In October last year, after five years of being the absolute centre of the universe, Rose became a big sister. Overnight, she had to learn that sometimes Mommy and Daddy are not able to drop everything to immediately begin the hunt for the missing favourite pencil. And worse yet, sometimes Mommy and Daddy are just too tired to play race horses down the passage (or school-school, or make believe puppy or any other games).
For any child, the introduction of a new member of the family is difficult. The attention and time available from parents is necessarily reduced and the little addition, at least initially, is simply not that entertaining.
I was (mostly) ready for this. We’d spoken about it beforehand and I had warned Rose that I would sometimes be busy with the baby. In the weeks prior to Fynn’s birth, I asked Rose to please tell me if she was feeling left out or if she felt that we were not giving her enough attention. We talked about how boring babies can be and how they only sleep, eat and poop. She was given her own new doll by friends, together with nappy and clothes and feeding equipment. I also hoped that, being five, she would be able to help with some of the baby stuff, changing wet nappies, choosing clothes to wear, fetching blankies and dummies and cloths and all the other baby paraphernalia that always seems to be just out of arms reach.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the overwhelming love my daughter instantly felt for her little sister, her protectiveness and her constant desire to hug, kiss, cuddle, hold, touch, suck, nuzzle and otherwise have physical contact with her baby sister.
The love and protectiveness are wonderful and bring tears to my ears each time I see a manifestation of them.
Mom: “Whose my little stinky baby?”
Big sister: “Don’t call her a stinky baby! You’ll hurt her feelings!”
Mom: “Sh, don’t wake the baby!”
Big sister: “I’m just saying I love you.”
However, the physicality of the sister relationship has given me more grey hairs than I care to count. A five-year old is strong enough to hold or even carry a tiny baby, but I am totally unconvinced about her ability to navigate doorways without bashing little baby heads against door frames. Holding the baby’s hands and making her “dance” is very cute, but little arms don’t actually bend backwards. Kissing her toes is adorable, but sucking on them endlessly while the poor babe is trying to concentrate on getting some lunch down creates a few difficulties. For me, it’s bad enough having one limpet permanently attached to me, having two other people in my personal space all the time drives me totally and utterly batty!
As a result, the first few months of Fynn’s life have veered between “you’re such a wonderful big sister” and “no, don’t do that!” about three hundred times a day.
In retrospect, we started off on the wrong foot. I was so focused on allowing Rose to feel part of things, and to make sure she wasn’t left out, that I didn’t put boundaries in place. Over time we have corrected some of these errors. No carrying the baby through doorways being a prime example! And as Fynn has gotten heavier and stronger, some of the issues have just gone away on their own. We have also embarked on an explicit awareness programme around personal space. This ties in to Rose’s understanding of her own personal space (as discussed in a previous post about greeting strangers).
Amongst other things, we purchased Julia Cook’s book “Personal Space Camp” which is a fun way of introducing concepts of personal space. There are some great exercises that you can do to help visualise personal space, and the main character, Louis, is a lovable rogue. Rose took to the book instantly and for many nights running it was her preferred bedtime story.
No harm has come to the baby and at five months, the tables are turning. Rose is rapidly becoming Fynn’s favourite toy: as Fynn has learned to grab at things, Rose hair, nose and ears are all fair game. Rose is also the most successful of us all at making the baby laugh, and so spends many a happy time pulling faces and making weird noises for Fynn’s pleasure.
We still have the odd moment where Rose shouts in Fynn’s ear, or pulls an arm in a direction in which it is not naturally meant to go. There are still daily instances of Rose hanging over my shoulder, in my space, while she attempts to entertain the baby, but all in all we are a happy family.
I also have it on good authority that as Fynn gets older she will get her own back and NEVER EVER leave her big sister alone.
Feature Image Credit: My Big Sister is my Hero onesies can be purchased at AMightyGirl
I am currently trying to teach my son about personal space, with little success. I think I will pick up this book, it looks good!
Definitely been a good resource. The book also has a teacher’s activity guide which is great for group work at schools.
Ah, the delightful joy and terror of a large age gap. My daughter was born a few months shy of my son turning 7. He is a wonderfully engaged big brother, and now that she is a little more self sufficient, they find lots of ways to get into adventures mostly on their own, but there are still some scary moments where she wants to do do everything he can do, which sometimes involves toy swords and 10 year olds and my heart in my throat.
Oh boy. Things to look forward to. This evening the five- year old decided to demonstrate her new judo moves using the four-month old as her partner. She was surprisingly gentle considering. Wish I’d had my camera on hand.