10 revelations on raising siblings

Image via Nikki Smal

I’m the mother of two little boys. Noah (5) and Benjamin (turning 4) were born 20 months apart and are one year apart at school. This means when Noah is in grade 2, Benjamin will be in grade 1. When Noah is in grade 12, Ben will be in grade 11. That’s quite something!

My boys (sort of) get along now. I don’t have it all figured out, but we’ve picked up some tricks and tips along the way. How my boys interact, reason and bargain with one another now is going to shape their relationships with thousands of people as they grow into adulthood. How do you manage the relationship between siblings while maintaining some peace amongst the chaos in your family home?

Here comes the competition!

The day Benjamin was born was a joyous day. Noah was 20 months and quite chuffed with being our NUMBER ONE. Enter the outsider, the new, wiggly, permanently hungry, sleepy and quite useless playmate. It was hard. The first year of having two kids under two was busy, exhausting and demanding. Other parents shoved information forward at a hurried pace because they knew. Here is some of what we learned, what worked and what never will when raising siblings…

1.    We bought Noah a “big brother” present the day he came to see Benjamin in hospital. The day he met Benjamin and touched his little feet in wonder, dad and I cried buckets of joyous tears. It was such a sweet moment! Two minutes later, Noah lost interest, wanted juice and to see the rest of the hospital. What?

2.    The day your sweet little newborn arrives, your toddler looks GIANT.

3.    Before your newborn arrives, teach your toddler how many big-kid things he can do on his own. Move juice to the bottom shelf of the fridge. Move plastic cups and plates and spoons – make a little toddler nest at the bottom of a kitchen cupboard that is JUST for him to help himself. Healthy snacks, juice boxes, tissues, wet wipes… You will be amazed at how thirsty and ‘starving’ your toddler becomes the moment you settle to feed your newborn.

4.    Make the older sibling your very big, special and important helper. Place LOADS of importance on their assistance and praise every single good gesture. I would call Noah when it was nappy time so he could open the nappy, work the nappy bin, pull out a wet wipe for me. He loved that I ‘needed’ his help.

5.    Where possible, buy new things for your new baby. Especially the sentimental bits like a blankie or teddy. Handing the older child’s things over to another person at such a young age could send a message of being ‘replaced’ or ‘disposable’. With things you need to use again, like a pram – ask your toddler if it’s okay. Say that the new baby isn’t big and can’t walk big like him yet – is it okay if the baby just borrows his pram for a little bit, and then he’ll give it back?

6.    Your older toddler will be pretty uninterested in the baby for the first few months. I mean, the baby can’t do tricks, magic, walk, play, talk, smile, laugh or even hold his own head up. This is true for boys, mostly. Noah only showed more interest in Ben when he could sit up, giggle, hold things and started showing interest in his older brother. Somewhere between four and six months. They only really started playing together from about 10 months.

7.    As soon as your new baby starts mouthing, crawling and grabbing at things – the older one may start getting defensive. Not fun when your baby brother drools all over your new book, or when mommy wants to feed the baby out of ‘his’ cereal bowl.

8.    Colour separation has settled arguments in our home only second to Beatles vs Stones. It was that serious. I have seen my boys have full-blown emotional meltdowns over a bath sponge or colouring book. You will want to rip your hair out. We made a rule that all Noah’s things are blue, and all Ben’s things are green. Plastic chairs, toothbrushes, shoes, lunch boxes, cups, blankets, pillows – basically anything of severe and life threatening importance to a toddler. Like a teaspoon. And if you can’t get it in that color, put a sticker that color on the object. Look me in the eyeball: DO IT! They likely go to the same school, have the same friends, the same toys, the same everything. Having their ‘own’ plastic cup seems to make my boys feel more secure in their independence.

9.    Sharing. This has been drilled in to their tear-drenched “Noah won’t giiiive it toooo meeeeeeeeeee!!!!” faces from as soon as they could put vowels together. I have broken a pair of kiddie’s sunglasses in half and given each a piece (not as good an idea as I thought it was) and thrown a balloon out of a moving car (sorry Spur and environment). No matter how much you drill, shout, bargain, reason, ignore, time-out or literally beg… there are going to be times when they will threaten each other’s lives  over a Lego block. I have no advice for you. Only sympathy, understanding and wine.

10.    One day, while you’re mid-argument with your toddler about the permanent marker masterpiece on your living room wall, the other one will pipe up with “MOM! Don’t shout at my brother!” They’ll have secrets just between them. They’ll hug each other for no reason. They’ll offer their last jellybean to the other. They will build magical forts under the coffee table and will play and laugh for hours without interruption. They’ll get sad when the other has an ouchie and will help one another finish all the peas on their plates. For now.

Parenting siblings will challenge your parenting skills in ways that you had not even considered. We’re constantly re-adjusting our tactics  and viewpoints as we go along. Should the one get a present on the other one’s birthday? Should one have a friend over when the other one doesn’t? It gets tricky, but we are having more fun than we’ve ever had before!

Natasha Clark shares more of her mom-dilemmas on her blog, Raising Men.

What are your tips for parents trying to navigate the tricky sibling landscape?
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