Although it still fascinates and amazes me, I’ve stopped being surprised at the ways our lives as parents are constantly changing. What worries or stresses us out at one point eventually ebbs away and something takes its place. Or maybe we finally get a handle on life (yes, really!), find some balance, and get to ride the happy waves for a while.
You know those Facebook updates that prompt us to “See Your Memories” and remind us what we wrote 5 years ago? I love those. In the past week I’ve been reminded that A) my kids didn’t always sleep through the night (how I take that for granted now!) and B) my sports-obsessed 9-year-old was once a preschooler who sprinkled grass in his hair and shimmied his hips yelling “Swiper!” at imaginary foxes during soccer practice.
Yesterday, I watched my boys climb the stairs with their arms around each other’s shoulders, headed to Bee’s room so Zip could read him stories, and my heart melted. It made me think of how much their relationship has evolved over the last six-plus years.
There was a time when I was pretty sure I had this sibling thing figured out. I was so sure that I wrote a series of blog posts all about preparing your little one to become a big sibling and helping them adjust once baby arrives and minimizing conflict as the kids get older. In other words, how to nurture that bond so your kids have a loving relationship and don’t despise each other. My boys were 2 and 5 at the time.
Then came the phase where I started to seriously doubt that I had, in fact, worked any kind of parenting magic on the sibling front. It felt like my boys were at it constantly. My very precocious oldest child was forever correcting his little brother, while his little brother was moving into the preschool years which meant he had ideas of his own and did not want to be told what to do. In spite of our family mantra of Be kind, teasing was a daily occurrence. Bickering…arguments…you know the stuff.
It wasn’t truly horrible, but it was bad enough that I thought, Oh my gosh, I wrote an entire blog series about this and I CLEARLY DID NOT KNOW WHAT I WAS TALKING ABOUT! I’m a fraud!
And more importantly, Please don’t let their relationship be like this forever!
But you know what? Phases, friends. Parenting is all phases, mostly because our kids are constantly changing.
Yes, there was a rough period there. Even at the time, I could see that the conflict between the boys had a lot to do with their ages and where they were developmentally. No longer did Zip have a little brother to dote on, who did whatever he wanted. Bee was transitioning from toddler to preschooler. He didn’t want to follow his brother’s lead all the time – now he had his own ideas and was striving for a little independence. Zip had started elementary school and was eager to continue taking the lead, showing off what he knew and being in charge of “baby brother.” Throw in the mix that their skills for negotiating this transition were pretty limited.
We stayed the course. We kept preaching, Be kind. We coached them to negotiate and work things out, helping them develop the skills they needed to get along. We set limits. We reminded them – many, many times – that they should treat each other as they treat their friends.
We sprinkled in that truly magical ingredient: time.
I watch these boys now and I’m amazed. Yes, they still have their moments – often. They still bicker and compete and boss each other around. But time has brought with it a bit of maturity and better coping skills, and they are old enough to understand that if they can’t get along at the moment, maybe they need a little space (i.e., momma might send them to their rooms for some alone time).
I am now certain that they have an incredible, special bond and that they love each other to the bottoms of their hearts. They are brothers and they are friends. I can’t imagine one without the other. Any worry I once had that a three year age difference meant they wouldn’t be close has vanished.
They trade football cards and shoot hoops together. They talk about who said what on the school bus and exchange jokes. They share friends; playdates quickly turn into group Nerf wars or basketball games in the driveway, with third-graders and kindergartners playing together. When Bee changes his shirt in the morning so he will match his brother, Zip just smiles and doesn’t protest. They make goofy poses every time I try to take a picture of them together. On Saturday nights, they have sleepovers in Bee’s big bed, whispering stories and giggling and falling asleep with Bee curled up against his big brother. If I’m lucky, I might hear Zip singing to him.
I know better than to expect it will stay exactly like this forever. But the foundation is there and, regardless of what phases they pass through, I am pretty sure their relationship will be just fine. Maybe I know what I’m doing after all!