“Siblings are who you share your childhood with,” my husband commented, as we talked about possibly having another kid.
“I never thought about it that way,” I responded. Tilting my head, you could practically see the classic cartoon lightbulb above it. As an only child, that aspect of having a sibling honestly never occurred to me. But now, years later, I see its truth reflected in the relationship between my two young children. Even at one and four-years-old, they have a bond different than I’ve ever experienced.
An Only Child’s Perspective
As a kid, I never longed for a brother or sister. In fact, when my parents asked if I wanted one, I definitively answered, “No.” Why would I want to share my parents with someone else? A dog seemed much more appealing.
Even as I’ve grown older, I’ve never felt a huge gap in my life from not having siblings. After all, there are plenty of people who either don’t get along with or are apathetic towards their grown brothers and sisters. Who’s to say that I’d be lucky enough to have that solid relationship? In particular, the argument that only children don’t have anyone to turn to when their parents die seems morbid and selfish to me. In fact, that situation can bring out the worst in people rather than the best. After my father-in-law’s best friend died, his siblings started suing each other over the inheritance.
Rather than an absence, what I do have these days is a keen awareness how different my life is as a result. While there are advantages to being an only child, there’s a definite beauty in the sibling relationship. Of course, I see this most often in the blossoming relationship between Sprout and Little Bird.
A Shared Childhood
As Chris pointed out, they have shared family moments they can never have with anyone else. They have a child’s eye view of what’s going on, with all of the misapprehensions and imagination that involves. Even though Little Bird doesn’t talk yet, they communicate differently than adults do. Sprout believes he understands what his brother is saying much of the time when we don’t. And he just might!
Even if I’m present, my role as the mom is radically different than the one that they share. I’m watchful, cautious, aware of the big picture. They’re in-the-moment, spontaneous, in their own make-believe worlds. Watching them, I wonder how my pretend hours in the backyard would have been. Would they have been spent shooing away a little brother or sister or happily sharing my stories with them? Or most likely, both depending on the situation.
Bonding over the Good and Bad
Their unique bond is reflected most in their fondness for each other. Little Bird regularly toddles up to his brother for hugs. When his brother approaches him for a hug, his whole mouth expands into a smile. When Sprout starts crying, he starts crying too. We think “brother” is one of Little Bird’s first words, although he also uses the same word for bike and book.
On Sprout’s side, he often shows genuine warmth towards his little brother. When Little Bird had a fever yesterday, Sprout frowned and asked if he was okay. To keep him calm on the changing table, he’ll make faces and do little dances. He frequently breaks free of the bedtime routine to go sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and our revised version of Rock-a-Bye baby to Little Bird. While he does it partly to delay bedtime, his sweet, reedy little voice carries love. As we’re putting him to bed, we each list our “favorite things” and sometimes, he’ll list his brother. During playtime, he’s even made the ultimate sacrifice – allowing Little Bird to play with his beloved wooden trains.
In addition, I can see that they’re going to be collaborators in mischief. They’re already learning questionable skills from each other. Little Bird is imitating Sprout’s climbing and newfound fondness for furniture gymnastics. (For the love of God, can no children’s book ever mention headstands again?) He’s also started grabbing people’s faces in the same way Sprout grabs his.
The learning has gone the opposite way as well. Sprout’s picked up ideas from Little Bird that he never had as a toddler, but now has the skills to carry them out. After seeing his brother climb onto our play table, he started scrambling up on the living room table. He also, bizarrely decided to start chewing on his feet. (Ew.)
Despite being mischief-makers in arms, not everything is warm and fuzzy. There are times when his little brother’s mere presence is offensive to Sprout. When Little Bird’s playpen was still up, Sprout would regularly tell Chris to stick his brother in the pen. Other times, he shuts the door to Little Bird’s room while his brother is in there, leaving him stuck. Chris never acquiesces to those demands – you can’t just banish your brother – but we also try to ensure Sprout has the space he needs. Similarly, Little Bird isn’t always thrilled with his brother. After about two seconds of hugging, he starts pushing him away. He can also throw some mean shade with a look if he wants to.
For the most part though, the good outweighs the bad. This is a huge relief to me – I really worried about Sprout’s reaction to his brother before he was born. He’s a kind, generous kid, but sharing your parents is tough! But while they both have less time with us than they would otherwise, they now have each other. And the beautiful shared perspective that goes with it.
For more on the relationship between our kids, check out Things My Older Son Does as a Big Brother that Are Both Adorable and Annoying. Be sure to follow us on Facebook!