I still remember the day,
about a week and a half after our second son was born,
when I was met with resistance when I went to put our 2-year-old down for his nap.
He began crying, and upstairs our newborn was beginning to fuss, as it was time for him to eat.
I was torn.
Whose needs should I meet?
Would my 2-year-old feel further neglected if I left him crying to feed the baby?
After trying to soothe him for a few minutes, I went upstairs to tend to the newborn.
And then I dissolved into tears.
How could I do this?
How could I take care of competing needs?
How could I divide myself fairly between my children?
And for a good 6 months, I continued to struggle with those questions.
I clung to the examples I had of large families whose children seemed well-adjusted as we sought to work through the difficulties the birth of our second son caused our 2-year-old.
Our sweet, loving son had become defiant and lashed out frequently, hurting our newborn.
If I turned my head for a moment, he would often draw blood from his new, soft little head.
Major tantrums became normal, accompanied with biting, hitting, and scratching.
I remember one time he was in time-out and when I got him out I found he had wet his pants (presumably on purpose). When I questioned him about it, my 25-month-old child looked at me angrily and said, "Ha, ha, funny."
It was only through divine help that we figured out how to overcome his difficulties and help him transition.
And now, 3 1/2 years later, the two of them are the best of friends.
But there are some things I learned along the way and as we added a third son to the family
that continue to help me when I feel overwhelmed.
1-It's good for a child to not be the center of the world.
For those first 2 years, our time and energies were focused almost entirely on our only son. And it was difficult to let go of that. We didn't want him to feel neglected or unloved. But with the passage of time, I've learned that it's good for a child to not grow with this self-centered mentality. We can still help them be confident of our love for them without making them the constant center of attention, and this will help them to not expect the same constant, doting attention in their social circles outside of our home.
2-Delayed gratification is a good skill to learn in childhood.
I was used to immediately meeting our son's needs. And having to say "Just a minute" to his requests ate at me. I always seemed to be preoccupied...I was nursing the baby, or changing a diaper, or readying him for a nap...and I felt guilty for continually using that phrase. Today I use it in response to almost every request, and I've learned that it has helped my children learn patience and selflessness as they see that their own individual needs don't always come first.
3-Older kids love playing with each other more than with their parents.
For 2 years, my little buddy and I did puzzles, colored, played with play-dough, went to the park, read countless stories, and so much more. I felt like my oldest had lost his best friend when my days were filled once again with newborn activities and our playtime was reduced. But by the time our second child was about 2, I found that they actually preferred playing with each other to doing activities with me. There was more laughter and more opportunity to develop socio-emotional skills as they had to overcome conflict that didn't exist in the parent-child relationships. Don't get me wrong--I still play with my children often and we both enjoy that time together. But there is something about the sibling relationship that a parent just can't fully provide.
4-Each position in the family has pros and cons.
Not only did I feel guilty that I was no longer giving my oldest all my time, I felt guilty that I couldn't give my second everything I had given my first. I tried so hard to teach my baby, and took that stewardship seriously. I taught him animal sounds by age 1, colors and shapes by 18 months, and the list goes on and on. Because I did focused art activities with him, he became very talented at drawing, coloring, and writing. He had an almost flawless memory. I felt that I couldn't devote that same time to each of my kids anymore and I worried that they wouldn't do as well. And the fact of the matter is, my second child has different talents and hasn't had the same accomplishments. And my first isn't quite as gifted at art anymore. And while I still feel a little bit bad sometimes, I've learned that each position in the family has pros and cons. While my second doesn't get as much one-on-one time and focused teaching as my first got, he has the advantage of parents who have learned more about effective discipline strategies and parenting in general. He gets to learn from his brother's successes and mistakes. I was the fourth child in my family, and while I didn't have much time alone with my parents, there are many ways I felt I was advantaged because of my position in the family.
5-Decreased availability increases independence and ability.
Because I have 3 children's needs to meet, there are many times when one of the kids asks for my help and I ask them to try to take care of the problem themselves because I'm busy with something/someone else. Because of this, my older kids have become more capable and responsible. This increases my confidence that as they grow older and find themselves in situations without adult supervision, they will be more able to make wise decisions.
So, in sum, there are certainly some negative ways kids are affected when they have to share their parents with siblings. But I've found that when it comes to developing positive life skills, kids are better off without undivided attention. And I hope that's a comfort to any mother who is struggling to figure out the balance of multiple children and learning how to divide priorities.