I am ready for Valentine's day, and this whole week is a lovely busy one for us. Happily so. If my plans for the man work out I'll share it here. This one was 2011 and this was 2012. Even though I loathed the holiday prior to marriage, since wedding Hawk, it seems to get me giddy. And he usually does nothing (usually as in always) but it's never bothered me. I'm not just saying that, either! I know the guy is supposed to be alls-romantic, but in our house, I rule this day.
I digress..on to that parenting advice.
When we were preparing for Poppy's arrival I was worried that they kids wouldn't get along. Ace was only 15 months when she was born so we couldn't prepare him for the big day very much. Abstract realities just don't sink in at that age. I feared that we'd bring a baby home and Ace would be harshly confused.
One evening, my friends Grace and Colleen were over, both mothers of five children. And these 10 kiddos all get along well with their brothers and sisters (ages high school to k5). Sure, they throw some random punches, roll their eyes and ignore each other at times, but it is obvious that they actually enjoy each other. Genuine pleasure and joy. They take interest in each other's lives. They remember what is important. They give of themselves. They laugh and read and watch movies together.
I want that.
So I asked them for advice on avoiding sibling rivalry and jealousy that everyone else told me to expect as a matter of course. They looked so puzzled, like, why would bad family dynamics be considered the norm?
Here's what Grace taught me:
She gave me a scenario. Say you're sitting on the couch, reading to Ace, and the baby starts crying upstairs. What do you do?
I replied that I would tell him, Oh, Ace, I'm sorry, the baby is crying. We need to get the baby and then we can keep reading.
Right, she said. And did you notice your tone of voice?
Hmmm. My tone of voice. I went over it again in my head. I'm sure you could hear it, too, when you read it above, and see the look on my face---everything about my face, words, and tone said, This isn't a great thing for you. My brow was slightly furrowed (is that the right word?). Without realizing it, I was instructing Ace to be annoyed and to perceive the needs of his sibling as an infringement upon his own goods rather than an awesome experience that only adds to his own.
What if, Grace continued, you made it exciting and made sure Ace was involved? Say, "Yay! The baby is awake! Let's go get the baby together!" and get some genuine joy on that face. Ask him to help you with the diaper. Let him choose her clothes. Make this "interruption" a joyous family occasion.
And then she said the kicker: why should a sibling be jealous of another?
Duh. Why did I think the norm was jealousy? What if the norm was brilliance instead?
It was SO COMMON SENSE, but I totally needed to hear it, and I never would have thought of it on my own.
So I've followed her advice to a T and adjusted it for each occasion. I let him open her door, get her clothes, kiss her when she gets hurt, pass her apples, etc. And you know what? Ace understands that as a family, our needs and actions affect each other. He gets that he has to wait and take turns but he also knows he has an essential and good role in his sister's life. that he has to be gentle, that he is Poppy's "protector," as I tell him daily. From day 1, Ace has raced me to Poppy's room, or
I mean, this is what I dreamed of.
And there's an added bonus. I get excited, too. My plans involve both personalities at once, but I still get to spend one-to-one time with each little person and the other one understands. We spend evenings giggling and screeching around the house. Ace walks down the stairs and says, Mama, we love Poppy so much!
Yes, little man, we do. And we love you.
This attitude, one of excitement, gratitude and joy for the ways we are involved in each other's lives has given the tone of my entire life more excitement, gratitude, and joy. And patience. Dude, way more patience than I thought I'd pump out so easily.
I hope this adds to your current or future parenting experiences as positively as it has to mine!
UPDATE: I've already received a request for a printable go-to list of sorts based on this post. I'll have that ready for next Monday's post. Thanks for the great suggestion!