If someone had told me that my children, ages one and 10 would not always get along, I wouldn’t have believed them. What could there possibly be to argue about? Being 10 years younger than my brother, I believed I was a fabulous addition to his life. I see through my own 10-year-old daughter however, that sometimes being a “big” sister can be very challenging. Then there’s our 15-year old who has now become the official voice of reason and maturity, most times acting as a referee with the other two.
But how do you balance it all? How do you navigate the sometimes-complicated relationship between siblings when there are so many years between them?
Here are some things I have learned:
1. Individual time is crucial.
Make sure to spend individual and intentional quality time with each child. Find special time to do things with them that they love. With toddlers and babies, any time is special to them, so just tossing the ball back and forth makes my son happy. Tweens can be a little tricky, however. They are balancing becoming a young adult with being a little kid. This individualized time should be something of their choice, even if it’s something you don’t necessarily want to do. I’ve watched countless episodes of YouTubers I’ve never heard of just to find out what’s on my ten-year-old’s mind. Check their search history and it will tell you a lot! Even though teenagers pretend that they don’t need the quality time, they actually crave it. Find something that interests them even if it makes you feel super out of place because you don’t know all the latest pop stars or even listen to them. Ask questions, have them teach you how to play a video game or let them take you for a drive (license and permit in hand).
2. Family time is crucial.
It’s so easy for kids to become withdrawn into their own activities and interests that the next thing you know, the oldest doesn’t know much about the youngest. With teenagers and toddlers, it may take some serious nudging, some…forced interaction. But once it begins, it will become more natural. I think our 15-year-old was afraid of the baby when he was born. He held him awkwardly in pictures and then quickly gave him right back to me and headed back to his video game. My husband and I would find reasons for our oldest and youngest to interact, but always when the baby wasn’t fussy, hungry or wet. After some coaxing, the toddler and teen are finding ways to bond on their own. The toddler watches his big brother play video games and the oldest even took the batteries out of an old controller to make him feel like he was playing.
3. Make sure the older siblings don’t become another “parent.”
So many people told me how great it would be to have the ‘help’ of older siblings when you have a little one, and they were right! My ten-year old has been a huge help, especially during trips to the grocery store or by keeping my toddler entertained for a couple of minutes while I finish up a phone call. However, my ten-year-old loves to be in charge and sometimes I’m guilty of letting her tell our 18-month old what to do, where to go, what to eat. It’s easy to forget that she’s only a kid too. Boundaries should be set up early; let them know that you are still the parent and the decisions come from you. Although it would certainly be easier for me to send her to retrieve the diaper bag out of the car, I don’t want her to feel like she’s always doing the odd jobs for the baby.
4. Embrace the differences…and the challenges.
Understand that you are a different mom now than who you were with your first child. This time around I’m a lot calmer, cooler and collected than I was with my oldest. When my toddler trips over a toy and falls, I don’t flinch as much because I know he will be ok. Use this new knowledge to your advantage. You’ve done this before!