Once upon a time, back in my staffer days, I remember writing a feature about the best age gap to leave between having children. I vaguely recall one of the experts I interviewed postulating that the best gaps are either less than 18 months (eek!) or over three years. These gaps, the expert said, were the most likely to lead to harmonious sibling relationships, unburdened by jealousy and rivalry.
With my five and a quarter year gap, I should, then, be onto a winner. And indeed, for the first, what, 14 months of The Baby’s life, the relationship between my children was pretty much perfect. Yes, there was the occasional wail of, ‘Stop her eating my Lego!’ but in general, brother and sister were the best of friends.
Lately, though, I’ve been finding our family dynamics less straightforward. Both The Boy and The Baby have changed a lot lately, and so has their relationship.
The Baby absolutely adores her big brother. She’s always loved him, but now she *really* loves him. She cries if he goes off to school without saying goodbye. She wants to do everything he can do. Her face lights up when she sees him again at the end of the school day.
Herein lies problem number one. The Boy loves his sister, of course, but not with the same intensity. He’s six years old, and becoming increasingly grown-up and independent. He doesn’t want to hang around with his little sis in the park after school; he wants to play with his friends. He doesn’t want to roll around on the floor with her when he gets home; he wants to vanish upstairs to read or build Lego in his room.
The Baby doesn’t like this. Not one bit. I can guarantee that within 30 seconds of The Boy shutting himself in his bedroom, she’s banging on his door, calling his name, and throwing a strop when I try to carry her away. And I get annoyed. Not with The Baby, but with The Boy. Is it really too much to ask him to be nice to his little sister for 10 minutes after school, before he sequesters himself in his den?
Rationally, I know it is. He’s entitled to his downtime after school, to enjoy his books and toys without The Baby spoiling his games. But I can’t help wishing he’d give her the Big Brother time she’s been craving all day.
Then there’s problem number two: The Baby’s insistence that what’s his is hers. I cast my mind back to being six and can well imagine how outraged I’d have been if my younger brother had been allowed to rampage in my bedroom, but that’s what The Baby does. The Boy, to his credit, is generally very accepting of this, but when frictions bubble up, I feel bad for both of them. It’s not fair on him to have his sister running amok in his personal space, but it’s not fair on her to be shut out when she doesn’t understand why. After all, his toys are *much* more exciting than hers.
The third problem is The Baby’s jealousy. We expected the reverse, with The Boy resenting the attention his little sister was getting, but even when she was at her newborn neediest, he never seemed to mind. She, however, is insanely jealous of The Boy having one-to-one time with me. If I’m listening to him read, she’ll clamber up and tear the book from my hands; if I’m snuggling up with him in bed in the morning, she whinges and physically tries to put herself between me and him.
It was bound to happen, I suppose. I was naive to think that a larger than average gap would mean that we’d never have sibling squabbles, sibling rivalry. Both of my children are big characters, and both know exactly what they want.
But that said, I wouldn’t change the age gap for the world. There are bound to be frictions as they grow up together, but who’s to say they’d have been fewer with a smaller gap – or a bigger one? I like having quality time with The Baby when The Boy is at school, and with The Boy when The Baby is napping. I like the fact that The Boy is responsible enough to watch his sister while I hang the washing out. I like the way she’s learning so much from him: words, table manners, motor skills.
Yes, there are the occasional moans and grumbles, but they play together, they giggle, they genuinely enjoy each other’s company – not always, but often. And when I put The Baby in a new dress in the morning (as I did today, with the sun beating down), and The Boy takes one look at his sister and exclaims, ‘Oh, you look *beautiful* – like a little flower fairy…’ Well, there are no words to describe how that makes me feel.