, so I was much older than my sisters. I was pretty much the leader of the girl pack, supervising all housework we had to do. The girls had to do all kinds of housework, the boys had to do minor tasks such as making their own bed. Real housework wasn’t for boys.
All housework chores were given to me, first of all, and then it was on me to make distribute the tasks among the girls, to see that everyone did what they were supposed to do and that the work was done well. If something went wrong, I was punished along with the offender, or it was simply me getting punished with an option of punishing the offender myself. Say, if the sweeping wasn’t done clean enough and I had given this task to my sister, I would face the consequences for her failure as well. The smaller ones who couldn’t do things by themselves just yet were paired up with older ones to instruct them as well as to delegate chores themselves. It was pretty much run like a business.
The boys took care of things like gardening and fixing things up, changing light bulbs etcetera. Generally I feel like the boys had more free time, but then again, they also had to study harder for school as they were supposed to be providers later. But my brothers are smart and not doing their school resulted in harsh punishments, so they all got their work done pretty quickly and had time to go outside, play games in the garden and such.
As I said, I’m the oldest of nine kids. There are four boys, five girls. Most of the older kids are girls, so we did a lot of the chores involved in running the household and helping with the babies. Everyone pitched in, though. I mowed the lawn. My brother changed diapers and babysat. The only gender-segregated chore assignment was that taking out the trash was a guy’s job (usually) and doing the laundry was only for the girls.
When I left home there were nine of us, and two children were born after I was married and living elsewhere. My dad felt that both boys and girls should know how to do basic care around the house. He often said that as the head of the house he was ultimately responsible for everything that went on there. So he felt that the boys should know how to clean up the house and do laundry in case they had to step in and help their wives someday. So I would say that the young children had very similar chore expectations regardless of gender. As we got older the girls were expected to start cooking meals, I do not remember the boys being required to do this, but that could be because none of them were old enough when I left home. Girls were also expected to do more childcare than the boys. I do know that my Dad was uncomfortable with his daughters doing “men’s work” such as errands outside of the house or mowing the lawn.
I have ten siblings: six sisters and four brothers. Three of my brothers are much younger than me, so I never saw them treated as anything other than babies. I have one brother about two years younger than me, and there were major differences in the way he was treated. He was expected to mow the lawn and take out the trash, chop wood, build fires, and occasionally mop the floor. The sad part is that my brother has always had an affinity for cooking, but with all his other tasks, he never had that option. As a girl, I was expected to learn all the “womanly arts.” At around age ten I was required to get up early every morning and make breakfast for everyone. I also made dinner at least three nights a week. My mom always said it was because I “loved to cook,” but any enjoyment I got out of it was soon lost.
I had no siblings. My father performed no chores. My mother and I ran the house.
Because my mother had medical issues that made her doctor strongly advise her against having many children, I had “only” five siblings. In that regard my parents were QF-lite, you might say, as many others would have chosen to ignore the doctor’s advice out of faith in their QF beliefs. In fact, my poor mother was occasionally questioned and criticized by nosy QF advocates about her personal medical issues and decisions, which would always fill me with disgust. QF-ers can be very self-righteous and ignorantly opinionated in addition to being crazy, imo. I have very little tolerance for the QF mindset now, and it irked me even at the time when I supposed it was “godly” to have a very large family if you could.
Chores were divided along stereotypical gender lines. My brothers helped out with yard work, home repairs, took out the trash, etc. I helped with dishes, cooking, cleaning, laundry, and the care of my younger siblings.
Question 2: If you were an older daughter, do you feel that you were expected to play “mother” for your younger siblings? Explain.
I wasn’t the older daughter but I can explain about my eldest sister.
She was not expected to play the mother and not even expected to be responsible if anything happened to any of her younger siblings. Every one of us had the responsibility to be obedient and worshipful of Mama at every minute of every day. My sister did take on the responsibility of being the seeing-eye dog for Mama for all of our indiscretions. This pissed me off to no end and caused a humongous rift between my sister and I. She apologized for it a few years back but the apology was entirely unnecessary. I would have done the same thing in her position.
One thing she did do, as well, was to mother us in the area of the Bible. I was always complaining about religious crap and spewing common sense out of my mouth (as well as swear words) and she would march me to the Bible and read me whole books in a rage. She was one of the reasons that I knew my Bible so well and the fact that I picked up a heavy dose of skepticism.
As the oldest of three, and I definitely spent a lot of time watching my young sister for my mom. I also occasionally helped her with her school work. However, I never felt responsible for training or disciplining her. As for my brother, he and I were too close in age, so my parents never allowed me to boss him around.
I definitely played mother for my younger siblings, but I wasn’t really a very good one. A ten-, twelve-, or fourteen-year-old girl caring for her siblings doesn’t really know how to “mother.” It’s more like being a babysitter in some ways. I had all the mechanics down – diaper changes, caring for sick children, supervising the kids outside – but being a mother is more than mechanics. I ended up being rather bossy and not very compassionate. This actually damaged my relationships with many of my siblings.
At one point in my early teens I virtually adopted my latest infant sibling, and we became so close over the following years that when hurt the child would come crying to me as first choice. Leaving that little one behind when I left for college was incredibly difficult. It felt like abandoning my own child, and to this day there is some tension still there because my sibling did indeed feel abandoned. I saw this repeated with several of my sisters, as they did the same with this or that new baby. This was never an official assignment, though.
Well, as the oldest daughter, it was likely I would be the first one to get married. So of course having younger siblings was the perfect chance for me to train my skills as a future wife and mother. It always runs under the definition of “training” for your future but it’s really just a way to get the daughters to help more than an average kids would be expected to do or even capable of. The heavy period of training started when I was around 12, an age I was considered old enough to take actual responsibility for kids. Of course I had to do chores long before that, but the period of really mothering my siblings started at the age of 12. Different chores with the younger ones were given to me, making sure everybody wears appropriate clothing, changing diapers, feeding a small one, making sure they don’t do stuff that will hurt them.
The older I got, the more motherly responsibilities I had. This went as far as me physically punishing my siblings for smaller offenses (like not making their beds, for example). Of course the major offenses were still punished by my Dad. My mother had some physical difficulties during a number of her pregnancies and the sheer number of pregnancies made it impossible for her to do everything a mother usually does. A lot of times my Mother was simply too stressed out or physically drained and my siblings rather came to me with their issues and problems. Nobody wanted to feel like the heaviest of Mom’s burdens. I never felt like I could really talk to her about problems simply because I felt she had too much to do to be bothered with it.
My mom had twin boys when I was 13. Because of the timing and the stress of having twins and various other factors, I was heavily involved in helping out with them (and the two babies that came after them) until they were about four years old. My senior year of high school I asked to be relieved of a lot of these babysitting and mothering responsibilities so I could focus on school and graduate on time, and my parents rearranged schedules and chores to accommodate that request.
However, I still feel closely bonded to the twins and their little brother, as I invested a lot of time and love in them during my teens. I’m their godmother now, and I think that’s both appropriate and special.
Yes. My mother was often pregnant or caring for a new baby and was tired. We had a buddy system, where the older child was responsible for bathing, dressing, feeding and possibly educating the younger child. Discipline authority was designated to older children, including authority to spank disobedient children.
I am number four out eleven kids. We implemented “the buddy system” in our house, which basically meant each child over twelve had their own baby to take care of. My “buddy” was Catherine. She is fourteen years younger than me. Catherine and I did everything together. I fed her, bathed her, dressed her, cleaned up after her, did her laundry, and even occasionally disciplined her. I hated it when I had to spank her; it made me so angry with myself. Leaving for college was like leaving my baby behind. I still miss her desperately. It’s like watching someone else raise my baby.
Since my interactions with other boys and girls came mostly from other families in my church, I’ll answer this question as it pertains to them.
Older daughters in my church absolutely were mini-mothers to their younger siblings. They constantly sought out young children to “practice” on. For my part, I had no interest in raising children and avoided the other girls out of boredom. The result was that the little children loved me and pursued me because I treated them like they were my age.
I was always available to help out with my younger siblings, housework, ailing grandparents, etc. These were not things I resented or even thought much about, as they were simply taken for granted as what was reasonable to expect of me, and I was fond of my siblings in any case. I suppose if I resent any of that now, it isn’t because I was expected to be a contributing member of the family, but because my sense of life purpose and value was narrowed to that limited range.
Comments open below
Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the religious right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving fundamentalist and evangelical religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the problems with the “purity culture,” the intricacies of conservative and religious right politics, and the importance of feminism. Her blog is Love, Joy, Feminism
NLQ Recommended Reading …
‘Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich
‘Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland
‘Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce