March 30, 2014

Sharing is Caring, Except When It's Not

Most (if not all) only children think the best thing ever is to have a sibling.  If only I had a brother or sister, my life would be so much better...goes the voice in our heads until well, maybe senior year in high school.  Then it doesn't really matter.  It doesn't come up much in the college years either.  The lack of a sibling seems to fade to insignificance as careers, homes and romantic relationships are forming in our twenties and thirties.  In fact, being an only child doesn't factor in much at all when you are an adult.  Except when you become a parent.  Then you realize that your child may not have a sibling--and it's easy to start reliving the longing again.  Never mind that a) your child is not you and b) giving your child everything you never had is not a guaranteed recipe for happiness (for either of you).

When I conceived my second child, siblings were created.  When I learned the baby would be a boy, brothers came to be.  I was certain they would be best friends and neither would spend an hour of loneliness during childhood.   Perfect.  All problems solved.  And then I brought the baby home.  I placed him on the sofa next to his toddler brother and wept with despair.  I was certain that I had ruined all of our lives.  There would be no private schools, no trips to Europe...nothing but diapers, laundry, dishes, pumped milk, clipping coupons and shopping clearance racks.

It took a few weeks for my postpartum mood altering hormones to settle down.  When Liam was about 3 weeks old, he looked into his big brother's eyes and intentionally held his gaze.   From that moment on I took second place--he was attached first and foremost to his big brother.  Of course he still smiled and cooed for me.  He still enjoyed 5,6,7 feeds in the rocking chair.  But when his brother was in the room, Liam wanted to interact with him and only him.  I marveled at the sibling bond as it developed.   This was a completely foreign, mysterious phenomenon unfolding before my eyes.

Many times in the past five years, I've been in awe over their relationship.  I'm so grateful for the blessing bestowed on our family.  A blessing of brothers.  Gone is the regret about backpacking across Europe with a ten year old or sending him to an elite academy.  Instead, at times, I'll catch myself imagining what Henry's life would be like as an only child.  Without his extroverted, risk taking little brother, seven year old Henry would be even more serious and adult-like.  Scheduling playdates and coming home to a quiet house with "nothing to do" would be the norm.  Would he fight early depression as I did?  I shiver at these "what ifs".  Never mind that someone once said, a) your child is not you and b) giving your child everything you never had is not a guaranteed recipe for happiness (for either of you).

So what does Liam get out of all this?  Hmmmm.  That is what I am starting to question.  Being an only child means I have no idea how to raise siblings.  Nice to figure that out five long years into the experiment, right?  There's been some real friction lately.  Some "go to bed now, Mommy is going to sit here with her head in her hands and hope you are asleep before she starts to cry tears of despair" evenings.  Some, "why did I think I could handle two?" moments.

It's become apparent that Liam needs more (or different) attention than he's been getting from me.  His behavior is quite distressing at times.  Right now I'm at the parenting point where I admit things are not going well and I need to do something different.  But what?  Yesterday, after a very trying evening that ended with us both in tears, I prayed for guidance.

This morning I chose to run my very necessary errands but to take Liam along.  Just Liam.  I gave him my full attention and as I did, it occurred to me that I rarely do that.  When I have both boys in the car or out and about or even here at home, Henry gets 80% of my attention and Liam gets scolded.  This is a really disturbing realization.  Can I explain it?  Sure.  Henry asks questions, really in depth questions all the time.  He wants to be shown things, given explanations.  He wants to know this, understand that.  Liam leaves his shoes in the middle of the kitchen or grabs candy off the high pantry shelf.  Liam stands on the sofa.  He pinches and sometimes bites.  He refuses to eat anything but pepperoni and Cheetos.  Of course he gets scolded.  But what if, just what if, Liam's incorrigible-ness was his way of adapting to having a big brother who gets most of Mom's attention?  What if the only way to get noticed is to do something I don't like?

The more Liam gets on my last nerve, the less I'm focused on his brother and the more I'm interacting with him.

Having time with Liam outside of Henry's presence does help, it seems.  But that's not practical as a solo parent.  Not on a daily or even weekly basis.  I need to find a way to connect to Liam even when we are not alone.  Easier said than done but I can't give up trying.  He's too precious to me.


  1. My Aunt experienced the same relationship with both of her daughters - both behaving almost exactly as you've described. You seem to be getting a handle on it and as Liam gets a bit older it will be even easier - as Henry will be older too (if that makes sense). Both my cousins turned out well adjusted and happy and I love seeing how close they are as adults. One bonus of having siblings as adults is knowing they are there for you when you need them (at least in my experience).

    I love the expression of you've quoted about giving children everything you never had... too right! Big hugs to you Lara.

  2. You are an amazing mom for realizing & admitting this. This is the way it is with my nephews. The oldest gets tons of positive attention, the youngest only gets attention when he's misbehaving. The younger is such a sweet, interesting kid & when he's away from his parents, an absolute delight to be around...but if they are there he is annoying & defiant...but that's the only attention he gets so it's better than nothing at all, in his eyes. And my Brother & SIL just don't seem to see it.

    I really appreciate your frank honesty & sharing this post.

  3. Wow!!! I feel like you are me in the future and I have so much to learn. My two also lock eyes and it's as though I am invisible. But I also question how I will give both my individual attention - even now SR acts up...gotta end this here...babysitter (my dad) just arrived...will finish this thought after.

  4. Your boys always seem to have such a bond when you post pictures of them. When I see things like that, I have that yearning to have another baby so Sidekick has a sibling, but your honesty shows that there are challenges far beyond what I had anticipated. Eeeek! It's great that you see the need to spend more time with Liam, but as a SMC that is definitely hard to do. From what I can tell, you are doing a great job with them!