Giving Siblings Equal Treatment Is Impossible, & That's OK
My brother is six years younger than me, and I still continue to fight for us to have equal treatment. For me, equal treatment meant having everything he got. If he got a toy, I got a toy of the same price. If he got a cookie, I got a cookie. The problem was I was way past the stage of needing a toy, nor did I ever really even want the cookie. I just wanted whatever he had and to know I deserved it.
My husband is a twin, and he often talks about the pressure of his mom to divide everything equally between him and his brother — including breasts while breastfeeding, piano lessons, monetary gifts. It was nearly impossible, and he often says, “we’re not the same people, so why would we be given the same things?”
I’m now in the process of adopting a girl who is only two years apart from my son. A perfect age for combined drop-offs, hand-me-down clothing, and play dates. Maybe they both would want the same cookie, or I could just easily just give them each a toy.
I realized about an hour into my accepting the girl in my life that was an impossibility. My heart opened with the ache of doubling, not splitting. I didn’t feel like I was divided my senses and calculations, I felt I just had to double everything. I wasn’t thinking about my son 50% of the time and then my daughter 50%, I was just having to spend 200% of my time loving. And loving them would look very different.
For my son, it would look like creating special times in this year we had ahead to make memories as a family of three. Early pick-ups, camping trips, weekends with his grandma alone.
For my daughter, it would be spending time learning her language, making the most comprehensive yet fun photo albums, and saving up all my vacation days.
Loving them would look very different.
The choices were clear in my mind, but the minute I made the photo book, my son said, “I want a photo book, too. I want the exact same photo book.” I make him a photo book for his birthday every year, and told him he’ll have one, a different one with his friends and family for his birthday, and this one was to just show our family to his new sister.
“No. I want the exact same one.”
What is it with us human beings and fairness? Where do we get caught up with everything equal being the same? As a diversity, equity, and inclusivity speciality I talk a lot about the difference between equity and equality: how two people do not start from the same place and therefore have different needs and resources to get them on the same footing (think of that stadium pic illustrating the different between "equality" and "equity").
But how do you translate these terms to a toddler who rations out his chocolates for the week? How do you explain that his sibling will need a completely different photo book than the one he’s going to get? How will I possibly explain to him how different their needs will be — from language to food — when she gets home?
I think back to my childhood, about what would have possibly helped me not feel like I was at war with my brother. I think one thing would have been the space for my mom to have noticed how different I was, to nurture me in different ways, to be able to see my different needs. One thing I’m starting to do early is to have lots of conversations with my son: does he want to do soccer, would he rather be inside just reading books? Does he like his school? What does he miss? What does he want to spend his time with me doing?
Jealousy comes from insecurity, and I hope I will continue to pay attention to both my children in ways they feel seen — not together, but as two separate individuals on their separate journeys. Their roads will be different, but I hope they know that they have a hand to hold no matter their destination.