I do know quite a few people, including my own mother, who have been looked after as children by their older siblings. About two generations ago, people had more than the regulation 2 children. They also married younger and thus had a lot more time to have more than 2-3 children, which meant that there was a possibility of large age gap between the youngest one and the oldest one. This often meant that the older child would do a lot of babysitting, feeding, cleaning, playing and general being in charge of the well being of their little sibling. It was not uncommon to see an age difference ranging from 10-20 or more years. This allowed the oldest child to sometimes act as a quasi-parent, willingly or reluctantly.
I have heard stories about my uncle taking his 21 year old younger sister, my mother, to school till one day he overheard people at mom's school assume that he was her father, that was the last day he took her to school. Being the youngest of 6 children, my mother had the advantage of having much older siblings so her homework, heat her milk bottle and do anything she needed done without having to make much of an effort. She was babied and looked after by her siblings. Which meant that as an adult she had an almost child-parent relationship with her older siblings. They even today treat her like one of their own children. Which means they are close..but its not the same thing as having a sibling.
Siblings are friends, foes, adversaries, confidantes, the team you join when you need a big moan about your parent. The cheerleaders in your life, the people you discuss your troubles with when you don't want to worry your parents, the people you introduce your girlfriend/ boyfriend to as a possible potential tester for parental reaction later on. They are the people you are embarrassed of at some point of life. The people you whinge and crib about. The people on who you can test run your opinions about life. They are the butt of your learning attempts at criticism, they knock off your corners, remove the chips from your shoulders, they teach you how to whine, tell tales and eventually temporarily hate a person. They make you angry enough to want to kill them and ask God, why they were sent as your burden to bear! They love you unconditionally (if you have been brought up right) but they are not responsible for you. There is a Lot of difference between them and parents.
While I don't think its wrong for older kids to chip in to help out the parents with the younger ones, especially when there are quite a few young ones around. I do feel that putting the responsibility of one of your children on another child is not quite fair for the older child. Yes they learn how to care about their own siblings, but they also need the time and attention of the parents themselves, after all they are children too. I also think a sibling bond is essential but when an older sibling is like a parent the equation changes. And remains so even after the children have grown up and become adults.
I do see the need for respect and love between siblings, but the parent child equation should not be played out between children, unless of course there is a lack of options. I am told that this perspective is the reason why there is little affection between siblings in the modern world.
I think it is unfair to take a child's ability to be a child by leaving them in charge of your own children. Chipping in from time to time is very different from making them responsible for the younger ones. Am I being too 'western' in my thinking as I have been told..or is this more practical approach better in the long run?