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Why Did I Worry about Sibling Rivalry?

By Sarah Liebetrau - 3rd June 2011

It’s funny, but I’ve noticed that in life, the things I really worry about happening are often the things that I don’t need to worry about. (It’s the things I don’t see coming that often blindside me!) Before our second child was born, I worried a lot about sibling rivalry. Our first-born was a very excitable, high-needs baby who had developed into a curious, demanding toddler. Without an extended support network of family close by to lighten the load, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to give my son the attention he was used to, and that he’d lay the blame squarely at the feet of a certain tiny interloper.  To my surprise and relief the ‘sibling rivalry’ issue hasn’t developed (at least not in the way I expected).

When our daughter was born, our then-two-year-old son’s first words upon visiting her in hospital were, “When is the doctor going to put her back into your tummy Mummy?” But once we got her home he adored her without reservation, and the feeling was mutual - it has continued to this day - they are now 5 and 3. For a while we had some adjustment issues, particularly around trying to breastfeed a newborn when a toddler needed a drink/toy/cuddle now, but his resulting challenging behaviour was never directed at his sister.  

I’m not saying they don’t bicker and squabble as much as any other siblings, but their bond goes so much deeper than any petty fights. If they come up against a common opponent (like mum or dad), even at this young age they present a united front. If one or the other is being reproached for some misdemeanour, the other will inevitably pipe up in their sibling’s defence. “She’s not screaming, Mum, she’s just sad. I think she might need a cuddle, maybe she’s getting sick,” was one particularly memorable intervention my son launched on his sister’s behalf.

As a parent, the things I find most exhausting and frustrating about raising children have nothing to do with how they relate to each other. Sure, they have their moments and I don’t love trying to sort out a screaming match that’s going on in the back seat of the car while I’m driving down the F3.

My hot-button issues are more to do with how each of them behave - how to set limits consistently, how to get them to eat and sleep well, how to manage their emotions when they become overwhelmed, and how to manage my own emotions when I become overwhelmed! These are not the issues that were at the forefront of my mind when baby number two was due to be born. I was more concerned about whether my son was going to pummel my daughter into oblivion, and how I would to avert the dreaded ‘sibling rivalry’.

After 18 months of dropping her brother off at the same pre-school, recently the day finally came for Ms 3 to join in. They were both beside themselves with excitement. “My sister is staying for the whole day!” Mr 5 announced as we arrived, and proceeded to organise her locker, lunch and set up some painting for her to do.  “She’s waited very patiently for this,” said a proud big brother as Ms 3 stood beaming beside him, never leaving his side. Out of all of the lovely surprises that parenthood has brought me, this is surely one of the loveliest.

image freedigitalphotos.net

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