“Mommy, when do I get to be a big brother?”

By on December 5, 2017

During drop-off at my son’s school a few months ago, I suddenly realized that I was the only mom who wasn’t either pregnant, lugging an infant carrier or dragging along a toddler.

I wondered if my little boy had noticed, too. I didn’t have to wait long to find out.First, he started naming his stuffed animals after the new babies born to his classmates’ parents. Then, I got ‘The Question’.“Mommy, when do I get to be a big brother?”“Um,” I stammered. “You know, not everyone becomes a big brother or big sister. Especially if Mommy’s on the older side,” I added silently.“But when are you and Daddy going to make someone for me? You know, someone I can hug?”

Ouch. Guilt trip alert.

My husband, an only child, never really saw the point of having more than one kid. I used to think I couldn’t possibly have just one. But now, somewhere on the other side of 40, the mere thought of maternity underwear, breast pumps and sleep deprivation gives me a tension headache.

I love our trio-shaped family. I love that my husband and I can focus all of our attention on our son. I love that when my son goes to bed, I don’t have to find the energy to entertain more children before I can fi nally fl op onto my pillow. I love that, most of the time, I think we’re doing a pretty good job raising ‘just’ one child.

Sure, I often get asked when I’m going to ‘have another’. I point to my ever-multiplying grey hairs, and shrug. Most people get it. But not my boy.

“Mommy, is it hard to plant a baby in there?” he asked, pointing to my stomach.

“Uh, not really. Well, sometimes.”

“Then why can’t you just build me a little brother? Or plant one with daddy’s seeds?”

While I felt like answering all his questions with “Would you like more ice cream, sweetie?”, that would be a cop-out.

Hear what your child is saying

According to child and family therapist Sara Dimerman, author of Character is Key,  my son’s pleas for a playmate are perfectly reasonable.

“He probably feels left out when the other kids are talking about their baby brothers or sisters, or when they’re drawing pictures of their families and everybody’s drawing more than one child,” she explains. “Explore what emotions it brings on. He might wonder, ‘what’s wrong with us if everyone else has a baby?’”

I wonder the same thing myself sometimes. Would I regret not having another child? I suppose I could still have another baby. Many women have second or third babies well into their forties. Wasn’t I supposed to be overcome by ‘baby lust’ if I so much as smelled someone else’s newborn? Why did I feel so content with ‘just’ one? And why does my son’s relentless desire for a sibling make me question my own desire not to give him one?

A reality check … for the whole family

“When children think of a sibling, they think of that very cutesy stage when they’re just born and they’re holding them in their arms, but like puppies who grow up to be large animals, babies grow up,” reminds Dimerman. “Your responsibility would continue way beyond his enjoyment, so you have to be really comfortable about this decision.”

Dimerman says that children have an idealistic view of what it’s like to have a sibling. “But when they actually do have one, they realize there are a lot of things that make them wish they hadn’t got one,” she explains. “Unfortunately, trying to explain that to a child doesn’t work, because they can’t project them- selves into a situation they haven’t experienced.”

Instead of trying to talk your child out of wanting a sibling by spending a weekend with a friend’s wailing newborn, try figuring out why she wants one in the first place, suggests Dimerman, who went through this exercise when her younger daughter wanted to become a big sister.

“You want to really understand what it is that your child feels is missing. I think my daughter feels she’s missing being a little mommy in the same way that she feels her sister has been a little mommy to her,” says Dimerman, adding that sometimes having a pet in the family helps fulfill that nurturing instinct.

Guilt-free decision-making

Among my older mom peers, I’ve often heard, “We had another child so that she wouldn’t be alone later on.” But is that enough of a reason? And if it isn’t, when does the guilt of deciding it’s fine to leave them ‘alone later on’ go away?Dimerman notes that it helps to remind yourself that, “regardless of how much your child is pleading for a sibling, you have to put your needs ahead of his. Having a child is very much an adult decision; you’d never ask your child which house you should buy, how much you should spend or whether you should move. If you feel fulfilled as a family, then you need to do what’s good for you, because ultimately, your family will be happier for that.”And yet, my grappling continues, as does my son’s ongoing negotiation. “We could put a crib in your office, right? You could work in the basement if I move some of my toys. Mommy, what does adoption mean?”Sigh.

Books worth a look

What’s So Bad About Being an Only Child?
By Cari Best
(Melanie Kroupa Books)

Parenting An Only Child:

The Joys and Challenges of Raising Your One and Only
By Susan Newman
(Broadway Books)Available at amazon.com

About Wendy Helfenbaum

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