Monday, April 28, 2008

Sibling Rivalry - how we tried to keep it at bay

[This post is by mummyjaan of Apya and Bubbu. It took forever to write because I got sidetracked by lots of other things, including a few trips around the country, and this past week the baby shower was just too exciting to miss :), so I apologize for posting almost near the end of the month.]

When I had my second child, my older one was a few months shy of 3 years old. She had been used to being the centre of attention, and I had several worries on my mind, but the most important concern was: how would I make sure she wouldn't feel left out? and how would I make sure that if she harboured any resentment, she wouldn't take it out on the baby?

Looking back at those early months, I think we weathered those days pretty well. Not to make this post long, but these were some of the ideas we tried and found useful, and some memories that I would like to share with you try not to get bored now :

1. A gift for the big sister close to the time of the birth. This was advice given by many friends; my opinion: it worked, in so far as it made her happy. (My husband got her a small toy kitchen - it was perfect at her age - she loved it and spent many happy hours cooking and serving us).

Our friends suggested telling her it was a gift 'from the baby', but that would have meant a blizzard of questions from my inquisitive chatterbox, so we preferred 'a gift for you on the occasion of the new baby'. This was accepted happily without question.

2. We brought Apya to the hospital often to see the baby and spend time with her. She absolutely loved it. ("Let's take her home, Mummy, why don't we go home now?" on Day 1). She was totally fascinated by Bubbu's tininess and loved to look at her, hold her, talk to her, and cuddle her. She wanted to do everything: feed her, change her nappy, etc. so it was a bit difficult to 'control' her, in a way.

My mom was worried about having a 3-year-old close by the baby and would screech and gasp often ("Ohhh, she might hurt the baby" - that sort of thing) whenever Apya got too close to her. I didn't see what the fuss was about, and let her come close as often as she wanted to, after explaining to Apya that she wasn't allowed to push her, hit her or sit on her, but she could pretty much do whatever else she wanted - under my close supervision, of course. My mom found this rather careless and permissive, but if you look at it from my point of view - I trusted my older child - that she would not do anything to harm the baby, and in retrospect, I was glad I had not applied any restrictions on their interaction. It helped her become attached to the baby.

I did have to be more watchful of my older one when she was tired or cranky for some other reason - we dealt with some pulling arms and over-enthusiastic kisses and cuddles which made baby cry and that sort of thing.

3. Long before the baby was due, we had begun talking of her as "our baby", including Big Sister in the 'our'. Very often, we referred to her as "your baby" and "your baby sister", thus trying to reinforce that sisterly bond. I really think this was our most helpful strategy.

With the result, Apya really did think of the Bubbu as 'hers' from an early stage; we, the parents, in her opinion, were rather like caretakers, but it was 'her Baby'. This made her quite as protective of the little one as we were ourselves.

For instance, I would be reminded to pick the baby up if she began crying, or she would let me know that the Baby had woken up and was scratching her face.

She was over-enthusiastic and would insist on changing the baby's nappy or her clothes. When I explained that she was too little, she would become quite downcast. Finally, I reached a compromise by letting her fasten the tab on one side of the nappy or letting her button up the last one or two buttons on the baby's clothes. It made her feel as though she was doing something.

4. Be watchful when the older one is tired. Apya went through a phase when she tried to bite Bubbu. This was when the baby was about 4 months old. I just never left them alone at those times. (After the first warning bite, that is :D, which, fortunately, was a gentle one). Some days, I had to be very vigilant, but that was it. This was probably "the phase" when her jealousy came out, only she didn't know how to express it.

5. As they grow older, I notice that when I lavish too much attention on the Bubbu, Apya's expression changes - when I then shower her with the same attention she brightens up.

6. This point should have gone first, really. Having my parents around for Apya was a tremendous help. I am convinced I would have really struggled without them. While I looked after the baby and myself, my parents looked after my older child (and husband), fed her them ;), played with her, kept her occupied. For the first couple of months after the birth, I did little for my older child except read her a story and put her to bed at night. Hubby took over her bath-times and taking her out to play.

As Trishna mentioned in her post - that she would like to have a little sibling for Aadya - I know I had no. 2 because I really wanted my daughter to have a younger sibling - preferably a little sister. In that respect, we were blessed. It's wonderful to see them play together. I don't even mind seeing them fall out with each other now and then - they make up soon enough.

Certainly, I went through a phase where I thought one child was enough. With one, my yearning to have children was completely satisfied. However, as she turned two, my husband and I both felt that we couldn't always amuse her whims - it became apparent that a child needs another child. Preschool only partially filled the gap. I remembered my own childhood and teenage as an only child and thought, if I can give my children this gift - the affectionate bond of sibling-hood - why shouldn't I?

I am so glad they have each other.


Sandeepa said...

This was such a helpful post, i.e. when I ahve a secon one :)
I too am a single child and did miss having siblings

Poppins said...

Nice post MJ, filed for future reference :)