An Only Child Learning How to Raise Sisters

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I’ve always said that I’ll consider myself a successful mom if my children grow up to be kind and compassionate human beings. With this goal in mind, I’ve been quite dismayed to witness the indifference and sometimes aggression that my three year old has had towards her baby sister.

When the baby was born we experienced the normal jealousy and clinginess that we expected, but the interest in the baby was never really there. I can count the number of times she’s asked to hold her on two hands. When the baby started sitting up, my three year old started showing some aggression towards her, swinging her arms, legs or toys until they “accidently” hit the baby. None of the actions were downright mean and it was easy to see they were all done for attention. My daughter would look at us as she “accidently” bumped the baby with a toy to see what our reaction would be. And I had absolutely no idea how to react. I started taking away whatever toy was used to hurt the baby and luckily she’s never done anything hard enough to really hurt her.  I worried that this sometimes aggressive behavior might be happening at school, but I confirmed at her parent/teacher conference that it was not.

When the baby started crawling and then pulling up to standing, things started to get more worrisome.  The baby would be standing next to her in the play kitchen and she would just shove her over. When the baby was little and not mobile we’d allow our older daughter to take a toy from her as long as she gave her something else to play with. I realize now this was a bad idea that only temporarily solved a problem – the baby just needed something to play with and didn’t care what, but the three year old would cry if she didn’t have the toy she wanted. But now, the baby knows what she wants and doesn’t let go, screams when it’s taken away, or even worse – chases after the toy when it’s taken away!

One of only a few times I convinced my daughter to hold her sister.
One of only a few times I convinced my daughter to hold her sister.

I really wanted them to be the best of friends immediately. Like motherhood, I think I was wearing rose-colored glasses when I was picturing sisterhood. See, I’m an only child who always wished that one of my cousins, older or younger, could be my sister. I always wanted to have more than one kid so that they’d have siblings and I secretly hoped for two girls. Don’t tell my little one, but I didn’t have a deep longing for another baby after a rocky start with the first. However, I loved my first child so much that I really wanted her to have a sibling. I worried about how to love both of them. Of course, now that the baby is here I can’t imagine life without her. Well, I can – it’s quieter, I’m skinnier and I sleep more – but now she’s 100% a part of our family of four.

This year I got the best Christmas present ever. My three and a half year old daughter finally came around and started showing some real love towards her 11-month-old sister. It was like a switch was flipped. She finally tells her sister she loves her out of the blue! I remember when she started telling us that she loved us – total heart melting moment! She hugs and kisses her sister unprompted. When I ask her how much she loves her, she spreads her arms SO WIDE, instead of just holding up her fingers to indicate “a little.” She tells me that when her sister does something she doesn’t like, such as pull her hair or touch her toys, she’ll give her a kiss instead of hit her. Maybe three and a half is the age where it all starts clicking. I’ve noticed that the tantrums are really slowing down. She’s even accepting “no” more without totally losing it– hallelujah.  Or maybe it’s all a total fluke and it will all change back next week. Whatever it is, I will take it!

Things might be a ton better, but please don’t think it’s perfect. Just last week I caught the two of them in a full out hair pulling and arm biting tussle. We’ve got a long way to go and I can only imagine the refereeing we’ll have to do once the little one starts talking! I wonder if it’s any easier to raise siblings if you’ve actually had one yourself? My husband, who grew up with three brothers, seems much less concerned.

6 comments on “An Only Child Learning How to Raise Sisters”

  1. So glad you are seeing positive signs, Jenn. Some of this is just developmental stages. My favorite resource for understanding those is “Your Two Year Old, ” “Your Three Year Old,” etc., by Louise Bates Ames and Frances Ilg. They are very old books but they brilliantly explain the phenomenon of a kid being in harmony and then being out of harmony with the universe (they say it more scientifically). Plus they have a section of letters from parents asking questions at the end that will reassure you that your child is angelic (“Should I be concerned that little Bobby tries to set our new baby on fire?”). Your local library probably has them. Saved my sanity many times.

  2. I worry that by not giving Lills a sibling she’s going to feel like she’s missed out. I also want to assure you that just because they are having a tough time right now doesn’t mean they won’t be close. I have 3 siblings, 2 sisters and 1 brother. My brother use to torture us when we were little!! But now he’s my closest sibling and I love him to pieces 🙂

  3. I can totally understand wanting them to have a close relationship and I am sure they will, just remember the torture is part of it, LOL. I can remember my sisters picking on me, etc and now we are close as can be. Love this post!

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