Growing up, my sister and brother were my first and best friends. Yes, sometimes we fought like cats and dogs, but generally speaking we were like three peas in a pod. So when I got pregnant with my second child I hoped my kids would share the same bond and assumed they'd fall in love with one another immediately. Like so many other aspects of parenting, I was wrong. Instead, my toddler hated their younger sibling at first, and since it was so unexpected I was at a loss as to how to fix what I had assumed would be a budding relationship.
Looking back, the entire ordeal makes more and more sense. My daughter was used to being the center of my universe. And after nine months of excitement and anticipation, her brother entered the world and she felt disappointed and short-changed. Instead of a playmate she got a boring, needy potato who took all of my attention away from her, cried a lot, and didn't do, well, much of anything.
She was jealous and lonely, and as a result she regressed. Seemingly overnight she transformed from a sweet, cheerful kid, into a tantrum-throwing dictator of a toddler. And while I knew the transition from one kid to two kids would be difficult, having my child essentially resent her sibling was beyond my comprehension. In other words, I was at a loss.
As a result of so much change in such a short amount of time, my daughter started acting out in the most horrible ways. Even though she had been potty trained for almost a year when her brother was born, she'd park herself in front of me while I was feeding her brother and pee her pants. She engaged in dinner-time battles and refused to eat anything that wasn't cheese or carbs, too; a defiant choice that, while frustrating, was at least slightly understandable. (All I wanted was cheese and carbs, too.)
I thought I had made a huge mistake bringing another child into the family, and her disdain for her sibling would continue for the rest of their lives.
Nap time and bedtime were by far the worst, though. While I can't say for sure, it felt like she would deliberately wake her little brother up just to get my attention. She would also refuse to sleep without me touching her, so more often than not I had one or both kids in my arms every single evening before bed and for a full year of my life.
I was exhausted. I was frustrated. I felt like a failure.
As a newly minted mom of two, I worried that her apparent hatred for her younger brother would mean that they would never get along. I thought I had made a huge mistake bringing another child into the family, and her disdain for her sibling would continue for the rest of their lives.
I also worried that she might hurt him, or at least never learn to occupy the same room as him without throwing a tantrum or yelling at him to stop looking at her. One time I walked into the room and heard her whisper "I hate you" to him, and moments like that horrifying one only reaffirmed my fears.
My son seemed oblivious to her hatred, though, and even though her animosity was very clear. In fact, she was his favorite person, and he would smile so big when she walked in the room. Occasionally he became interesting enough to her for a minute-long game of peak-a-boo, too, although those fleeting moments were few and far between. Before long he went back to being boring, loud, and annoying.
As her baby brother grew more independent and less attached to me, she started to see him as a little person and not just someone occupying her space.
When my son started to crawl he annoyed his sister on an entirely new level by getting into her stuff. He would collect her discarded stuffed animals, rip up her coloring books, and gnaw on her Barbie’s feet. I thought his trailing her like a shadow was adorable, but to her he was nothing but a pain in her you-know-what. She would yell at me to "keep him out of my stuff!" and constantly scream "no, baby, that's mine!" It was as if anything he touched suddenly became her most prized possession.
But just as I was at the end of my proverbial rope, I started to figure out how to manage a tantrum-throwing toddler and a needy newborn. My daughter started to warm up to the idea of having a little brother, and before I knew it I felt comfortable letting her sit next to me on the couch when I fed him. She even helped me change his diaper a time or two. I found a silly book about a little girl and her baby brother, called Lulu and the Witch Baby, and would read it to her every night before bedtime.
Slowly, but surely, I noticed changes in my daughter. As her baby brother grew more independent and less attached to me, she started to see him as a little person and not just someone occupying her space. They started to find ways to play together, to keep each other occupied, and to have some fun in the process. It was pretty amazing to witness, and it assuaged my fears that they'd grow up to hate one another.
When my youngest child was born, thankfully, I had a better idea of how things would go. I knew that the transition would be an adjustment for everyone, and that for the most part toddlers don't think much of babies. Fortunately, for everyone involved, my children have learned to get along with their younger and older siblings. While they still get on each other's nerves, and fight like cats and dogs most days, I'm happy to report that my kids get along just fine... like three peas in a pod.