The Legend of the Sister Slave

12:06 PM

I think that this is beautifully written, and certainly God will bless this young lady for her serving heart.

But I have a huge problem with it. This post would be beautiful if written by a mother, but it wasn’t - it was written by a 16-year-old girl, who has never (yet) chosen to have children of her own. Yet she is taught to believe (by the parents who benefit from the teaching) that it is her “calling” to “play mommy” to her younger siblings.

Yes, I believe in family. I believe strongly in family. But I don’t believe for a second that my younger children are in any way, shape or form the responsibility of my older children. My oldest is expected to help, to read to her younger siblings, and yes, sometimes to get up and pour apple juice. But I can’t imagine her ever writing a post like the one above, because she is still a child (at 15 she might cringe to hear me say that but it’s true), and I respect her time, her space, and her childhood, and I don’t expect her to raise my children for me.

Well, I could say, “Not true! I’m as lazy and independent and self-seeking as the best of them!” My first thought was to produce a chronicle of my days—the hours texting, emailing, blogging and fiddling around on the internet as much as the most shamefully teenagery teenager out there. But that would be embarrassing, and it’s nice to be considered self-sacrificial enough to be thought manipulated.

While thinking those thoughts and reading through the comment, my soon-to-be-off mother came down with instructions to put cheese on the thawed casserole, bake it for 30 minutes at 350 and pop in some crescent rolls while the oven was hot. I answered a question posed to me on child-training (which I deferred to my mother’s example because goodness knows I’m no expert). Daniel Franklyn interrupted thirty minutes later to inform me of his accident, and while running upstairs to find the Kid-N-Pet stain cleaner (which squirted on my wrist because I’m that clumsy), the casserole timer went off. Then, sitting down again to work on this post, I heard the baby scream.

My life is incriminating. I cannot hide the fact. I am not normal.

Neither am I abused. Now and then I come across pitying diatribes against the shackling of older sisters to their younger siblings—“I think it’s shameful what the parents are doing to them”—“They need a chance to be children”—“There should be only one mommy in the house.” The concerned ignorance, which lacks no sincerity but only good timing, I do not know what to do with.

I think this arises from two points modern and fashionably selfish people do not understand. (I say “fashionably” because the Me-First Society of Selfishness made it so. And I’m no exception, by the way, but by God’s grace.) Firstly, when “large” in regards to household size comes to a grand total of three or four, there is going to be a disconnect of understanding how to run that household in comparison to, say, our shocking number of nine. The disconnect happens because common sense knows only pocket-sized families of one boy, one girl and then leaps to the Duggars. Everything goes back to the Duggars. Anything else between is roundly misunderstood, attacked for lacking the privileges of small families and attacked for being too similar to a family of twenty.

What you have just stumbled across, friends, is an introduction to the Large-Family Economy—You Lose Out if You Don't Pitch In! In that economy, all hands are on deck—not because of emergency but because of necessity.

I wonder at this idea being so foreign. As far as I know, the examples of helpful daughters have never extended beyond changing diapers, throwing a lunch together and slicing her brother an apple. What else are we expected to do?

“Mother! Johnny wants some apple juice!”—as she pops another bon bon in her mouth.

“Can’t you do it, dear?”

“Oh, I’d love to, but in order to preserve my childhood and prevent the responsibility of your children falling on their big sister’s shoulders, I must refuse and finish this chapter. Maybe tomorrow I can pour Johnny a bowl of cereal and perhaps read a book to Janie. That doesn’t seem too mother-ish.”

Sorry, Mom. She justed reached her quota of helpfulness.

Big sisters may operate in a buddy-system so frowned upon in today’s society, but most of us just pitch in because we’re there. Some of it isn’t even sacrificially unselfish—it’s a matter of survival to tie little brother’s shoes lest we be late for church—a matter of keeping sane to pour a cup of juice to quiet a red-faced, squawling baby. Some if it is unselfish—we get dinner on the table so our sick mother can take a nap—we cuddle the baby so Middle Sister and Mom can work out problem 23 in math unhindered. But most if it’s just regular life.

Abuse? Not really. There’s no checklist we must finish, no set schedule we must stick to, no particular child assigned to our care. We’re not raising children up in the way they should go. We’re just helping out—what any decent person would do. Why not brush the little one’s teeth if we’re bumping elbows in the same bathroom at night? Why not read a book if the baby crawls in my lap? Why not offer to make lunch if I’m hungry and in need of a hot bowl of macaroni-and-cheese myself?

We live together, as a big, homeschooling family. That’s what we do. It’s life. We love it.

But the argument goes that dying to self is nice and all, but these are just girls. These are just children. They should be out playing and doing things most girls their age do. And then comes the accusation of parents stifling their childhood, etc.

Actually, people everywhere know the value of mature teenagers. Anyone ever employ a fourteen-year-old babysitter? I held a babysitting job for several months, all day Thursday, once a week. No one thought anything of it. I was old enough, mature enough and responsible enough to do so.

The same goes with my kindergarten volunteering. I am totally at the disposal of the children and the teacher, in a much more concentrated fashion than were I living normal life at home. Nobody cries foul there. People praise me, even, for doing what comes naturally for a (somewhat) capable sixteen-year-old.

The problem, then, is not the age but the context. The minute my helpfulness takes action in the home—the moment my interests turn homeward—that’s where the cries of manipulation start. For who in her right mind could ever love her home? But there is one thing that must be said:

I may be only sixteen, but I am not a spoiled princess. I can set that good book down for five minutes and transfer a load of laundry into the dryer. I can take fifteen minutes out of my schoolday to build a train track to occupy the baby so others can finish their work. It’s really not that difficult. Seriously. And some of us love our siblings and consider it like hanging out with best friends to take a break from geometry and chase after a giggling baby.

Then the question we must ask is when does childhood end and womanhood begin? Eighteen? I like the idea of suddenly taking on adult responsibilities and an adult constitution while sleeping soundly on the night of my eighteenth birthday—but it sounds too good to be true. Maturity takes hard work. We stifle girls when they are trying to grow up but are given nothing but odd jobs around the house to do. We stifle girls when they want to become women but cannot until they have extended their childhood selfishness to an abnormal age.

If I am about the things of a woman, think like a woman, act like a woman and desire to do the work of a woman—cannot I put away the things of a child and just finish the process? Sixteen is high time I started putting away my petty selfishness and helping around the house. I don’t do it enough. Fulfillment is not found, for some of us, in pursuing our own desires. That’s a lesson every girl of every age should know.

Furthermore, I am not my own. I am a slave—not to my parents, not my siblings, not to my home—but to Christ Jesus Himself. I am a follower of Christ, a handmaiden of the Lord. Dying to self is not a nice option for mature Christian adults. The Holy Spirit is just as alive and powerful in my immature sixteen-year-old soul as the most seasoned Christian mother. He enables me to love what I do, to care about my family, to sacrifice my desires to serve the needs of others. This is something every single Christian, of every single of age, in every single situation, is required to do. That is Christianity. That is the epitome of love.


And that’s what being a big sister is all about.

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24 impressions

  1. Incredibly well written Bailey. A very gracious response to a rather ridiculous comment, I'm afraid I would have been tempted to be snarky. You Bergmann girls are so much more gracious than me. :D

    Love you girl!

    ~Elissa

    P.S. Did you get the email I sent you the other day? Just making sure I sent it to the right address!

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  2. *three cheers for Bailey*

    Of course you're right.

    Teenagers need to take responsibility. So many are raised to be immature and selfish these days, and I know that this can be applied to so many young people out there.

    But, your reader does have a point, in one thing; there is an epidemic of 'used elder siblings' --- Obviously not applicable to you, there are others who suffer under that... and it gives most homeschoolers a bad name. It's horrible, but I have seen it to be rather prolific. Unpaid housekeepers and governesses are so much easier to have, rather than parents taking on the responsibility of they're own younger children. Of course, as I said, you're not in that situation... but that is a growing problem.

    People need to realize that just because a young woman enjoys working in the home, (in some cases taking care of siblings) it doesn't mean that she's a little 'mommy-clone' who lives and breathes to slave all day with no life of her own.

    There's a difference between bond-service and slavery. Ack... even that doesn't really cover what I mean, but, so be it.

    In any case, that was a great piece you wrote, and keep up the good work, sister dear. *hug*

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  3. I really enjoyed your post on Raising Home-makers...this one is awesome, too!

    You're a very talented young-lady, Bailey. I love you so much!

    *hugs*

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  4. Yes, poor Bailey abused *insert eye roll with a sarcastic snicker* If I remember correctly, it was me who finished making dinner and did the dishes.

    Kidding, kidding. :)

    I can understand where she is coming from, after all. We're not normal. Our friends aren't with us 24/7 and it's just us. We have to deal with it and help Mum. If we didn't make small contributions, our house would be a mess. Not, that it isn't already. *looks around our room*

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  5. Bailey,
    I commented on your post on "Raising Homemakers" (Samantha). I loved this one even more! After almost every sentence I could be heard (throughout the house, I'm sure) saying, "That is soooo true!" Thank you so much for posting your thoughts (and having a blog on blogspot so that I can follow it. tee hee!) These things are exactly what I needed to hear!
    God bless you, Bailey!!
    ~SammyJo

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  6. Yep, Sixteen it a good age to start "getting rid of" selfishness and "starting" to help around the house. :D (Please don't think me unkind for mentioning that I think you have begun this process a long time ago. :)

    Somebody could post a blog button that says: "HELPING IS NOT CHILD ABUSE!!" jk. People are all about themselves, and I think it makes them feel condemned when others act for (in our cases) siblings, or parents, etc.

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  7. BTW: I linked to your blog, if that's alright.
    ~Sam

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  8. Even though I may be the youngest in my family... I still need to be the bigger sister to little children I need to babysit :)

    And even though I may be the youngest ... I still need to act like the bigger sister sometimes :)

    Love you lots !

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  9. You aren't abused. That's great.

    Some people are.

    Your experience only validates your conclusions about your family. I have seen, far too often, from far too many people, claims that 'OUR daughters weren't forced to stay at home..OUR daughters were never emotionally abused...WE never taught that the father is the center of the home....MY family is perfectly happy' used as evidence for the claim that OTHER PEOPLE were not abused either [see the blog Steadfast Daughters http://steadfastdaughters.com/ for a really good example of this].

    It is possible to prove that abuse occurred...it is not possible to prove that no abuse ever occurred: people will always come up with better arguments that it did.

    I personally do not tend to cry 'abuse!' as readily as some people. I do not know any homeschooled-older-sisters who are abused.

    However, a dear friend's mother has, I believe, good insight and I trust her experiences. [My friend has 7 siblings, all younger than her, between the ages of 4 and 17. She takes more of the responsibility than [I believe] is fair but neither she nor I claim abuse.]

    Her mother has stated [and my friend reiterates] that it is a shame that some women [in her experience] think that older children should entirely raise younger ones, while Mom is busy with the next baby [and the next and the next and the next], or pursues a high-time-investment career.
    So, here is a woman and mother of many children, with experience with a lot of other homeschooling mothers, who states that some women don't do right by their older daughters. I do not consider her ignorant or selfishly motivated in any way, in regards to this issue.

    And- 'modern and fashionably selfish'? Did you really just label everyone who decries [what they believe is] abuse to be proponents of selfishness or, worse, guilty of the same themselves? You do not know anything about the character of those you accuse, except that at least one woman [Anonymous, on Raising Homemakers] pities either you, or those girls who she believes are being abused [I was a little unclear as to whom, exactly]. I know pity can be very obnoxious sometimes, but I still saw less accusation towards you than you displayed in labeling her ignorant of the situation and fashionably selfish [or at least a supporter of others' selfishness].

    You've done a good job at speaking on your own account and clarifying that you do not need to be pitied. Please do not accuse those who are angered at what they consider the abuse of others. In my mind, it is but a few steps from where you are to where the patriocentricity movement is: well-intentioned, dangerous, and intent on denying abuse.

    These are harsh words, and I apologize if they are hurtful in a way that could have been avoided. You are not an ordinary young woman, and I do see a deep love for God in your life which I think will keep you from the legalistic manifestations of patriocentricity.
    I believe, however, that you risk trivializing real concerns for those who have suffered real abuse. [By the way, I would be hard put to it to describe any form of caring for siblings as 'abuse'. The real issues are rather deeper, and I suspect would seem and possibly be somewhat off-topic.]

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  10. Bethany - While I have never personally seen the overuse and/or abuse of big sisters (and have, indeed, seen more happy big sisters accused of being manipulated), I am not so naive as to think that others aren't abused.

    I'm not talking about those girls.

    What I'm addressing is the idea that girls my age should not be stepping up to the plate in their home and that parents encouraging them to do so is manipulation. Because some parents abuse their daughters' joy and helpfulness does not mean that the proper exhibition of that joy and helpfulness is abusive. If that makes sense.

    So many times the response to a girl's joy and submission in the home is to jump on the parents' backs...as Anon did, albeit more graciously than others I've seen. They take girls' joyful experiences and dampen them with generalizations of genuine, terrible abuse. (I found it interesting that she never addressed me...I suppose I am too brainwashed to hold an opinion on my life.)

    The point of the "fashionably selfish" quote was not to paint those decrying abuse as selfish...far from it. I was addressing this idea of the "she's still just a child...she still needs her own time and space" and saying it's a false idea derived from a me-centric culture.

    To clarify a bit, no parent should ever take this or the post that spawned it to bash their daughter over the head and demand obedience. This is a daughter's heart-thing, a decision she makes, a submission she willingly chooses to give. While parents can do things to cultivate a servant heart, it is ultimately up to the daughter to decide whether she's going to put her home first or herself. Parents should respect their daughter because she is an individual and not free help.

    It's a radical idea, and because it is, many people tend to think it an open door to abuse. I don't think it is, necessarily.

    Anon admitted she didn't know anything about big families except from the Duggars. Others who give such pity are in the same boat (some, not all) - ignorant of what a big family looks like and operates from. She missed the point about dying to self and elevated being a child above the maturing of a woman. That's what I am decrying.

    I share your views on the dangers of warped patriarchy - as any good thing is dangerous when twisted by human pride and convenience. Thank you (and my dear Lizzy...you got me thinking first ;o)) for giving me this chance to clarify. No offense taken and I hope none given.

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  11. Elissa - I did get your email...sorry for being so slow to respond! Somebody's trying to get her life back in order and is hiding from the duties of emailing. =)

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  12. Bailey,

    Very interesting discussion.

    I have seen older siblings who had to do all the housework and care for the younger sibling while mom was reading, shopping, and lying about. One of those girls was my best friend growing up. So, I do understand some of the concerns voiced.

    I personally feel that doing chores, helping with siblings and learning to cook are life skills that every child should learn. I feel that hard work and responsibility help shape a child's character. But, I do not want my children to feel they do all or most of my work. That is why we work together as a family. We all clean, cook & work together. We also relax with a good book, play softball in the backyard, iceskate and fish together.

    As with everything there is a balance.

    You wrote a very needful and encouraging article. I have found that ANYTHING that is said in regards to a woman being happy in her home is very offensive to many people, no matter how well said. Keep up the good work and don't be discouraged.

    Blessings,
    Mrs. Pyatskowit

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  13. Good post, Bailey. God bless you as you strive to glorify God at home!

    Rachel

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  14. Hi Bailey,

    I was pointed toward your blog by Mrs. P over at Pursuing Titus 2 (http://pursuingtitus2.com/). She referenced your prior post on this topic and now there is a comment discussion going on over there raising some of the same points as here. Would it be all right with you if I linked to your response post in a comment there?

    Thanks!

    Adele

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  15. Mrs. Pyatskowit - Thank you! I think you bridged the divide: Balance. It's wrong for the mother to laze about while her daughter pulls the weight...it's wrong for capable daughters to do the same while their mothers slave away for them.

    Adele - That's fine with me. I think I'll go check out the discussion myself. =)

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  16. Bailey, no, don't worry about it, take your time replying! I just wanted to be sure I had the right email, since it had been such a shockingly long time since I had emailed you! <3

    ~Elissa

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  17. YAY, BAILEY!!!!!
    You totally hit the nail on the head!! After I read this post, I felt like giving you a standing ovation. Too bad you weren't here, I could've. I could hardly contain my enthusiasm.
    You have got it so right!!!
    Good job, girl!

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  18. Hi Bailey,

    I was also directed over here from PursuingTitus2. Both this and your previous post are so very encouraging. I'm a young mom with baby #2 on the way and we hope to have many more. The heart of this post is what I love best of all: becoming mature women is of far greater value than seeking pleasure for oneself. And ultimately, we are to be servants of our Lord Jesus (and consequently those He puts in our lives) whatever our age. This is something I didn't learn very well growing up, and I struggle with my own selfishness now as a mother--and some habits that I wish had been dealt with earlier in life. So thank you so much for what you've written. It's so very encouraging to see another young lady with a heart to serve her family--unto the Lord.

    I also love how well you have articulated everything. ;-) I'm a fellow writing/grammar nerd.

    Blessings,
    Lauren

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  19. Wow. I am in awe. You are such a gifted writer, and put that so beautifully. You answered such an unkind comment from a "mature woman" with such grace, and wisdom way beyond your years.
    Humbled and grateful for God's work in your life!
    Katie

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  20. I like! :) Thank you! I have a very small family (two kids, including me) and there's still plenty of big-sister things to do. Thank you for the encouragement to us--God has definitely given you a gift in your ability to write! :)

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  21. I think you are fabulous.

    My life is absolutely nothing like yours; I am an only child with no cousins, raised a princess and center of the family. But I am a Christian, dedicated to serving Jesus, and constantly growing closer to Him and becoming a better version of myself every day.

    Living in a "regular" world, and seeing what most teenage girls are like, it makes me so happy that somebody else has the right idea!!

    - Leah

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  22. Sisters all - I wish I could give hugs to everyone and tell you in person how much you mean to me. You keep me joyful and encouraged.

    I am so blessed to walk this road with you.

    Christ's grace and peace to each of you.

    Love,
    Bailey :o)

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  23. Dear Bailey,
    People who cry 'abuse' don't realize that many of the so called sister slaves love what they do, and don't feel oppressed in any way shape or form. I know I don't. I'm only sixteen, and I have eight younger siblings. As the oldest I have quite a large responsibility. I rarely feel oppressed by it, and I think that when I am, it is for purely selfish reasons.
    Why do we need a chance to be normal? Look what happens to many of the 'normal' people anyway! Shouldn't maturity and responsibility at a young age be a good thing?
    Who says we don't get time to ourselves? Some of us get more than others, and even if I get none, just look forward to when I can, and feel satisfied over a job well done!
    I am not saying that everyone should be like me - just that not everyone is abused.
    Yes our family is home educated. We love it.
    Now I hope I didn't sound self righteous - Bailey please remember you don't have to publish this comment :)

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Hit me with your best thought! I'm very interested in your unique perspective. If you'd like to discuss things in private, feel free to email me! :)