Friday, December 23, 2011

On Having More Than One Child

I thought to myself this morning in the shower, "I wish I had been as confident a mother when my NJ was born as I am now." And then I realized that was an absolutely silly statement, because it's impossible to be "confident" as a first-time parent. Everything's new! I'm confident now with GI because I've done this twice before. And as far as the issues NJ brings up, well, I'm not so confident about those. He's my first five-year-old.

I think what I meant when I said that to myself was that I wish I had appreciated the time I had with NJ when I had it. When a friend of mine was about eight or nine months pregnant with her second, and I was the "experienced" parent, since I already had two and was pregnant with a third, she said to me that she was concerned about when the baby was born because she wouldn't be able to give the 100% attention to her older son that she was used to being able to give him. And she wouldn't be able to give the baby 100% attention, either.

I shrugged and said, "Of course not." Of course you can't. You give what you can to each kid, according to his needs. A newborn needs lots of attention, but many six-month-olds can be sat on the floor or in an Exersaucer for a good 30 minutes sometimes before needing you at all, and you can spend that time with your other child(ren). And when the baby is asleep, you spend time with your other child(ren). And if you have other children who nap, too, then you can use one's naptime to pay attention to the others. Obviously you can't give 100% to any of your children, once you have more than one, but a child benefits from even 10 or 20 minutes of one-on-one time with Mommy or Daddy. And in a two-parent household, Mommy can take one while Daddy takes the other(s). Or you can hopefully find help from a grandma or two, a nanny, a baby-sitter, or trade off childcare with other moms in similar boats.

One thing I've found with my two older boys, though, is that they crave each other as much as they crave their parents. This means that even though I can't give any of the three my undivided attention at all times, they don't need it. NJ and SB play together without needing me at all. They entertain each other. They don't want to be separated. When they fight, sometimes I threaten to make one of them play upstairs and the other one downstairs, and they scream, "No!!!!" This is a terrible punishment to them, to be separated, even though they're fighting!

When Cars 2 came out in June, we had planned for Daddy to take NJ by himself to see it - his first theater movie - as a special treat because he's older. When we told him about it, he insisted that SB come along. He didn't want SB to miss out on something so special. So, we all went as a family, and SB was as enthralled by the movie as NJ was, and my heart was warmed by the love of two brothers.

I believe that children are meant to have siblings. I know a few teenage girls who are only children, and they love playing with little kids. I don't know if they're a representative sample of only children, but I'm impressed by how much they enjoy the presence of other kids. I would think growing up without a sibling would be lonely. The way I see SB and NJ play, and how GI's eyes follow his brothers as much as they follow me, and how he smiles and giggles when he sees them just as much as he smiles and giggles when he sees me (sometimes more!), I know that humans are not meant to be raised alone. We are meant to have playmates, siblings, company.

I am so grateful that my two older boys are close enough in age to enjoy each other's company and play together. It was a rough road when they were younger, having two toddlers at once, and two in diapers at once, and two waking up at night. But it pays off. Because they play together. SB looks forward to when NJ comes home from school. NJ wakes up SB (gee, thanks) in the morning so they can go downstairs together to play or watch TV before my husband and I are up for the day. And wherever one of the boys is, the other must be, too. It's amazing.

I worried, before SB was born, how we would foster a bond between them, so that they would want to be together and play together and love each other and protect each other. I didn't know "how" to do that, as a parent. It turns out, we didn't have to do anything special. We included NJ in SB's care, and now we include both of them in GI's care. The younger sibling naturally worships the older. And when the younger one is old enough to play with the older one, each is happy to have a playmate. I hope this relationship continues throughout their lives.

I'm sure that having all of the kids home with me (when NJ's not in school) helps. They see each other every day, play together every day, and are forced to find a way to enjoy each other's company, or it would be a miserable house, indeed.

I do wonder how the dynamic might be different if one was a girl, but I somehow don't think it would change much. I know several families with boys and girls, and the boys and girls play together and enjoy each other's company just as much. I'm sure it changes when they're older, though.

I look forward to when GI is old enough to join his brothers' play. I hope that he is integrated and included. The almost five-year difference between him and NJ might make it difficult, but he'll always have SB just above him for company. If a fourth child should come into the picture (eventually? G-d willing?), then he'll also have a younger sibling to enjoy.

The best part is, I imagine NJ as the sort of big brother who will protect his little brothers. "That's my brother. I'm allowed to hit him, but nobody else is!" He already looks out for SB. He takes his big brother role very seriously.

Indeed, the only way I can get shopping done with all three of them right now is to put GI in a stroller, stick SB in the seat of the shopping cart, and have NJ push the stroller as we walk the Walmart aisles. We got many amazed looks this morning, people impressed that a five-year-old could handle the responsibility, but I don't worry. NJ is very concerned about his baby brother's well-being, and he likes be trusted to help me. I told him today that I don't think I could get the shopping done without him, and I could literally see him swell with pride. What a wonderful feeling for both of us.

I do sometimes miss having just one. When you have just one, you can nap when they do. You can hand him off to the other parent or some other caregiver and just relax (or get stuff done around the house). You can spend 100% of your "kid time" with him. And the amount of yelling and screaming and jealousy and "That's not fair!" and "He hit me!" and "No, I wanna do it!" and "How come he got one and I didn't?" and "I want to go first!" can be wearing once they're both old enough to be aware of such things. But it's so worth it. So worth it.

No comments:

Post a Comment