Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Benefits of Siblings

This photo shows one of the kids' new games. They overturn the glider and sit inside the "cave" it makes or on top of it and pretend they are driving a train. There are many stops, getting off the train, and getting on the train.

I've been enjoying John and Mary's sibling relationship so much lately and it has me thinking about the benefits of siblings.

I remember when I was pregnant with Mary, I knew theoretically that I wanted more kids (and a big family) but nonetheless I felt like I'd ruined John's life. All I knew for sure was that my pregnancy and subsequent new baby would deprive John of an energetic mother, of nursing, of my full attention, and of my instant responsiveness. I cried at times. All the benefits of giving John a sibling were vague platitudes at best.

The transition was very hard indeed. God spaced the children 23 months apart (which I don't think is "close" despite how often I hear that at the grocery store--talk to all my friends with Irish twins or babies 15 or 18 months apart). Every time I nursed Mary, John flung himself to the ground and threw a screaming fit for as long as I was nursing the newborn. He was still waking a lot at night. I had never let my baby cry before and now I faced letting both my newborn and my toddler cry for stretches, depending on who I thought needed me more instantaneously. And then there was the really distressing period when Mary was six months to 15 months old when John hit her (hard) numerous times every single day. I had no idea how long that would last and the behavior required so much of my attention in order to discipline him every single time, no matter what I was in the middle of doing (while also working all my psychological tricks to calm John).

But now they are the best of pals, as they have been since Mary was about 18 months old. I get to do a lot of my chores while they are playing together nearby. They entertain each other, John concocts wonderfully imaginative games for them to play, they sing duets often, and make each other laugh all the time. No longer do I have to keep up constant conversation with my older child because the two of them talk to each other also (but don't get me wrong, John still asks me a zillion questions!).

Obviously, the atmosphere isn't bucolic at all times. Mary is sporting a bruise on her forehead right now that came from a certain big brother wielding a large object. But now the outright fights seem to happen only a couple times per week, and everything else I can help negotiate. My heart was singing the other day when we were at a play date with variously aged children and I heard Mary at only 24 months saying, "John is having a turn. I can't yank the toy. John has a turn, and then I have a turn. I wait here"--and she crouched and watched the toy with an eagle eye. She and John both seem to have really good sharing and turn-taking skills already. Often John offers food, toys, or gifts to Mary of his own accord. Just yesterday we were at a medical office and the woman (who works with children all day long) commented in amazement at how good John was with sharing because as soon as he had some yummy treat foods, he offered them to Mary on his own.

The kids wouldn't have these opportunities were it not for siblings. And perhaps that is why I'm enjoying this pregnancy more than my one with Mary. Now, the sickness and aches and pains are still really hard, and being laid up on the couch at times while the kids get dumped in front of television doesn't lessen just because I'm more cheerful. But I have zero feelings this time of having ruined the kids' lives, and I have long felt so excited to meet this new baby.

Now I'm really understanding better why so many of my friends say that having babies close together (whether that's two years or less or even Irish twins!) is really hard on Mama but usually makes for happily close siblings. And that is a big blessing!


  1. Beautiful post! And, I had to laugh at the grocery store ladies telling you that your kids are so close together! I'm thrilled you are excited to meet this baby without the extra worry of the impact on John and Mary.

  2. Good post. Gives me hope. I'm not there yet! My 2 still fight all the time, and I use up so much energy to break up their fights...I can't turn my back on them for more than 5 minutes, so this gives me hope.

  3. Rebecca: Have hope! I do know that there are other factors than simply siblings = happy times. I have boy/girl, you have boy/boy. I have 23-month spacing, you have 18. Plus who knows all their different temperaments. But, yes, please have hope. Also know that I've done a *ton* of sibling negotiation and still do. I know some parents choose not to be so involved and some can't be because of the number of kids (which may be me real soon). But for now, the kids play within ear shot almost all the time and I'm frequently stepping in to remind to use nice words, share, don't yank, what would be a kinder way to act? I'm really seeing the fruits of my helping them negotiate, like when John says sweetly, "Mary, please don't speak to me rudely." ;P