I have two kids, a boy and a girl, four years apart. My son Lucas, since the time he was a baby, was extremely active and at times appeared even disconnected from us. I had to work sometimes to just get him to make eye contact with us.
So when I learned a couple of months after his third birthday that I was pregnant again, I worried a little. I worried about the usual things parents worry about when they become pregnant with their second child: Will I love my second as much as my first? Will I be able to handle all the extra work of a second child? Will I die of sleep deprivation? Will I have even a shred of pelvic floor remaining to prevent me from peeing myself when I sneeze?
But I also worried about the bond between my two kids. I worried that Lucas would resent the decline in attention paid to him due to the presence of a new baby. I worried my two kids wouldn’t get along — that maybe they’d even end up hating each other.
I read books to help me prepare Lucas for his new sibling. Based on what I read in those books, my then-husband and I agreed that any talk about the baby in front of Lucas would be framed around my son being the awesomest, coolest, most loving big brother the world had ever seen. We got friends and extended family on board too. It was never about the baby, it was always about Lucas, the heroic and kickass big brother. Everyone talked as though big brotherhood were on par with superhero status. I also bought Lucas a baby doll to practice “gentle” with, since that was a concept with which he had not yet familiarized himself.
I have no idea if these proactive interventions are what did it, or if it’s because of the 4-year age gap between the two of them, but my son has more than lived up to being the awesomest, coolest, most loving big brother the world had ever seen. From the time Marisol was born, they’ve had an unbreakable bond between them. Lucas would rush home from preschool straight to wherever Mari was and coo over her and gently stroke her face and arms and legs.
The adoration went both ways. Mari saved her biggest smiles and jiggliest baby belly laughs for Lucas. He was her favorite “toy.” And never once did I sense a single ounce of resentment from Lucas over Mari’s presence. That was his little sister. She was a part of him. He never saw her as a nuisance or a competitor for attention.
Of course, I worried in those early years that their amazing connection was just a honeymoon phase. I feared that eventually their relationship would deteriorate into merely tolerating one another, if that. Mari would continue to look up to Lucas and he would roll his eyes and tell her to leave him alone, go away. I remember wishing my little sister wouldn’t butt in on the fun I was having with my friends. My sister and I got along pretty well for the most part, but I remember being unfairly cruel to her when she only wanted to be included.
I still worry that one day my kids’ relationship could fall apart. But, at ages 13 and 9, there are still no signs of this. Of course, they bicker and spiral into the occasional shouting match, but 95% of the time they get along incredibly well. Mari is fiercely independent and would tell you she doesn’t need looking after, but Lucas looks out for her in small ways anyway. I see it most obviously in parking lots or crowded places. When it comes to his own safety, Lucas is completely oblivious. Several times I’ve had to yank his collar back to prevent him from walking into traffic. He’s gotten lost at Disney world twice.
But if Mari is there, he’s like Spider Man. Hyperaware, eyes darting, ears attuned to every sound, his hand floating at Mari’s back, ready to pull her out of the way of an oncoming car. If we’re navigating a crowd, he holds her hand or keeps an eye on her to make sure she’s okay. His awareness for himself seems almost nonexistent, but his sense of responsibility for his little sister seems to be written into his DNA. It’s an incredible thing to witness.
Of course, this dynamic can apply to cousin/neighbor relationships too — it’s not just for siblings. If you have an older kid who is like this with their younger siblings or cousins or kids of close friends, you know what a beautiful thing these relationships are, and you understand the gratitude I feel. So many of my friends’ kids argue constantly, sometimes to the point that the fights become physical. These mamas try their best to foster an environment of love and kindness and respect, and I know many of them tried some of the same tactics I did, but their kids just can’t seem to find common ground (which is totally normal, of course).
So I’m incredibly grateful, and this is my shout-out to my son Lucas and all the kick-ass older siblings like him who love on and look out for their younger siblings. We parents appreciate our loving, doting “big kids” because they give us a moment of calm in the rush of everyday life, when extended family gets together, when the neighborhood joins for a social gathering. It’s so good for parents to see our big kids be gentle and caring — especially if it’s with a non-sibling — in a way we might not otherwise see.
These kids make our jobs as parents so much easier and add a desperately-needed dash of cooperation and beauty to this wild job that is parenting.