#2 Isn’t Easy!
As I bought school supplies for my children this year I couldn’t help but notice a very clear difference in how I have treated my boys over the years. Of course I took them both shopping for fresh new school clothes; however, my youngest sons shopping experience started out in the size 6-7 hand-me-down-bin of his older brother. I took an inventory of the clothes that would fit my little guy, washed them up and placed them in his dresser. The following day he brings me a t-shirt and told me it wasn’t his; I told him yes it was. He looked at it again and replied firmly, “No, it’s not.” I explained, “It was brothers’ shirt, now it belongs to you.” He looked at it a third time rather hard, then turned his hard gaze to me, “OK, but it’s not mine!” This simple dialogue helped me to see that I’ve been, at times, unintentionally neglectful towards my second child.
I recalled how wrapped up I’ve been over the years preparing my first child for everything in his life. New experiences for my first son warranted preparation and new gear. They got lots of build up, and encouragement. Whereas with my second son I had already witnessed the rise and fall of swim, music, and gymnastic lessons and boxed up various types of athletic equipment. Ultimately, the most likely reality of these experiences had caused my enthusiasm for the present situation to wane significantly. Understandably so; however, at what cost to my little ones psyche?
I acknowledged that regardless of how conscious I have tried to be, he has always been compared to his older brother and consistently placed second; not only due to his birth order, but verbally and mentally as well. For example: We referred to our boys as #1 and #2, with affection towards them and as homage to our love for Star Trek. We did this until our youngest was about a year old and a family friend pointed out the obvious and said, “I hope you have good mental health coverage, they’re gonna need it if you keep that up!”
I recalled how easy my first son had it. He never had to share or fight for my attention, no one sat on his head, peed on his blanket and certainly no one who claimed to love him ever called him monkey-butt-face! However, these experiences have taught my second son to be more determined, and resilient. He has also developed an impressive aptitude for covert retaliation and verbal insults! These can be considered life skills…right?
Aside from the obvious birth order I considered the true source for the ongoing imbalance: my second son’s personality and behavior was/is so much different than his brother; my youngest is much more spirited and energetic. For several years this baffled my husband and I. We were the same people, who have loved, taught and disciplined both boys in the same manner. After counseling, countless books and parenting classes I came to understand how unique they both are, which allowed me to see my youngest in a more positive, independent light.
Clearly there are advantages and disadvantages to being born first, middle or last and as parents we can only do our best. While it makes sense to parent based on our experiences try to remember that although we may have already felt burned by the inevitable failure or dislike of an experience by an older child, this child is currently in the moment and wants to feel your excitement and enthusiasm, which fosters hope, feeds their imagination and boosts confidence.