Wednesday, January 18, 2012

First and Second

I am the younger of two siblings and my husband is the oldest of three, so I find it interesting that we often approach our own children’s sibling relationships differently. I also find it interesting looking at my children’s sibling relationship from a parental perspective. I can definitely see advantages and disadvantages for both the older and the younger child.

When my son was a baby, I could spend hours just holding and rocking him and studying his tiny features. I sang him lullabies at bedtime and when he woke in the middle of the night. When he was ready for solid food, I would sit with him for a long time, offering him a tiny bite and waiting for him to finish rolling it around in his mouth and swallow it (or spit it out again) before I offered him another bite. My husband and I gave him a bath nearly every night. I patiently sat with him for hours as he was learning to sit up, cushioning him with my own legs and setting him upright every time he tipped.

With my daughter, I spent as many hours as I could holding and rocking her, but my attention was divided between her and my son, because if I took my eyes off him for more than 60 seconds, something was going to end up broken or torn or colored on with a crayon or otherwise destroyed. I did sometimes sing her lullabies at bedtime but not when she woke in the middle of the night, since she shares our bedroom and I didn’t want to wake my husband. Now that she’s beginning solid food, I offer her a bite then shout downstairs to my son to stop climbing up the stairs, then offer her another bite then shout downstairs to my son to stop whatever he’s doing that’s making a loud noise, then offer her another bite, then get nervous about the sudden silence from downstairs and decide she’s had enough and I’d better bring her downstairs and investigate. She gets a bath a couple of times a week, and often shares the big tub with her brother. I sit with her between my legs, but it’s generally as much to protect her from her big brother racing manically around the room than to help her learn to sit up.

And it works in reverse, too. I’m working on potty-training my son, and I’d love to be able to sit him on the potty every hour and just wait until he goes. But after a few minutes I have a squalling baby to attend to. I love reading him books before he takes his nap, but the baby often wakes up before we’ve read as many as I’d like, and I need to leave him to sleep while I go deal with her. He got all my attention for the first two years of his life, but she’ll get it when she’s a bit older, when he goes to school and she’s still home. She’ll have my attention at an age when she’s very interactive and we’re able to do more things together. Right now, it’s hard for me to do a messy craft project with him because she’ll get into it or I need to do something for her in the middle of the mess. But when she’s messy craft age, it’ll be just the two of us and we can get as messy as we like.

I appreciate how well they get along together right now. My son brings his little sister toys and likes to help her bounce in her bouncy seat. He lets her splash him when they’re in the tub together. He likes to hold her hand and pat her soft, downy hair. Sometimes he even explains things to her: “Katie, that’s a dump truck. Katie, that’s a backhoe.” And in return, she gazes at him with adoration and fascination, giving him a gummy grin whenever he looks her way. She happily accepts the toys he proffers. She coos and giggles when he talks to her or gives her a gentle hug and kiss. I have no doubt that this peaceful relationship will change drastically when she starts to take (and break) his toys, and tag along behind him and his friends, and tattle on him, and when he starts to gloat over being able to do things that she can’t, and boss her around, and tattle on her.

But my husband and I are proof that a bossy big brother and a tagalong little sister can grow up and get along just fine. Well, most of the time, anyway.

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