Most (if not all) only children think the best thing ever is to have a sibling. If only I had a brother or sister, my life would be so much better...goes the voice in our heads until well, maybe senior year in high school. Then it doesn't really matter. It doesn't come up much in the college years either. The lack of a sibling seems to fade to insignificance as careers, homes and romantic relationships are forming in our twenties and thirties. In fact, being an only child doesn't factor in much at all when you are an adult. Except when you become a parent. Then you realize that your child may not have a sibling--and it's easy to start reliving the longing again. Never mind that a) your child is not you and b) giving your child everything you never had is not a guaranteed recipe for happiness (for either of you).
When I conceived my second child, siblings were created. When I learned the baby would be a boy, brothers came to be. I was certain they would be best friends and neither would spend an hour of loneliness during childhood. Perfect. All problems solved. And then I brought the baby home. I placed him on the sofa next to his toddler brother and wept with despair. I was certain that I had ruined all of our lives. There would be no private schools, no trips to Europe...nothing but diapers, laundry, dishes, pumped milk, clipping coupons and shopping clearance racks.
It took a few weeks for my postpartum mood altering hormones to settle down. When Liam was about 3 weeks old, he looked into his big brother's eyes and intentionally held his gaze. From that moment on I took second place--he was attached first and foremost to his big brother. Of course he still smiled and cooed for me. He still enjoyed 5,6,7 feeds in the rocking chair. But when his brother was in the room, Liam wanted to interact with him and only him. I marveled at the sibling bond as it developed. This was a completely foreign, mysterious phenomenon unfolding before my eyes.
Many times in the past five years, I've been in awe over their relationship. I'm so grateful for the blessing bestowed on our family. A blessing of brothers. Gone is the regret about backpacking across Europe with a ten year old or sending him to an elite academy. Instead, at times, I'll catch myself imagining what Henry's life would be like as an only child. Without his extroverted, risk taking little brother, seven year old Henry would be even more serious and adult-like. Scheduling playdates and coming home to a quiet house with "nothing to do" would be the norm. Would he fight early depression as I did? I shiver at these "what ifs". Never mind that someone once said, a) your child is not you and b) giving your child everything you never had is not a guaranteed recipe for happiness (for either of you).
It's become apparent that Liam needs more (or different) attention than he's been getting from me. His behavior is quite distressing at times. Right now I'm at the parenting point where I admit things are not going well and I need to do something different. But what? Yesterday, after a very trying evening that ended with us both in tears, I prayed for guidance.
The more Liam gets on my last nerve, the less I'm focused on his brother and the more I'm interacting with him.
Having time with Liam outside of Henry's presence does help, it seems. But that's not practical as a solo parent. Not on a daily or even weekly basis. I need to find a way to connect to Liam even when we are not alone. Easier said than done but I can't give up trying. He's too precious to me.