I remember asking my 4-year-old son when I was pregnant with his sister, “How do you feel about sharing your mom and dad with someone else?” He, my firstborn child with the sweetest, most giving heart, surprised me by saying, “Not good.”
And then he was off again, probably flinging himself down the slide backwards or trying to give me a heart attack while riding his bike. But I filed his answer away because from the moment he heard the news that he was going to have a sibling, he had been thrilled. And to top it all off, he was getting a sister, exactly what he had wished for. The second that line turned pink, I had begun thinking about what she might take from him, but I had no idea he was beginning to realize that as well.
When she came, however, she was immediately as much his as she was ours. He was proud of her very existence—marveling over each of her tiny features, stroking her soft cheeks, and wanting to constantly read books to her as she lay swaddled in her bassinet. It was as if she had always been in our lives. And he was the best big brother a little girl could ask for.
You know, until she started crying. And then moving. And then taking his toys and yelling “No!” at him continuously. And well, then she turned into a toddler, which involved hitting and the occasional biting when things didn’t go quite her way. And she was so small and didn’t know better and, oh, just give her that blue cup, please. You don’t care that much, and well, she cares a lot.
Being the firstborn has to be hard. I understand that as a parent. I understand that he sometimes gets into trouble for merely defending himself. I understand that he probably just wants her to go away when he is building with Legos or constructing intricate domino setups. I understand that he gets hollered at to include her, or to be the bigger person, because she’s only 2, or 3, or now, 4.
He has to be the mature one when sometimes I’m sure he just wants to be the one who loses his shit.
His needs often take a backseat to hers because she’s younger and her needs are more loud and immediate.
He is expected to have a better grasp on his emotions.
All of our bike rides and swimming and ski days are now focused on her learning, her frustrations, her comfort.
He is expected to be interchangeably her teacher, her playmate, and her role model.
For the most part, he takes it all in stride. But sometimes I can’t help but let that guilt creep in when she comes downstairs in the morning with her blanket and then curls up perfectly in my lap. He glances over the top of his cereal bowl, and I wonder if he misses those snuggled in wake-ups. Does he remember those five years he had us all to himself? Does he resent her at all?
But then I see how proud he is of her—when she took those first few pedals without her training wheels, when she began to recognize letters and words in books, and maybe most of all, that day she learned how to say “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” correctly for the first time. That was a big (and possibly tortuous) day for all of us. He will sneak a look at me during these times as if to say, “Look at her! Isn’t she amazing!”
So, I let the guilt go. Because she is giving him much more than she is taking. She is giving him pride in his own abilities, a deeper connection to his family, and many, many relationship skills. She’s the one who balances him on the teeter-totter, laughs at his fart jokes, builds blanket forts with him, and worships his every running, climbing, leaping step. She is giving much more than she takes.
Oh, and he gets all the new bikes, so that evens things out a little.