Sibling rivalry - where does it all begin?
Well - imagine your husband comes home one day and says this:
"I love you very, very much and I always will, but, I am going to have another wife in a few months. It doesn't mean I don't love you any more. You will still be very special to me but you will love my new wife as much as I do when she comes. Just think, you will be able to go shopping together and bake cakes. It will be so cool.
You will have so much fun together! You can share all your clothes and books with her - won't that be fun! She will sleep in my room for a few months but then you guys will be able to share a room! Awww - don't look so sad! You're still my number one girl! Lots of your friends have new wives to play with. And guess what, you'll be able to help me look after her because you are such a big girl now!"
Can you imagine that? How devastated would you be? Well that's the kind of crazy shit we lay on our kids when baby number two is on the way.
And on the basis of 'the talk' about the new baby, we expect our first babies to be as over the moon as we are. But when a younger, cuter baby bursts into their lives one sunny day, older children probably feel just as heart-broken as we would if our husbands brought a younger second wife home to live, forever. And sibling rivalry is born.
Sibling Rivalry - The Green Eyed Monster Is Born
My oldest son was devastated when my second son was born. He was two and a half and was sitting in the window of the delivery suite at McMaster University Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario with my mother-in-law. He was far more interested in the Noddy book she was reading than my efforts to push his brother out into the world.
(Click here to read a former post about the mother/son relationship.)
He took no notice until the new baby was put into my arms and started to suckle. I can still see my oldest son charging across the room with thunder in his heart. His little brows were furrowed and he did not take his eyes of this interloper who was now in his prized position. He manoeuvred himself up on to the bed and knelt there staring at this red-faced creature in my arms. He looked me in the eye and yelled "my num num!" Then he cried. That was the moment sibling rivalry took root in our growing family.
Sibling rivalry is a stark reality in these moments and I am not sure how anyone can really stop it.
We had talked about the new baby, explained it all too him, shown him the baby clothes and let him feel the kicks. But that did nothing to ease the pain he clearly felt at being knocked off the top spot when baby number two arrived and demanded all my time.
Sibling rivalry is a curious thing. As the youngest of two girls, I was aware of being a 'nuisance' to my sister, older by four years, from the very start. As I grew up, she made it perfectly clear, at every opportunity, that I was a massive annoyance. As a hapless child learning about myself and my place in the world, I took her annoyance with me on board and let it define me. That feeling has followed me all my life and I can never quite shake off that feeling of being 'in the way'. Although my intellect knows what happened, my emotions still have that feeling embedded and I know the intricacies of sibling rivalry are to blame.
With my own sons, the issue of sibling rivalry still brings tears to my eyes.
When I think of the days before my beautiful little brown-eyed boy had his heart-broken by the new baby's arrival, I can see how such a huge change affected him after the new baby came.
We were inseparable, the love of each other's lives. But that bond changes forever when another baby is thrown into the mix and for the first time, they learn what jealously feels like. I saw it so clearly and I hurt for him. I felt as if I had let him down. I still cuddled him, made a fuss of him, read to him, talked to him and played with him. But our relationship had changed in some small way forever because I loved another baby too.
As they grew, my youngest son seemed to just 'know' how to push the older one's buttons and sibling rivalry would break out into open warfare.
I can't remember when he first said it, but it became a joke that persisted into adulthood - he would say "I'm the favourite - you know I am". He would say it with such reckless abandon and smile a very confident smile. It made my older son frown and withdraw. I hated it. It bothered me when he said he was my favourite. I used to argue with him and point out a mother does not have favourites. He would answer by saying, "But I am though aren't I? Just admit it." And he would laugh his head off while the other one looked really annoyed. Such is the nature of sibling rivalry which can be extremely hurtful.
The reason I always got upset, I suspect, is because somewhere deep in my soul, I may have worried that it was true. Did I have a favourite? Could that possibly happen? But then recently, it suddenly came to me that it really wasn't true and never had been. I suddenly realised why.
My first son was special in a way that no other child following in his footsteps could ever have been.
There is nothing quite like going through the experience of the first baby. The months of trying; the holding of breath when your period is late, the moment when the doctor says the words that will change your life forever and then the gradual changes in your body as the new life blossoms. It was all uncharted territory; a very exciting time. First babies will always be special because they were the first.
However, my second son would always be special too because he was the last.
It was different with him. He wasn't planned and he had to kind of hit the ground running. He didn't have the same glorious start to life where we fussed over every aspect of the pregnancy and counted the days to the birth. He just arrived. And he arrived into a marriage that was rapidly falling apart.
He arrived to find an older bother who wasn't that thrilled to share his mama. The sibling rivalry was rife from the start. Things weren't that great for him really. But I loved him in spite of it all. I probably felt more protective towards him because he had been born into a battlefield situation and I felt guilty.
Was it my protectiveness that made him think he was the favourite? I don't know.
But the truth is, I know now that I really didn't have a favourite. I am happy that I finally came to understand they are both equally special to me for different reasons. One because he was the first and the other because he was my last. As they cannot compete for either of those special places in my heart, sibling rivalry would have been pointless - I love them both with all of my heart and soul. Can any mother really have a favourite?
The above selection of books is here for anyone who wants to understand more about sibling rivalry.