The Case for Siblings: Why Having a Baby Is Good for Your Other Kids

The Case for Siblings: Why Having a Baby Is Good for Your Other Kids August 22, 2014

[This post originally ran at Faith and Family Live in 2010, when I was pregnant with #8. I’m on my way to Virginia for the Summer Soiree at Mary’s Shelter! If you have a prayer to spare, maybe send up one that my ears don’t get too plugged up on the plane? It’s hard to talk into a microphone when your ears are plugged up! Usually I take Sudafed, but this is a no go for this stage of the pregnancy. And also please pray that I don’t cry on stage for any reason. I don’t even know why I would, but pregnancy increases my cryability about 900%. Most of all, please pray for a successful fundraiser for this wonderful organization that helps so many women and children. Thanks!]

 

Lucy holding baby

One of the best parts of being pregnant with my eighth child was that I never woke up in the middle of the night, panicking: “How can I do this to [current youngest child]?”

True, I woke up for a thousand other reasons, most of them involving my internal organs. But it was a huge relief to finally realize that having a new baby is not bad for the current baby.

How I used to fret about this! The whole nine months, I would worry about how we would all get along, how the soon-to-be-supplanted youngest would adapt, and even whether I could love the new baby as much as I loved my firstborn. (I did.)

But everyone else seems to think that a new baby is bad for the other kids. Dozens of times, I’ve had strangers peer around my enormous belly to coo at the toddler, “Aww … now you won’t get to be the baby anymore.”

Thanks, lady. Thanks for informing my child that she’s suffering. Luckily, she doesn’t know what you’re talking about—and neither do you.

Here is what really happens when we have a new baby at our house:

First are the immediate benefits: my mother reads them books until she goes hoarse. My husband fills the house with steak and ice cream and and blurts out things like, “Pick out any toy you want, kids!”

Then they get to visit me at the hospital, which has an elevator, and the nurses stuff them with popsicles and muffins, and everyone raves over how well-behaved they are.

Of course it’s not all sunshine and buttercups. With childbirth, I magically transform from a third trimester exhausted zombie into—ta dah!—a postpartum exhausted zombie. Instead of having no lap to sit on, I have an extremely tender abdomen, and I’m constantly nursing the infant who DOESN’T WANT YOU TO SIT ON HER, OH MY GOSH, GET OFF, GET OFF!

Still, everyone loves the new baby, everyone is amazed and enchanted, and they all want to help. The girls want to pet her, and the boys want to guard and protect her. (If that’s a sexist statement, then life is sexist, because that’s what happens.)

“Look at her little tiny feet, feel her silky hair! Ohh, Mama, I can feel her heart beating on the top of her head.”

Then follows the second week, when the toddler suddenly realizes that the baby is … staying. In this week, everyone is crying, everyone has a rash, everything we own is wet and smelly, and if I had the mental wherewithal, I would be able to form a complete thought such as, “Another baby? What were we thinking?”

This stage lasts for about five weeks, actually.

But then the 6-week marks comes. At six weeks, no one can remember life before baby. She smiles, she’s trying to figure out how to laugh, her belly button is no longer scary, and she clearly likes us. The older kids can hold her while I shower, and the younger ones have figured out how to sit next to the baby without sitting on the baby, so we can all read Katy No-Pockets together for the 923rd time.

Yes, sometimes they feel left out or envious. But more often, they fight over who gets to hold her. The middle kids discover that they can be allies, rather than rivals. The youngest one relinquishes Family Baby status with visible relief, and starts to pursue a more exciting goal: being one of the gang. She generally has a language explosion a few weeks after the new baby is born. And if you want to see a proud, pleased and confident toddler, tell her, “Uh-oh, the baby is crying!” and watch her pop a pacifier in the baby’s mouth. Hero!

And she still gets to be a baby—just not the baby. I still rock her and sing “Baby Beluga.” Or one of the older kids will rock her and sing “Baby Beluga,” and that’s good, too. Because one day, I won’t be here, and the kids will only have each other. They are getting used to caring for each other, and care engenders love.

My seven siblings and I email regularly, visit when we can, pray for each other, nudge each other to go to the doctor, recommend books and movies, proofread each other’s writing, understand each other’s sense of humor, and share the same childhood memories, good and bad.

A woman once told me that she’d decided not to have a second child, because she “couldn’t do that” to her son. Couldn’t do what? Live? Love someone, and be loved? My parents gave me seven allies in a hard world. Change and loss will happen anyway—better to have the good company of brothers and sisters when it happens to you.

 


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  • MW

    Pulls at my heart – my two siblings and my sons three siblings are all heavenly intercessors. I know the lonliness only too well and had wished to spare that to my child, so far without any success.

  • Eileen

    This might sound weird, but I don’t think we really notice new babies that much in our house. They’re there, but they’re sort of non-entities for the first few months of their lives, when they finally start making extended appearances outside the Baby Bjorn.

    Now, the times we’ve added toddlers via adoption have been a whole different story…

    Disqus works! Congrats on the new baby!

  • Kate Cousino

    “My parents gave me seven allies in a hard world. Change and loss will happen anyway—better to have the good company of brothers and sisters when it happens to you.”

    Yep. It doesn’t always work out this way–I know too many families where “sibling” doesn’t mean “ally” or “friend”–but I can say honestly that there isn’t a single one of my brothers or sisters whose company I do not enjoy and who I do not consider a friend. And that’s pretty awesome. That’s something I hope my own 3 kids find in each other.

  • Anna

    This is one of my favorite of your posts! I was just mentioning it to my husband the other day. I’m glad you brought it back!

  • Sheila C.

    I wanted to go to the soiree and see you, but since it was on my due date I didn’t want to commit. Sure enough, we had #3 on Wednesday! #1 is being extra demanding and #2 is so enthusiastic he would love her to death if we didn’t stop him, but I can already see that she fits into our family.

    I was one of two, the youngest, and I begged and begged God to send us more kids. First it was a sister who could play barbies with me, then I wanted a baby I could carry around and dress. I would have given away all my toys and the supposedly wonderful “baby” status (really not much fun once you’re over three) for a little sibling of my very own.

    The good news is that when I was 15 I finally did get a baby brother! And then, rather too late to enjoy, three more siblings. I love them lots, but I do wish I could have grown up with them.

    I felt a lot of guilt for shoving my first out of the baby slot, when he might not have been entirely ready. But by six months later, I realized that he was happier than he’d ever been. He finally had a playmate, a REAL one, which Mom isn’t because she’s too old and boring. I felt the same doubt on getting pregnant with this third, because after all the two I have are happy with each other, but …. there was no little girl around. I think they needed a little girl around. And now they’ll have one, and things will be even better!

  • Leeandra Nolting

    I’m going to be contrary here–every situation is different. Perhaps the woman who decided not to have a second child because she “couldn’t do that” to her son knows herself and her own weaknesses better than you.

    It’s a platitude that mothers love all their children equally. It’s also, frankly, in many cases, completely untrue. My own mother greatly favored my younger brother over me…and I’m not talking the ordinary complaints of the firstborn that the younger ones get the rules relaxed. I’m talking about a lifetime in which my clearest memories of my mother were that of thinly disguised disgust and annoyance that I existed…I was clearly NOT what she’d had in mind. Yes, she loves me, I know…but it was plainly obvious that she had to work against every inclination NOT to.

    This was then compounded by a younger sibling that she, in her own words, “gets” so much better than me.

    I love my mother and my brother, and I certainly wouldn’t send my brother back even if that were possible, but If, after one child or two children or ten, I ever felt that I was in danger of this dynamic developing, I would not have another.

    • KarenJo12

      Your experience is actually very common. My husband’s father was an alcoholic, and my mother-in-law took it out on my husband. She favored my brother-in-law, and his children, openly, until the day she died in 2010. I still resent her. I have two children, but I wouldn’t have had any had I thought I might ever do anything to suggest that I like one better than the other.

  • ebergez

    How can you reminisce with someone who doesn’t exist? Parents should think of that if they want their child to relive the love they experienced in the family. Siblings can be complicated, but only a very close friend or cousin can remember your past with you if not your sibling.

  • Melissa

    Beautifully put! I remember sitting with all my siblings after my father’s funeral talking about how thankful we were to have each other as we went through that. I love that all my kids have each other, and they love being together even though there is a 10 year spread from the oldest to the youngest. On a different note, if you are looking for a way to keep your ears from plugging up on a plane without using any drugs, try Earplanes. They keep the air pressure from changing too quickly in your ears, and have saved my hearing on many a plane trip. They are usually in the section with the ear plugs in any drugstore. I would never fly without them.

  • richard

    My prayer goes with you. Yay for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

  • Great post. I currently have 4 under 5 (We had 4 babies in 3 and a half years) and when I first started it was hard. Ok its still hard. But the thing that gets me through is knowing that they have each other. It can be hard for me, but generally its always good for them. They have a built in best friend in everything they do, they are never lonely, they share relatively well. And as I type this they are playing superheroes diving off the chair onto the floor, so clearly they have good entertainment (and cheap entertainment too, they are never interested in expensive toys, they would rather play complex imagination games involving the contents of my kitchen). Witnessing how having more babies is good for the other kids has made all the hard bits totally worth it.

  • Blobee

    Yep, yep, and yep. I am one of six (born 5th, the only girl). It NEVER seemed like it was too crowded, or like I was left out. It is amazing how much easier it is to be one of the younger ones, because one of the older ones always is doing something new (to you) and you learn so, so fast. Your world expands by everything they do, and even if it’s not your own interest, you learn about things you never would know if they hadn’t been interested in it.
    How we got to the point where we think one child is natural and normal is beyond me.