Who likes the movie, “Lady and the Tramp”? I do. Well, for the most part, anyway. I don’t like the cats. They’re creepy. I don’t like Peg (the girl dog at the pound). She’s a troublemaker. And I don’t like the way Aunt Martha treats Lady. She’s obviously not ‘in the know’ when it comes to sibling relationships.
Trust me—I know Lady isn’t a real sibling. But if you have children and a pet you know how special the relationship can be. There are plenty of other examples I could have used, but I didn’t because well, in all honesty I’m using this example because I think it’s just so darn cute. So, Lady and the baby it is.
Anyway, the reason I bring it up is because I want to make sure you don’t cause a problem unnecessarily. What problem am I talking about? The problem of jealousy between siblings, aka sibling rivalry.
I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard moms talking about the things their kid(s) do to make sure everyone knows they are less than pleased about having a new baby in the house. I’ve even heard a few moms say things like, “They say they hate the baby”, and “My three-year-old asked a perfect stranger in the grocery store if she wanted out baby because she didn’t!”.
Ouch! That’s harsh. It is also something I just cannot relate to. I have four kids and I can say without a doubt that none of them was every jealous of their new siblings. Just the opposite, in fact! They were over-the-moon crazy about each other and wanted to be involved in caring for the new baby, feeding; feeding, holding, singing, and reading to them, and even changing a few diapers. And you know what? We let them. We weren’t the parents who said, “Don’t bother the baby,” “You’re not big enough,” or “Go play and leave the baby alone”.
I admit I said several thank-you-Jesus’ when Zach, who was five at the time, announced he’d just changed the baby’s diaper…and didn’t poke her (I used cloth diapers and diaper pins). But when it came to feeding the baby a bottle, reading, or singing to them, holding, and rocking them, and later feeding them their baby food, I welcomed the help.
And just between you and me, it paid off. My kids grew up loving and liking each other. They still do. It also must have made a lasting and positive impression on our youngest, Emma, because a few days ago she sent me a picture of Josephine, who is four) standing on a step stool holding one of her favorite books over the side of baby Dax’s crib reading to him.
Emma called a few minutes later to tell me the back story of the picture. She was busy detangling six-year-old Essie’s hair when Dax started fussing. She asked Jo to please go talk to him until she was done with Essie.
“Sure,” was Jo’s answer. And when Emma walked into the sweet scene, Jo said, “I already read him that book. Now I’m reading this one.”
Emma thanked her and told her what a great big sister she was. But then that’s something she says to both girls on a daily basis. Jo reads to him. Essie helps feed him his cereal. They both sing and talk to him, put his socks on, and give him lots and lots and lots of love.
Now for the take-away from all this: You can curtail the problem of sibling rivalry/jealousy by encouraging the relationship from the get-go. Don’t make the baby off-limits or too fragile or special for them to enjoy. Yes, there will be boundaries for safety’s sake. But instead of focusing on what your older children can’t do, focus on what they can.
You can’t expect your kids to love someone they aren’t even given the chance to know. You also can’t expect your kids to have a relationship instead of engaging in rivalry if they aren’t given the chance to enjoy each other’s company.