Siblings Suck (and that's OK)
"I just wish I was an only child so I got all the attention!"
"I wish we had 2 more Mamas that Theo could have a Mama and Malcolm could have a Mama and I could have you"
"It's hard having a baby brother because you don't get as much time with your big brother"
I heard all these things and more this week. There were fistfuls of grass and pillows thrown, toes ran over, turn taking gone awry. There were too many shrieks to count. There were hurt feelings.
It's hard to share a Mama, and my kids aren't even new to this game.
I find we are fed an inaccurate image of sibling bliss. We imagine hand-holding and a big sister reading quietly as the baby gazes on. We imagine soft voices and loving touches. We imagine a glow around our family. A couple conceives a longed for second child, (or third or fourth), and the new line fed to the new big brother is "Aren't you excited?".
"Excited?! What the honky tonk! Am I not enough? I have to share my parents? How will they share their love for me? Do they even have enough love? What about me?!" thinks the older child, internally. Externally they may scream or demand or melt down or get sassy or all of the above. These are hurt feelings. This is their discomfort for the situation disguised as "bad behavior".
When my second child was born, I was shocked to see my older son's behavior change. I had bought into the image of sibling love as he had been right there, moments after her birth. Instead, he alternately snuggled me and screamed at me. All of his sensory challenges exploded. Everything was cause for a meltdown. With my grown-up brain I felt the loss of my child and our family of three. I can only imagine the turmoil he was feeling.
Birth is always side-by-side with loss, two inseparable companions. Parents often have to grieve a loss of their former life at the birth of each new child. It is the same for our children. It doesn't undermine our love to say "this is hard". When we give ourselves that freedom as parents, we have a more wholesome experience of personhood. When we allow the full array of feelings for our children, we welcome their humanity.
When our third child was born, I expected the fall out. Or rather, I didn't expect anything from my middle daughter. Her approach was different: she ignored the baby. When she held the baby she'd squeeze him a little too tight. I was so grateful that my husband and I knew this was a normal display of emotions. We gave her 100x more grace than we offered our first child when he became a big brother for the first time.
Right now our kids are 7, 4 and 1.5. They do love each other. The older two play together as much as they fight. They share secrets. They talk late into the night in their shared bedroom. The toddler is pushed around on a tricycle by his older brother. His sister offers him her stuffed dog when he is sad. She has infinite nicknames for him, though mostly she just says "You cute. You baby."
They ignore each other, and tease each other, and squeeze each other a little too, tight. They compete for my attention constantly.
"If I was an only child then you could read me Harry Potter all day!" complains my oldest.
"It's so hard to be a big sister because a baby is always tearing up your pictures" cries my daughter.
"Mama!!!" shrieks my toddler when I hug anyone but him.
They may really, truly love each other and really, truly hate each other all at once. And really, truly, that's OK.
I learned everything I know in this blog from Janet Lansbury's books, blogs, and podcasts, from Positive Discipline classes in my town, from my kid's amazing preschool teacher, and from my experience in the wild. If you are struggling as a parent, with sibling dynamics or a sudden change in a child's behavior, I highly recommend checking out these resources and finding a support system for YOU as a parent. This work is hard, but made much sweeter by knowing we are not alone and that our child is not broken.