"Wake me up if a monster comes to our house so I can tell it to go away and not hurt my little brother!"

A bit tricky but not impossible

It't not all roses and chocolate boxes, not all dandelions and unicorns - but the attitude is right.

I was never worried about having a second child - I was never worried about sibling rivalry, jealousy or fights. I was right not to worry. It's been 17 months and Emma and Andrew love each other despite the fact that the age difference (1 year old and 5 year old) create major logistical challanges.

The little free time we had before Andrew was born is gone. We now have negative time to do things. We communicate it clearly - with actions and words - that both kids are equally important and we don't force them to love each other. Instead, we create conditions where they can interact / play care-free and these interactions strengthen the bond between them. We let Emma be a big sister at her own pace. She can pick up and carry Andrew safely and we let her tell anyone - in her own words - how she feels about him without putting words in her mouth. The only thing we don't allow her to do is to discipline him. It's not her job to do so. Ask us and we'll mediate or take over disciplining because allowing her to discipline him would send a message that she is superior to him, which she is not.

It seems like in the four years while Emma was the only child we were able to give her so much confidence and self-esteem that even with the reduced attention she feels confident enough and loved enough that she doesn't feel the need to act out and be jelaous of her little brother.

It's been 17 months and I never once heard or caught a glimpse of any resentment. She has sang many songs about how much she loves him and all she ever wants for him is to be happy. She keeps telling him that "you're my best" and gets very upset if we joke about nibbling on his toes. She's a proud and protective big sister who understands that Andrew is little but being little doesn't make him less great. Greatness is not measured in years. In return Andrew loves her to death. One day when the two of us went out he cried when he saw the empty seat next to him where Emma usually sits - he was pointing at the seat as if to say: "Where is Emma?"

Here are some of the things we've been doing to help them be good siblings. Our aim is to teach mutual respect and to demonstrate that we love them equally yet differently.

  • We tell Emma stories about her birth and Andrew's birth - both born at home. This reinforces the message that both are equal and having been born at home doesn't bring up the question: if we go to the hospital or to the doctor that's because something isn't right/we're sick so why are kids born in hospitals? She played in the birthing pool when we were testing it and helped us get supplies ready for the birth. She was every bit a participant in Andrew's birth and it made her proud to have "jobs" long before her little brother was born (jobs like bringing downstairs a pile of towels, buying apple juice that mom may need during labour, making sure there is pen and paper for the midwives and coming with us to every single midwife appointment). She knew the midwives well by the time Andrew was born so when the came for check ups she was hugging them and she was always given a task which could be as simple as: be sure to tell the midwives to hold Andrew's head and be gentle. She was a participant and she felt that her job was as important as being president.
  • When things get crazy we reassure her that "it's hard to be a big sister". Which is true. She can't play with so many toys and crafts because Andrew destroys them all - simply because he's tiny and doesn't know any better. But a lot of Emma's fun games are shelved and sometimes she misses them.
  • Emma's expected to be quiet when Andrew sleeps. It's hard to tell a five year old to stop singing happy songs. This ultimately helps us so we don't have to start bedtime over if Andrew is woken up by a loud Emma, this also teaches respect: He is sleeping, let him sleep.
  • We give her our undivided attention after Andrew goes to sleep
  • We go on a few special outings
  • to make it clear that she matters exactly as much as she did before Andrew was born but now we have less time for one on one attention
  • We praise Emma for being a good sister. She's proud to tell everyone about Andrew.

Having two dogs before having kids taught me how to accept a second 'kid' and helped a bit with the transition. First we had Daisy and she was the one and only dog and I focused 100% of my energy on her. Then we got Olive and our well established routines were turned upside down. It was a major mess and I had a very hard time for a year to deal with the fact that I can no longer give Daisy 100% of my attention and tried very had to make Olive be exactly like Daisy, which was foolish and impossible. Once I learned to let go of seeing all the problems and recognized that they are different and never be the same it became easy to be with them both because I no longer expected one to be like the other and learned to love them both for who they are as individuals. Same with kids. Well, they are less furry but same idea.