Standing in the grocery store checkout line with your 4 kids, a rambunctious group of siblings, and a 10-year age gap that separates the oldest from the youngest, will get you a lot of weird comments.
Strangers not content to pass the time paging through National Enquirer will ask if they are all from the same marriage, if there was an accident, or if I “started over.”
Started over? Lady, I never stopped.
Weird comments from strangers aside, my family clearly isn’t the “2 kids, 2 years apart” norm.
4 kids, all girls. 10th grade, 7th grade, 4th grade, and kindergarten.
My oldest? She’s learning how to drive, takes multiple AP classes, and sleeps until noon on the weekends.
My youngest? She still needs help getting strapped into her booster seat, can’t count past 20 (always skipping 13), and rises with the lark regardless of the day of the week.
I have 2 kids in puberty and 2 kids who can’t pronounce puberty.
No surprise, one of my biggest parenting challenges is getting these girls to meaningfully connect with one another. A teenager and a kindergartener don’t have a lot of shared interests. None of them are on the same playing field.
Here are 4 ways I help these siblings connect with one another:
Don’t overplay the “free babysitter” card
After years of paying for babysitters and schlepping kids on errands, it’s tempting to rely on your oldest as a “live-in, on-call” sitter, someone to watch your younger kids anytime the urge to cruise Target strikes your fancy.
Don’t do it.
Does my oldest babysit her younger sisters? Sure, but only when I have precleared it with her and it doesn’t interfere with her schoolwork or activities (including well-deserved downtime). And I treat her like I would any other sitter, including paying her and coming home when I said I was coming home.
I do it this way to maintain the sibling dynamic among my girls.
I want my younger girls to see their older sister as a sibling and not a “mini-mom,” and for my oldest to see her younger sisters as siblings and not her responsibility.
Plan family activities that appeal to all ages
Finding an activity that all 4 girls can do and enjoy is a real challenge. My husband and I often find ourselves dividing our forces—one takes the older 2 and the other takes the younger 2.
But we do make an effort at least 2 times a month to find an activity that has something for everyone.
Amusement parks work great when you have multiple ages. Season tickets to Six Flags over Texas are our standard family Christmas gift. Short nature hikes are also a family favorite (and allow us to include the “5th girl,” our dog Rosie). Swimming in our backyard pool is also top on our list of activities.
Find your family TV show
My teenager loves Game of Thrones and The Office, while my kindergartener adores Winnie the Pooh and anything Disney Princess.
Finding a TV show or movie they both will watch is hard, but not impossible.
We always have at least one “family show” in rotation. Reality shows like The Amazing Race” are popular with all of my girls, as is anything Star Wars related like The Mandalorian. Avatar, the Last Airbender and its sequel Korra were a big hit this past summer.
The key is finding something everyone likes and making an effort one evening a week for everyone to sit down and watch it together.
Pay your kids to spend time together
Yes, you read that right, I pay my kids to play together.
Here’s how it works in my house. If I’m working from home and really need some peace and quiet, I’ll offer an older sister $5 an hour to entertain a younger sister. Board games, video games, drawing, whatever they want to do.
As I write this post, my 4th grader is earning money for a LEGO set by entertaining her little sister with an elaborate art project. And judging by their chatter, they are both enjoying themselves.
Do they play together when there’s no cash on the line? Yes, they do. But it’s nice to give them a little extra incentive from time to time to do it (especially when it helps me out).
So how connected are my quartet?
Well, they’re not quite the March sisters, and after seeing the movie and finally understanding the Little Women quip people often make about our family, hate the comparison. No one wants to be Amy, after all.
They enjoy each other’s company. Sometimes. Everyone needs their space, especially in a large family.
But I can tell you, nothing warms this tired-old mom’s heart more than when I catch them together, snuggled on the couch, watching a show together, or can hear them laughing over a shared joke.