As the reality of being an only child has sunk in for my 7-year old, she often will ask us if we can go get her a brother or a sister to play with. “Can we go to the store and adopt a kid?” (Note to self: explain adoption to Zoey.) She says she’s lonely. I spare her the cold, hard facts about secondary infertility and how a sibling just ain’t in her future. Instead I just hug her tighter and promise we’ll do something fun to take her mind off of it.
Then this month, our family had the opportunity to have a couple of really awesome house guests. Michelle and her 4-year old daughter Lillian came to live with us for a month. So started what I like to call “The Sibling Experiment.” We went from a family of three relatively quiet individuals, to a family of five. Chaos ensued. Overnight, everything my daughter knew to be true about our household was put into a slingshot and fired in the opposite direction.
It has been really interesting to watch. This girl, who was so used to being the center of attention and having everything go her way, was no longer the only one. She had a very adorable and demanding 4-year old to compete with. I’m pretty sure that by the end of the first day, Zoey was already tired of hearing “She’s only four. She doesn’t know any better.” As I went out of my way to make sure our guests were welcome, I could sense the jealousy emanating from her pores. I was paying attention to other people! ACK! Many nights, usually when Zo was at her most tired, there were meltdowns that started off with “I want it to be just US again: Mommy, Daddy and MEEEEEEE only!” I took her over to her calendar and marked the move-out day on it, so she could see it wasn’t much longer (Sorry Michelle!).
Then there was the issue of sharing her big girl toys and “stuff” with a “little” kid. It was particularly hard because this little kid loved to be like Zoey and also loved to hoard her stuff upstairs where no one could find it. There were notebooks ruined by scribbly crayons. Dress up shoes that disappeared (seriously kid, what did you do with them all and why do you need every. single. pair?). Not to mention whiny comments that 4-year olds don’t know how to play Barbies right. Oy. Again, I’m sure Zo was sick and tired of hearing, “She’s only four! Give her a break. We’ll find your stuff.” Of course, under my breath was always the comment, “If you took better care of your stuff, Lills wouldn’t be able to steal it!” but I digress.
Another fun part of this experiment was the fighting! Zoey’s never had to battle for anything before, so it was interesting to see her come to her own defense, albeit usually with a lot of whining. I made countless threats of “Don’t make us separate you!” especially in the car. What is it about being strapped into car seats that brings out the worst in kids? And the tattling! OMG the TATTLING! Both the 7-year old and the 4-year old were quick to throw the other under the bus for offenses big and small. Tattletales were often met with a mom-chorus of “Let It Go!” because ain’t nobody got time for that.
From my perspective, I don’t know how parents of more than one child do it. How do you keep from comparing and using information about one as a bargaining chip against the other? For example, Lills is braver than Zoey. It’s as if she was born to play the role of second born. Here’s Zoey, the conservative, rule following scaredy cat. And along comes Lills, the adventurous, mischievous daredevil. I tried not to use Lills’s bravery as a way to get Zoey to overcome her fears because you know, shame isn’t good parenting. But it was SO frustrating to see a 4-year old go anywhere in this big old house without fear when the 7-year old screams that she’s afraid to pee by herself!!
As for the results of this experiment, I think Lills is walking away with more of a fondness for a sibling and Zoey might just be cured of her desire for one. Just last week, Lillian let everyone at daycare know that she lives with her two mommies, her sister and a dad. (Imagine the confused looks on the daycare teachers’ faces!) I’m with Lills. Zoey may be ready to get back to normal, back to life with “just us,” but I have definitely loved having an extra mom and kid around.