As a mom of many, everywhere I take my tribe I hear the question, “How do you do it??” (I’m a mom of 17, you can read more on that here.) Some days, as I listen to the sound of my head throbbing and think of the piles of laundry waiting at home, I just stare blankly and attempt to wipe away the drool running down my chin. Just kidding. Mostly.) The real answer, “lots of prayer and lots of head counting!” That’s no joke! But one of my most awesome tips for moms of several kids is the Buddy System! It has been a lifesaver for us and has been a great blessing to our kids as well.
Several years ago, I was sitting at a homeschool support group meeting for moms, where we shared tips and info with one another. Another mom spoke about the way her sister (who had ten or so children) used a buddy system. It was the first time I had heard of such a concept being used in the home, and I was fascinated. I had seven kids at the time, not including my two older stepsons. My oldest kid at home was 9 years and the youngest was a baby. In those days, just getting everyone buckled in their car seats and booster seats seemed to require an act of God and congress.
Developing The Buddy System
Armed with this new idea, I went home and created my own version of the buddy system! Here is how it works. The baby is my buddy, of course. Next, I match up the oldest child with the second youngest child. The second oldest child is matched up to the next youngest child, and so on. So in the beginning, my 9 year old was matched with my 18 month old, my 7 year old was matched to my 3 year old, and my 6 and 4 year olds were matched up as a team. (May I just say, my oldest two were pretty amazing at the ages of 9 and 7. It kinda blows my mind a little when I think about it now. But when given some responsibility, you might be amazed at what young kids are actually capable of.
Today, my seven year olds are still on the younger buddy list, thanks to having more older buddies!) I soon made an adjustment to match up girls with girls, and boys with boys. That made things run a little smoother down the road, especially with trips to the restroom. (I know in some families, and at times in ours, that doesn’t work with boy to girl ratios and ages.) As new members were added to the family, buddies would rotate. The current baby is always mom’s buddy, so when a new one comes along the previous baby needs a new buddy. Gradually younger buddies become more independent and don’t need an older buddy. Eventually they get promoted to older buddy, which is a rite of passage and a great day for them!
What buddies actually do:
*Older buddies help younger buddies get dressed in the morning.
*Older buddies help younger buddies get on shoes and jackets when we leave the house.
*Older buddies make sure their younger buddies are with them when they load up in the van.
*Older buddies buckle younger buddies in their car seats, or help them with their seatbelts before they sit down and buckle themselves. (At the bottom of this post, I’ll confess to a time in the early pre-buddy system years when this would have been super helpful!)
*Older buddies hold younger buddies hands when walking through a parking lot or crossing the street.
*Older buddies fix plates for younger buddies at mealtime. We have used a buffet system at meals for years now. I set out food on the buffet, and everyone goes through the line to fix their plates. Then we sit down at the table together to eat. Before I started this system, I dished out everyone’s food as we sat around the table. (There were too many littles and not enough bigs to pass food around the table.) By the time I dished up my own food and sat down to take my first bite, someone was asking for seconds. It was ridiculous. On second thought, maybe I should go back to that. It might be great for weight loss.
*As the older buddies become old enough, they also take younger buddies to the restroom when we are eating out, shopping, in church, or wherever. HUGE! There is nothing like taking five different kids to the restroom, when everybody’s little bladders are not in sync and they need to go at different times!
My Real Responsibilty as a Mom
Now for the naysayers… NO, it is not my older kids’ responsibility to raise my kids. I don’t consider tying shoes and buckling seatbelts to be equivalent with raising kids. But it IS my responsibility to raise ALL of my children to think of others, to look out for younger and weaker members of the family, to practice selflessness and service. A buddy system is a very practical way to begin to do that.
Have you ever heard the expression, “It takes a village?” It also takes a family. My older kids do play a huge part in raising the younger ones, there is no denying that. And it’s awesome. But learning to care for younger kids also plays a huge part in raising the older kids. The responsibility and compassion they learn becomes an enormous part of who they are as people when they are grown. You can read more about how I raise responsible adults here.
There is yet another benefit to the buddy system, and that is the relationships that form between younger and older kids. If my older kids were allowed and encouraged to isolate themselves from and ignore the littles, the dynamic in our home would be much different in a sad, lonely way. My younger kids adore their older siblings! I have often looked at a baby or toddler of mine surrounded by three, four, or more older siblings, being played with, loved on, and taught adorable tricks.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably mention that my kids may have taught younger siblings less endearing tricks as well, like how to do a backflip off of the chicken coop onto the trampoline. Sigh… But, big picture…
What a wonderful thing to be a child with so many older siblings! They have so many people to love and be loved by. And all the older kids see firsthand what a gift a baby is, they experience it on the day to day. (I am devastated at the way too many in our society view babies as disposable. May God have mercy.)
A Tie that Lasts
Years down the road, brothers and sisters are so much closer! Yesterday, my five oldest daughters spent the afternoon and evening hanging out at the oldest one’s apartment, watching movies, cutting up, and just being sisters. They range in age from 22 to 11. The 22 and 21 year old girls were older buddies to the other three over the years. Their sisterhood is so much fun, I’m kinda jealous…
Confessions of the Human Kind
Anyway, as promised, it’s confession time… A few years before the enactment of the buddy system, on a day when it would have been awesome to have extra help buckling kiddos in the van, my almost 2 year old tried driving for the first time. Our neighbor had called that morning, saying they had a calf loose, and asked if we had seen it. We had not. A little later, we gathered the troups for a trip into town. My husband went outside to start the van and let it warm up, per usual. Once I had everyone’s shoes on, we headed out to the van as well.
I opened the door of the van in the driveway and let the kids in. Before anyone was buckled, our dogs started barking like crazy! In just a second, I realized why. Our neighbors’ calf ran behind the house with the dogs in hot pursuit. My husband and I both took off running after the dogs and the calf. After some impressive acrobatics and evasive maneuvering, the calf charged into the field and back onto the neighbors’ property. As we rounded the house again and headed towards the driveway, my heart landed in my gut… Hubby and I looked at each other and in unison gasped “Where is the van?” And… we started running again.
Long story short, our diapered delinquent, Jayce, had climbed into the driver’s seat and pulled the gear shift into drive. The van rolled past the house and out into the garden. Thankfully, a five gallon bucket became wedged under the van and stopped it there before it crashed into the tree belt! Just as we reached the van, the side door flung open and out bailed four little wide-eyed fugitives! Praise God, He is still in control when mama is not! ( By the way, I promise you that I will never pretend I have it all together. I freely admit to being totally human. But I digress…)
A buddy system may look differently in your home, depending upon the uniqueness of your family and your life. There are no rules! Make it work for you! It took some trial and error to make it work smoothly in our home, and I still make adjustments as the need arises. Give it a try, it could be exactly what you and your kiddos need! Tell me about your Buddy System Adventures, or your need for them, in the comments below. Hugs, mama!
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