Erica E. Goode, in “The Secret World of Siblings, points out that “sibling relationships . . . outlast marriages, survive the death of parents, resurface after quarrels that would sink any friendship. They flourish in a thousand incarnations of closeness and distance, warmth, loyalty and distrust.”
One of the scariest parts of introducing a second baby into our family was the thought that Katie would, even for a single moment, feel as though she wasn’t enough for us. We worried that she would think that we somehow loved her less and that the love that we have for her would have to be shared with her sibling.
Having another baby was something that we were certain that we wanted to do, we were just cognizant of the fact that doing so could turn her little world upside down. Our family dynamic was working for us and the thought of disrupting that was more than a bit scary.
In her article on siblings, Goode goes on to say that “[s]ibling relationships shape how people feel about themselves, how they understand and feel about others, even how much they achieve.”
Yes, sibling relationships are huge. This relationship that they are building now is, to some degree, our responsibility. as their parents, to help nurture and we have always seen it as our role to help build the strong foundation of their relationship that will hopefully outlast us.
Thus far, we have been incredibly fortunate in that Katie truly adores Matthew. He was the first person that she said “I love you” to without prompting. She is gentle and kind to him. She makes him laugh and smile and he just adores her.
For the first few months after we brought him home from the hospital, I was afraid that we had rocked the boat so much that we’d never again find our equilibrium. I couldn’t have been more wrong. She loves him like she doesn’t remember life without him. She has honestly never shown even an ounce of resentment.
While we were pregnant with Matthew, we talked a lot about how we would try to help Katie with the transition from only child (read: adored, complete focus of our universe) to one of two children.
Here’s what I think we did right:
1) We didn’t oversell Matthew. We never told Katie that she would now have a playmate. Realistically, it will be a long while before they can truly play together. Instead, we told her that she would now have another person to love, who would love her in return.
2) We don’t ask her to entertain Matthew. He isn’t her responsibility.
3) We don’t ask her to fetch things to help in his care, i.e. diapers, wipes, etc. He is our child, not hers.
4) We maintained routines that were in place before Matthew was born. We’ve always tucked her in together and we still do. Craig has always gotten her up in the morning. He continues to do this, as it provides her with predictability and reinforces just how important she is.
5) We each spend time with her one-on-one every single day.
6) We don’t compare them to one another. While I’ve been incredibly tempted to say, “Look what a great eater Matthew is!” while she’s playing with her food, I resist the urge.
I believe that it is because we did things this way that Katie comforts Matthew when he cries, entertains him when he is bored, and kisses him for absolutely no reason at all. These are things that she chooses to do and her love for him grows deeper every day.
I don’t profess to know all of the answers and we will undoubtedly have our ups and downs, but I like where this is going and it makes me feel good to know that we’ve laid some pretty solid groundwork for a healthy relationship between the two of them.
Having said all this, I am a realist and I fully expect that sibling rivalry will rear its head at some point. They will bicker, argue, probably even pull hair and smack one another one day. I am just hoping that if we continue to make every effort to help them to build a healthy relationship, they’ll enter adulthood as friends and not just siblings.
I would love to hear any additional ideas to help us minimize sibling rivalry. If your kids get along well or if you have a healthy relationship with your own siblings, please leave your tips in the comments! Our family will thank you for it.