“He ain’t heavy . . . He’s my brother”

By: Lisa Donovan

When I became pregnant with my second child, as elated and my husband and I were, I became very sad and distressed about what it would do to my relationship with my first born and, moreover, how it would make him feel to have another child around. He had been an only child for five years and, to top it all off, it was just him and me for those first three years. He had adjusted well to me getting married and to now having two parents instead of one - he was really thriving in our new family set up. I was concerned, though, about the intensity of sibling rivalry and the possibility of him feeling "replaced" or "left out". I have seen some nasty cases of siblings who, if given the chance, would put their brother or sister in the goodwill pile and revel in their absence forevermore. I didn't want this to happen with my kids. My brother and I were (and still are) best friends and I wanted that for my babies. But how?

Now that my daughter is almost two and my son is creeping toward first grade - I can see what has worked and what hasn't. Here's what I have gleaned thus far.

  1. Don't force them to love one another.

    It will happen over time and the more pressure that you put on them to be buddies, the less likely it will happen. Give everyone their own space in time to build this relationship.

  2. Before you give birth to the second born, it seems helpful to include the eldest in all sorts of decision making.

    I let my son pick out the crib (even though the one he picked was my second choice). Something as small as that empowered him and made him feel a part of a process that was out of his control.

  3. Once the baby is born, give the eldest a job.

    My son is very task oriented and thrives wholeheartedly on being responsible for something or someone. It became his "job" to pick out her pajamas every night when she was first born. Once she started talking it became his "job" to teach her about animals and to learn how to say the names and make the sounds. My son has taught my daughter how to say "mouse" , "kitty", how to "woof woof" like a dog and how to "moo" like a cow. This, very sneakily, has instilled a bond between them without them even realizing what happened.

  4. Have a weekly ritual that is only between you and your eldest and you and your youngest.

    Since my son is in school all week, I get plenty of time alone with my daughter. I have to create special time with my son and I think it is important that no one else be around for that time. Since my husband works late Thursday nights, I put my daughter to bed just a bit early and my son and I have popcorn and a movie, just the two of us. I also try to whisk him away for at least an hour or two over the weekend. My husband does the same with both of the kids. This, I think, takes away the opportunity for your eldest to feel as if he has been replaced or forgotten.

  5. If you have a brother or sister whom you share a strong bond with, expose your children to it.

    Tell them stories about when you and your sibling were kids. Tell them about the games you would play, about the places you lived, about the fights you had, about how you resolved your problems, about how you built forts together. If they see a working model, they are more likely to accept that as the way things should be.

Raising a healthy child who can take on anything is, I think, every parents dream. I think my parents were wise to show me and my brother that, rather than being obstacles, we were meant to be comrades in arms. If we, as parents, facilitate it the right way we can have children who are strengthened by the bond between them and their siblings.

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