Brotherly Love in a time of War
It’s been a brutal war. On one side a confused and angry 4-year-old pitches a tantrum at every opportunity. On the other, two frazzled and sleep-deprived parents try to keep on top of the daily demands of life. Caught in the middle, but making fierce demands of his own, is a newborn still trying to figure out how this strange place works. The battles wage on with no clear winners in sight. Then occasionally a bit of brotherly love shines through the stormy clouds to brighten up the day. A hopeful glimpse of the future.
I knew that going from one to two children was going to be a tough leap. And it is. 3 months ago Boo was born, and in an instant our world was changed forever. In that moment I gained a second son, but lost the ‘baby’ that I had. The Rascal is no longer my little boy. Alongside his new little brother he’s a great lumbering beast intent on destruction. He hasn’t physically changed, but everyone’s perception of him has. His world has been turned upside down with the arrival of a new sibling, and the start of preschool where he’s suddenly abandoned each day for no apparent reason he can fathom. He’s getting treated very differently to before his brother’s arrival. With a newborn in the house there just isn’t time to reason with him about every little thing. The delicate truces we’d negotiated up until now were torn up as our daily routine vanished. We haven’t really found a new one yet. The biggest adjustment of all is that on a day-to-day basis it’s not just the two of us anymore, and it never will be again.
We’ve been in the trenches for weeks now. The arrival of a baby means upheaval for everyone, but for an older sibling it must seem like a catastrophic event. As a result we’re dealing with a different child expressing intense dissatisfaction with his current lot in life. From his perspective life must seem incredibly unfair right now. He begs and pleads not to be made go to preschool. Even though he enjoys playing with his friends there, he wants to stay home with us. When I try to give what used to be a “Mammy’s boy” some individual attention he tells me that actually he prefers his Daddy. Then constantly gets up to mischief whenever I try to give his baby brother a fraction of the interaction that he had at that age. I feel guilty for not being more present with both of them. I also resent that there’s never much, if any, time to look after my own headspace amidst the current chaos and drama.
Watching my brand new baby’s personality develop is fun. But I’ve missed my firstborn. Especially during the first couple of hormonal weeks. I know he’s still there, but we don’t get to connect the way we used to. That makes me sad… when I’m not totally infuriated with his behaviour. Ideally we’d be love-bombing the heck out of him right now. More often than not he sabotages any attempts to do this. He goes out of his way to irritate and enrage the adult population of the house in a bid to get more attention. Telling a 4-year-old that you plan to give him lots of positive attention just as soon as he stops tantruming isn’t very effective at ending the tantrum. It also feels suspiciously like rewarding bad behaviour to give him the extra attention afterwards. So the love-bombing can’t commence until there’s a break in the bad behaviour. Which may not come on a lot of days.
Juggling two children is tough, but for the most part it’s not the baby that’s difficult to handle. It’s the firstborn. The one you ‘practise’ on. And inevitably get it all wrong. So we know the evenings filled with a colicky baby will pass in time. I count my blessings that this one can actually sleep more than an hour at a time during the night. It may not last, but I’ll take what I can get. However we’re still writing the manual with the Rascal. Having a newborn that isn’t waking you all night is great, but it doesn’t result in a decent night of sleep if your firstborn is waking the house instead. Sometimes it verges on the ridiculous as my husband attempts to sneak out of the Rascal’s bedroom only to hear a fiercely whispered “Where are you going? Get back in the bed!”
Thankfully the Rascal loves his new little brother. Loves him too much, in fact. The most commonly uttered phrase in the house these days is, “Just get OFF the baby!” I get compliments from strangers as they witness me out with the two boys and see the Rascal being so helpful. If only they saw his antics at home. It’s exhausting having to constantly watch out for anything that will potentially trigger yet another meltdown. Always keeping an eye out for any attempts to accidentally kill his little brother with love. Paying too much attention to his brother will inevitably draw his notice and he’ll be over to generate mayhem. We’re stuck in an endless negative cycle of “Be Quiet”, “No”, “Stop!”, “Don’t!”
But the glimmer of light at the end of this tunnel is watching a beaming smile spread across Boo’s chubby face at the sight of his brother. He patiently accepts the slobbering kisses and prodding tickles. In fact he undermines our attempts to keep him safe by grinning conspiratorially at his older brother, as if to say that actually it’s just fine to lie on top of him even if he might suffocate. The Rascal genuinely dotes on him and likes having him around. I feel so sorry for him having to cope with so much in a short period of time. It’s easy to see why he’s acting out for more attention even when gets plenty. It’s not so easy to figure out how to give our two children what they both need when he’s testing our limits all the time.
These early days are rough. The sleepless nights are long, and the cold Winter days feel darker and shorter than ever before. Some day though, these two will be best buddies out to explore the world together. They may have to share their parents now, but they’ve each gained a brother. I like to think that’s a good deal…