Sisters Chosen as Family Babysitters Over Brothers

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When 17-year-old Carol Pola isn’t in school or working on homework, she’s not found playing sports and enjoying free time as her brother would be, but instead at her own home, watching over her younger sister, Patience.

With a working, single mother in need of childcare assistance, Pola feels she has no choice but to step up. Her older brother, despite his capability, is discounted as an option for the family babysitter simply because he is a boy.

“I don’t get the chance to hang out with my friends, get a real job, or partake in any school sports since someone needs to watch over Patience and that someone is always me,” Pola said in an email interview from her home in West Jordan, Utah. “It would be nice to have my brother step up once in awhile so I could actually have some time to do what I want.”

The fact that Patience responds to her sister better than her brother doesn’t help the situation. “While I enjoy the extra time I get to spend with my sister, this situation has simply become unfair,” Pola said.

Pola’s situation isn’t unusual and one reason for this lack of brothers as babysitters, says , a University of Texas professor of women’s and gender studies, is the opportunity for practice.

“Children and adults develop the skills that they practice…the same is true with childcare,” Bigler said in an email interview. “If society demands that daughters but not sons practice childcare, then only daughters will get good at it, thereby becoming the only ones asked to babysit.”

By creating a pattern where only the daughters of a family are presented with this opportunity to learn, the unfairness of the situation is only intensified, but it is not the only factor: familial relationships also tend to trap these girls into the situation.

“When I am asked to babysit, even when my older brother is in the house, I say ‘yes’ because I don’t want to disappoint my parents,” said Rhiannon Tunney, 17, from Midvale, Utah. She has become the go-to babysitter for her younger brother, while her older brother is merely looked to as a last resort replacement.

Pola has also felt guilted into saying yes. “I usually just let it slide, since it’s family,” Pola said. “With my mom working so hard to provide for all of us, this is something I feel like I should do to make it a little bit easier for her, even though it makes some things less enjoyable for me.”

With neither girl comfortable to approach their parents on the matter and not receiving pay for the work, the situation’s unfairness has only been amplified.

“Boys and girls need to be given equal opportunities to develop child care skills, so they can equally contribute to the family by helping their parents,” Bigler said. “The current situation only deprives boys of necessary skills while overloading the daughters.”

With fewer than 3 percent of babysitters identified as male, according to Priceonomics, the equal opportunities Bigler speaks of are not being applied on a broader scale, much less in intermediate families.

“I never really minded having to watch my little brother, I was simply helping my parents out, but this doesn’t mean my older brother should be exempt from this responsibility,” Tunny said. “There should always be an equal amount of distribution between both genders, no matter the situation.”

  • Ruby

    This is how the majority of unpaid carers end up being women. It’s starts with toys aimed at training little girls to be mothers and it just goes on and on.

  • Grace Terry

    I am now 62 years old, but unfortunately some things have not changed ENOUGH since I was a teen. When I was in high school my mom took a job outside the home which had her leaving VERY early in the morning, before my siblings and I got out of bed. It was MY job, being the oldest girl, to wake up my OLDER brother and younger sister and be sure my brother got a hot breakfast…Often I would wake him up, start his breakfast, and then wake him up again and again to come eat his breakfast. Usually it was cold before he would haul his butt out of bed, and of course it was my fault he didn’t get a hot breakfast. This was all very stressful and NOT a good way to start my day, but it was never questioned (even by me) as to whether or not it was appropriate for me to be the one responsible for doing the things my mother would do if she had been at home. I was so well conditioned that I meekly accepted the responsibilities that in a healthier household my older brother might have fulfilled. Because he was male, he enjoyed many privileges and permissions my sister and I would not enjoy to this very day if we waited for our parents to grant them. Set me up very early for feminism, so I guess ultimately it was a good thing. I am proud to be a feminist who seeks justice for all.