Posts Tagged ‘ siblings ’

Making the Leap to Having a Third Baby, Years After the First Two

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

We were at a family gathering when I overheard an older relative say in a wistful voice that no more babies would be coming along in our extended family. I had to suppress a smile, and a secret. Nobody had asked my husband or me if we were done having children. But it was a reasonable assumption to make: We had two kids spaced exactly three years apart: a boy in third grade, and a girl in kindergarten. They each had their own room in our modest three-bedroom home, and they fit perfectly in the back seat of our midsize car.

The only thing is, I didn’t feel done having children, unlike friends who did. Content that their families were complete, they were ready to dismantle cribs, drop off bags of tiny clothes at donation centers, and share stories about their husbands’ vasectomies. (Scheduling the procedure during March Madness, when basketball’s a happy distraction from an ice pack, is the way to go, they agreed.) I envied these moms’ certainty, while I quietly hemmed and hawed about having another.

If anything, I had plenty of reasons not to have a third child. I was just getting back into a more predictable groove with work. Our resources—financial, time, everything—were limited. My husband and I were sleeping again! I’d had two fairly easy pregnancies, and a healthy son and daughter. It seemed a little crazy and greedy, almost, to tempt fate and try for a third.

Besides, I was over 40. There were medical risks, for a pregnancy and for me, to take into account. I admit I was vulnerable to occasional vain thoughts, too, like: Do I really want to be the “old mom” at preschool? And wait, how old will my husband and I be, exactly, when this imaginary third child graduates from high school? (On second thought, let’s not go there.)

Finally, what would the two children we already had think about bringing a new baby into the mix? Was this really fair to them? And would they ever feel close to a much-younger sibling, or was that unrealistic to hope for, with so many years between them? There are health and safety concerns for mom and baby to take into account when closely spacing pregnancies, and some debate about what age spread is best if you want, say, children with better reading and math scores. (Groan.) But were there any drawbacks to intentionally having children many years apart?

When I confided in a good friend who has two kids the same ages as my own that we were considering trying for one more, she didn’t understand. I was so close, she said, to being able to do all the things we moms had to put on ice during our years raising small children, like eating at nice restaurants and traveling with some freedom. We were on the cusp of having both kids in elementary school for a full day, which, whether you work or don’t, eases life in a number of ways: It’s more time, or at least the illusion of more time (amazing how quickly the day goes!) to pursue all those projects you’ve been putting off for years or, to potentially minimize crushing childcare costs. My friend wasn’t criticizing as much as challenging me to consider my desires more deeply: “Why would you want to start over now?”

I can’t sufficiently explain the desire for a third, probably no more than any parent can adequately explain her reasons for deciding to raise another human being to someone who’s committed to remaining childfree. But my mind drifted to when my big two were small, to the feel of their soft, small hands on my face, and to their squeals of delight while being pushed in a baby swing. More than these sentimental yearnings, though, it simply felt like someone was missing. As another friend said to me, “If you’re still talking about having another, you’re probably not done.” I realized I might wonder “what if” forever if I didn’t get a move on, and since my husband and I were on the same page—I couldn’t have proceeded otherwise—we held our breath and leapt.

I was lucky. I got pregnant. Interestingly, I was less tired while pregnant with my third than I had been with my second, even with more years on my body and an extra child at my side. But unlike with my second pregnancy, when I had a 3-year-old to manage, my kids were now 9 and 6. They were more self-sufficient, and we were all sleeping better than we had in years—I felt great. Friends with a big age gap between kids told me the older ones would help, to an extent, with the baby, and they did. After our baby, a girl, was born, I could ask one of my big two to run upstairs to fetch the diaper cream. Now that our third baby is 3, they entertain her, a lot, and make for patient playmates. I’ve vowed not to take too much advantage of my built-in big helpers, and at the advice of a friend who’s a mother of five, ranging widely in age from college down to elementary school age, I’m making more of an effort to spend some separate quality time with just the big kids, and not let the natural neediness of the family baby take away too much time from them.

Our youngest adds so much to our family. My middle child, also a girl, treasures having a sister—most of the time anyway, when our youngest isn’t getting into her big sister’s stuff. The strength of their sibling bond is undiminished by the six years that separate them. While I was pregnant, this one final time, I so appreciated the occasional comment supportive of large sibling gaps, like this one, “My sister and I are nine years apart. We weren’t close growing up, but now she is my dearest friend.”

Our oldest relishes his role as the much-bigger brother. It tickles me to see our 3-year-old pad around after him in her feety pajamas, doing whatever he does, which at age 12, involves a lot of adolescent-boy humor. I’m halfheartedly hoping she doesn’t introduce her preschool classmates to the song they’ve made up together, “Pick your nose! Pick your nose!”  The fighting is certainly less, too, between our third and her older siblings. They’re just not clamoring for the same things kids closer in age naturally do. Not surprisingly, our third is much more independent than her brother and sister were at 3. At dinnertime, if she’s missing a fork, she hops off her chair, opens the kitchen drawer, and gets it. She knows with a busy, distracted family, some things are easier done if you do them yourself.

Of course, one last thing I find about having a third “caboose” baby well after the first two: I indulged in a fair number of fantasies of getting it “right” this time, now that I was older and supposedly wiser—only to be brought back down to reality. This child will eat her vegetables! (That is, until her older siblings introduce her to potato chips.) This child will not fall off the bed. (All three have rolled to the floor, I’m afraid to say.) Then there were humbling surprises. In spite of whatever experience and confidence I thought I had in my corner from having nursed two children, my third child was the hardest to breastfeed. Every child is unique. Every child has her own story. With the addition of a third, and all that she brings into the fold, our family at last feels complete.

And no matter the number of children that’s right for anyone’s family, whether one or a dozen, aren’t we so lucky to have them?

Gail O’Connor is a senior editor at Parents and mother of three. You can follow her on Twitter @gailwrites.

What You Need to Know About Birth Order
What You Need to Know About Birth Order
What You Need to Know About Birth Order

Image courtesy of Shutterstock 

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Sibling Revelry: How My Sibling Bond Keeps Me Afloat

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

Today is Erev (or the eve of) Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish new year—rosh meaning head and shana meaning year. (Super literal, right?) I’ll be heading home for the holiday, but this year is different. It’s the first time I’ll play the role of only child since my siblings are living large—my sister abroad in London and my brother on the national tour of a show.

Knowing that they won’t be in their usual seats beside me in synagogue or next to me at the table makes going home for the holiday a little sad. Sure, it’s home. Love to Mom and Dad. But I feel like a lone wolf without her pack. It’s this reflection that made me realize how lucky I am to feel bound to my siblings—to feel like I’m not quite complete without them. My sister challenges me like no one can. My brother is truly my best friend; no one understands me like he does (or makes me laugh quite as hard).

It’s actually this unbreakable sibling bond, the inexplicable connection, that is the driving force of the movie The Skeleton Twins that just came out September 19. This isn’t a family flick, so plan this one for date night—better yet sibling’s night out. Watching the serious side of comic geniuses Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig as a pair of fraternal twins whose lives-gone-awry can only be saved by each other evokes that tethered feeling that only siblings know.

This movie and my half-empty feeling reminds me how important it is to make an effort to keep the sibling bond strong. It doesn’t just happen because you’re share genes. My parents sent us the message that family is the most important thing in the world. Growing up, my brother and sister and I clung to that and to each other. We are the secret-keepers (from who stole the cookie from the jar to how a date went). We are the trouble-makers (still not-so-secretly poking fun at our parents). We are the entertainers (making each other laugh when we would rather cry or singing in harmony). Parents are the captains, guiding us through clear skies or rough waters, but siblings are the anchors that keep us strong and feeling safe. Around the new year I typically resolve to appreciate my siblings more and be a bit kinder. While there is always room to improve, I can actually look back on this year and think to myself Good work. Now let’s raise the bar.

Does your parenting style foster a tight family unit?

What You Need to Know About Birth Order
What You Need to Know About Birth Order
What You Need to Know About Birth Order

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How to Encourage Lifelong Friendships Between Siblings

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

For as long as I can remember, my little sister and I have been close. When we were little, we’d always play together, whether it be trying on costumes for dress-up or building forts outside. Now that we’re older, I rarely go more than a few days without talking to her, even if it’s just a text about the latest episode of Downton Abbey. I realize that not everyone gets along with their siblings, so I feel lucky to have a sister who is also a good friend.

So I was particularly interested in this new study about sibling relationships published in the journal Pediatrics. Research suggests that younger children who are close with their older siblings may develop better vocabularies. This is especially true in large families, where the littler kids might receive less individual attention from Mom and Dad. But an older “cognitively sensitive” child—who uses simpler sentences or slows down without talking like a baby—can be a huge help.

My sister has always been smart, and I have no doubt that she’ll be one of the top in her class when she graduates from college in the spring.  While I’d love to take all the credit for her extensive vocabulary and academic abilities, I’m sure plenty of other factors were involved too. But I like to think that even in our small family, maybe I gave her an extra boost at some point. Plus the research is a nice examination of how family bonds can bring about all sorts of unexpected benefits.

No matter the size of your family or the depth of anyone’s vocabularies, a strong friendship between siblings is crucial. Here are some tips to build bonds that worked for my parents:

  • Let the kids work as a team, whether they are completing chores together or tackling a challenging jigsaw puzzle.
  • Encourage respect. Teach your kids how to consider each other’s feelings, and how to voice polite disagreement.
  • Have regular family discussions in which everyone can speak up.
  • Emphasize the importance of family, and spend plenty of time together doing fun activities.

What You Need to Know About Your Youngest Child
What You Need to Know About Your Youngest Child
What You Need to Know About Your Youngest Child

Image: Girl playing with little brother via Shutterstock.

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The Lasting Advantages of Siblings

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

For those of us with siblings — I’m the youngest of three — it’s perhaps not too surprising to read about the benefits of having brothers and sisters. Who else could ever know you as well, for better or worse?  But according to a new study done at Ohio State University, an unexpected advantage of siblings is a decreased likelihood of getting divorced as a grownup. Have more than one sibling? Your chances of divorce will fall even lower — with each sibling up to seven, the study found that the probability of divorce fell by two percent.

Why would having more siblings decrease the probability of a divorce? Perhaps those years of squabbles and resolutions teach a lesson that it’s possible to still love someone deeply and wholeheartedly even when there are disagreements and frustrations. Donna Bobbitt-Zeher, a co-author of the study, speculates that “growing up with siblings provides opportunities to develop those kinds of skills, like conflict negotiation, that helps us form and sustain meaningful relationships into adulthood” while also cautioning that having a sibling is of course not that only factor that leads to divorce. As one of my coworker points out, several of her mom’s many siblings are divorced — having a brother or sister is not a magic solution for future relationships.

My soon-to-be husband, a younger sibling himself, is firmly convinced that siblings are essential for developing social skills and coping abilities, and when we talk about family planning, it’s always children — and not an only child — that we’re hoping to have. What do you think: Did your early years with a brother or sister help you develop the relationship skills that you still put to work in your marriage today? And when you think about family planning, do you keep the benefits of siblings in mind?

Image of two brothers via Shutterstock

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