I'm Worried My Second Child Will Always Be In The Shadow Of Her Sister
"There's just something about your first grandchild." I let the words sink in as I continued to listen to a conversation between my mother and one of her closest friends. The latter was expecting her fourth grandkid, and although she was excited to welcome her son's son into the world, she wasn't sure she'd love that baby as much as she loved his oldest cousin. "That first grandchild changes your life. They change your heart," she told us. Meanwhile, I was expecting my second daughter, so the words around me seemed to confirm one of my deepest fears throughout the pregnancy: the question of whether my second child would be as loved by those around her as my first.
The thing is, I'd heard variations of this thought before. I have a distinct memory from childhood of my maternal grandma confessing that her first grandson was her favorite (there were 10 of us). As my father began having his own grandkids, he'd often muse about his appreciation of his first, too. Only it was more than mere appreciation — it was a kind of fanaticism.
My husband fell in love with Elia immediately, months before we actually saw her face. For me, it took meeting her.
A lot of people in my life adored Luna, my eldest, from the moment she was born nearly two and a half years ago (if not from the moment we learned she was inside the womb). My brothers, my friends, my in-laws, my own parents. Everything that little girl did — every milestone ticked off, every word spoken, every new outfit worn — was met with celebration (probably too much celebration, if I'm being honest). Characteristics like "loving," "empathetic," "intelligent," "kind," and "funny" were attributed to her before she was even cognizant of who the hell all these people looking at her actually were. To this day, she's truly beloved.
Sometimes, however, I'm just not sure I can say the same for her sister, Elia.
I worried for Elia almost immediately after learning that I was pregnant with her. I worried about what her life might be like if her sister continued to be so profoundly idolized. I wondered what always feeling second-best could do to a child. I feared that, whatever it might do, it wouldn't be good.
Thankfully, my husband fell in love with Elia immediately, months before we actually saw her face. For me, it took meeting her. Any concern I had about not having enough time or energy or love within me to nurture another child faded as I felt her warm, sticky face pressed against me.
In the initial moments after her birth, I assumed that those around me would echo the sentiment. Even if they'd been worried about being unable to love another child as much as they loved Luna, surely seeing this precious little thing would change their minds. It would ease their worries and warm their hearts and make them realize that as wonderful as Luna is, her sister might be just as wonderful. She would be a different person, sure. A different baby. Still, she'd be pretty special.
Elia is nearly 9 months old now, though, and I'm not sure that this idea has clicked for most people. Her milestones are met with brief and almost apathetic acknowledgement by extended relatives. If ever she's wearing an amazing new outfit, it goes more or less unnoticed. People tell me she has a lovely smile, but that's pretty much it. Those words used to describe baby Luna — words like "kind" or "empathetic" or "loving" or "funny" or "clever" — never seem to come up. Unless, of course, they're being used to describe Luna in the present day.
We simply want our kids to be treated, cared for, and loved equally by those we choose to have in our lives and in theirs.
There have even been times when I've walked in on family members we've left in charge of babysitting the girls, only to see Luna nestled into their lap in a loving embrace while Elia is in a corner of the room playing by herself. There have been times when I've walked in to see Elia with some kind of choking hazard in her mouth, which no one has clocked because they are absorbed in whatever Luna is saying or doing or wearing or playing with.
When I've tried to speak honestly to those around me regarding my concerns, there has been resistance. "We just don't want Luna to feel left out because there's a new baby in the picture," someone might say. "We can't give Elia all of the attention," another will argue defensively. My response is always the same: no one is asking our loved ones to give Elia all of the attention, to the point where Luna would feel left out or under-appreciated. We simply want our kids to be treated, cared for, and loved equally by those we choose to have in our lives and in theirs.
Of course, before Elia was born, I too worried about how Luna might feel. She had always been the center of our worlds. She wasn't used to sharing our time or affections (or her toys). She was too young to engage in an honest and open conversation about what it means to become a big sister, and she is still too young to fully vocalize her feelings. I know she has a lot of them. I know they range from pure adoration for her sibling to deep and resentful frustration. I know that I still worry about doing right by them both. In some of the harder moments, I worry that Luna is experiencing more pain and turmoil than I can comprehend.
To combat these feelings, my husband and I try to set aside one-on-one time for her. We continue to hold her close, and tell her we love her. We don't force her to hug Elia when she doesn't want to. We try to give her space when she seems to need it.
What we don't do is neglect Elia in order to care for Luna, just as we would not neglect Luna in order to care for Elia. We try our best not to compare them, or to make solid character assessments about them. They are only 2 years old and 9 months old, after all. They will change more than I could possibly imagine as they continue to grow.
We also try to keep in mind that they are unique and incredible little people, even if they are different from one another. Luna may have come first. She may have changed our lives, and allowed us to feel more love than we thought our bodies could contain, and fundamentally shifted our existences for the better, as well as those of the people who so deeply care for her.
Elia has the capacity to do just the same, though. She, too, will change our lives, and hearts, and existences if we let her. She's already doing it, in fact, and she deserves to be recognized for this. It's my hope that, as people allow themselves to get to know her better, they'll understand this as well.
The truth is, I can't risk her sense of worth, or self-love, or importance being fractured if they don't. I can't risk finding out what might happen to a child who never gets to feel seen or valued or praised by those who are meant to care for her most. I can't risk finding out how my daughters' relationship with each other would suffer as a result, either.