The best gift you can give a child is a sibling.
As one of three, I know first hand that having siblings has been absolutely one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. Growing up I always felt part of a team. You always knew that someone had your back. That someone would always love you and support you despite your flaws and your mistakes.
When this magical bond works as it should, having a sibling is absolutely one of the best gifts a person can receive in their lifetime. But what do you do when, as a parent, your baby doesn’t adapt well to their new sibling?
No matter the age gap between children, I imagine that every parent feels that wave of guilt when they think about how their children will react to a new arrival. Change is unsettling for everyone and there’s nothing more unsettling and life-changing than having babies.
From the moment Elsie met her new little sister I saw something in her change. As a very wise nineteen-month-old, she completely understood that her world would be very different from now on. Right there, in my hospital bed, I went from feeling the happiest and the most content I’ve ever felt in my life, to having my heart break at the sight of my first born looking a little disturbed by her new little sister. It was obvious to everyone that she wasn’t going to take this transition well and we hadn’t even brought the new baby home yet.
She’ll be alright. It’s a big change and she’s probably just confused.
Billie settled effortlessly into our lives. The final piece clicking perfectly into place. Elsie, however, continued to keep the same cold guard up towards her little sister. Life moved on and although there were little signs that she loved her, there were many more signs that she was struggling to like her and accept that she was a permanent fixture in our lives.
She would flinch whenever Billie touched her. “Oh Mumma, Baby just touched my arm” she would say; showing a face of disgust as if someone had just smeared thick green snot on her arm rather than the innocent touch of a delicate and soft new baby.
It’s All Just A Bit Heartbreaking
Whilst other new mums were terrified of their firstborn picking their newborn up whilst they weren’t looking or being over-excited and springy around their delicate new baby, we had the opposite problem.
Elsie didn’t want to hold her or even be left in the same room as her and as the months went on nothing changed on Elsie’s part.
Billie, however, became this smiley little baby who’s eyes lit up every time she saw her sister; Elsie never looked at her or gave her anything back. Billie started to interact and play and then of course move. All of which gave Elsie more reasons to be annoyed by her little sister.
Every day we would, and still, continue to encourage her to engage more with Billie. We remind her daily how lucky she is to have a little sister. We ask her, never force her, to kiss or cuddle or say hello or goodbye to her. Sometimes she agrees, but only every so often depending on her mood.
It’s all very heartbreaking for a parent to see. Especially when their second child is bursting with love and who is naturally making all the effort to interact with their big sister who just doesn’t want to know.
Living Separate Lives
Over time we adopted this strange way of life where although we continue to encourage Elsie to interact with Billie, we began treating them as separate entities. They would do everything together but there was almost this invisible wall up where I would flit between the two. Interacting with them and tending to their needs as if they were an only child.
It only dawned on me recently that Billie doesn’t make any effort with Elsie anymore. It’s as if she’s spent the first year of her life trying to be loved by her without getting anything in return, so she just doesn’t try anymore. Billie’s once playful and gentle nature has been diminished ever so slightly. She’s become so much more aggressive when playing- traits that she’s picked up from the way her sister reacts to her- adopting it too as her new norm.
This is probably the aspect that upsets me the most. Billie would have in no doubt made the most wonderful, natural, playful and nurturing big sister. Sadly all of those aspects of her are floating away with each day that she is rejected by Elsie.
I’m not entirely sure where we went wrong in preparing Elsie for a sibling. Was it the age gap? Did we not talk about it enough? Who knows?
One thing is for sure is that every day I hope that something will change. I hope that Elsie will wake up one day and interact with her little sister without being asked or encouraged. I long for the day that they will play together. Then argue over something silly and then make up the next. That one day Elsie will finally see the amazing gift that she’s been given. That Billie won’t remember these early days when she was ignored and that someday our girls will be friends.