My son, a.k.a. the Kid, was 13 when my daughter was born. The Kid and I had been on our own since he was a toddler himself, so functioning as the skewed duet that we were was all we knew. I’d always wanted more kids though and the Kid kept begging for a baby sister. Specifically A SISTER. A fact I keep reminding him of the odd time he complains about having to watch his (pre-ordered) younger sibling.
A Teen in the House and a Baby on the Way
While having an in-house babysitter is awesome, a 13-year age difference between two children brings a plethora of issues to any family and that goes double for a single-parent family. The Kid never got much (positive and/or encouraging) attention from his father, so I was and remain the only parent he has. Sharing that much needed attention with a small, new creature who needed that attention too just didn’t seem fair to him. At least it seemed tat way to me.
I was seven months pregnant with the Toddler when the hormones started setting into whatever was left of my common sense and I began panicking – what if my relationship with the Kid changes? He’s growing into a whole new person and this godawful Puberty thing is rearing its ugly head already – what if he slips away from me and I never get him back?
Before I present myself as the obsessive helicopter-mom type, although I was pretty much exactly that during my pregnancy with the Toddler but I blame it all on the hormones (sort of like pleading temporary insanity, only better and it holds up in court) – both the kids and I are very independent creatures. We have interpersonal relationships built on our respective individual quirks and personalities, not merely on the fact that we happen to be genetically related.
So the Kid was already noticeably independent at 13 and had his own interests. But that only made things worse for me. It took me a good month to get up the nerve and devise a carefully crafted strategy to sit down and talk to him about it. Just an FYI – I am one of those parents who likes to talk it out. A lot. About everything. But this was a tough one. How do I let him know that our relationship won’t change when his baby sister arrives, when I know full well it will change? We were both about to change, individually and as a family. How do I explain that this scares me too? How do I tell my baby boy that my love for him can only grow and that, although he will have to share my time with his sister now, this is all a good thing?
So What Changed?
Today, as I write this and listen to the two of them running in the hallway just outside this room and rolling around on the floor giggling, I wonder if that conversation was ever really necessary. Since the moment the Toddler arrived, things sort of just fell into place on their own and we became this new, even quirkier family unit than before. The skewed duet turned into a more balanced trio. This little girl that arrived didn’t come between us. She connected us in new ways and made us into the family we were always supposed to be. The power of three.
On the flip side, I’m glad that I did have that talk with the Kid one evening. We had just finished setting up his sister’s crib. He had already helped pick out a name for her. He was already picking out colleges and careers for her (seriously, if he has any say in it, she’ll be majoring in robotics at MIT in 15 years or less). She was already a part of his life and I feared he’d think he was already losing me. Or maybe I just feared I was already losing him to adulthood.
I folded one of the brand new light pink baby comforters and placed it over the side of the crib, then sat down to grab a breather in the big, comfy recliner in the corner of the room. I looked at the Kid and tapped the little room there was left next to me and my bulging belly, signaling for the Kid to sit down. As he sat next to me, I kissed his head and I told him I was afraid. Then I explained all the reasons I was afraid and made him promise to tell me if he ever felt left out or like he wasn’t getting enough of me or my time. He admitted to being afraid too. But of all the things he was afraid of, his claimed his greatest fear was that his sister wouldn’t like him. Silly boy.
Today, we’re a highly functional and, by strictly defined social norms (that we couldn’t give less of a hoot about), very strange family. The Kid, now at 16, has his own schedule, part-time job, homeschooling tasks, outside interests, and about as much sass and attitude that could possibly fit into a teenage head. The Toddler has her own set of demands and her own terrorist-like techniques for making sure those demands are met.
I’ve hired two nannies so far, both of whom were with us for over a year and loved the Toddler, but were nowhere close to strict enough to help teach the Toddler that these things we call Rules and Order existed. So I decided to try hacking it on my own and several days a week the Kid plays the role of the nanny. And if you’re thinking that amounts to financial savings, forget that thought right now. The Kid, like any entrepreneurial teenager who knows you need him, overcharges like you wouldn’t believe and often has prior engagements that “one does not just cancel” to babysit one’s sister and help one’s mother make a living.
We’re a hot mess. And we love it.
Basically, our household is a mess. Our schedules are a mess. Our family life is one big, exciting, eventful, glorious mess. And we love it. Walk into our home at any point and there will be singing or laughter or the smell of freshly baked cookies while the dog barks at the front door to greet the friends we have over almost daily. It’s a mess of a life filled with food, music, passion and games. We wouldn’t change it for anything, regardless of the neat, orderly, but-it’s-so-much-easier-this-way things anyone might offer.
We make do and the Kid is so much better at helping raise his sister than any nanny ever could be that I’m willing to be overcharged and blackmailed into all sorts of things to keep them both happy. He’s patient with his sister and learning to be strict but kind in all the right places. Ironically, the Kid, the child that I was afraid would slip away from me, is helping me be a better parent to both my children.
Talk to your kids. Especially if there’s a big age difference between them and there’s only one of you to go around. Take those 5 to 10 minutes and be honest about what you have to say first. And next time you’re faced with what you might think is a problem, whether it be a new baby coming to take more of your time and love or a cake splattered all over the kitchen floor along with the crystal plate it was on now in pieces, sit back and take another look. Are you sure it’s a problem? Don’t you see the humor in it? Can’t you see the bigger picture and how marvelous it all is? Change your perspective. Talk about it. View, then review. Your children will follow your lead. Until they begin to lead the way themselves.