Parenting Taps

A very little brother

Does a big sibling age gap require special parenting strategies? Perhaps.

By Geoff Edgers
April 25, 2010

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When most of our friends started procreating, they had a couple of kids within a couple of years. But Carlene and I chose to take a break between babies. We were happy hanging with Lila, now nearly 8, and Carlene wanted a break before giving up her body again to an alien force.

We know things will change later this week, when a little boy is scheduled to arrive. But we think Lila might take to this baby thing. She tends to get annoyed by kids in the 4 to 5 range, who want to follow her around and get into her stuff. Babies, though, are cute. They’re like her American Girl doll, only without the fake adobe oven.

Parenting experts do have advice on making the change easier for an older big brother or sister. Social psychologist Susan Newman, the author of Little Things Long Remembered: Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day, suggests planning now for Lila’s birthday in late May. “There is so much stress, and a newborn is so time-consuming, that mothers think they can do it all, and then when that baby arrives, it’s ‘Oh, I didn’t get my invitations out,’ ” she says. Making sure you do “tells your older child that she’s as important as the baby.”

That’s true, but there’s a part of me that thinks a little reality check might be good for our girl, who, like many single children, has been at the center of our solar system.

“I’m all for self-esteem, but what we really want is for them to have grit and authentic confidence,” says Laura Gauld, coauthor of The Biggest Job We’ll Ever Have. “The only way they get that is to go through struggles.” And Lila needs to get herself through them, Gauld says. “Whatever she struggles with, it’s important to not only step back and say, ‘She’s upset. What can we do to make her feel better?’ but also how about, ‘She’s upset. Let’s see how this works out.’ ”

No matter what comes our way, I’m sure there will be plenty of teaching moments. At the same time, though, I hope I’ll have the sense to remember that sometimes the best parental response is just a quick run for ice cream.

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