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Giving My Strong-Willed First Child a Sibling Was the Best Thing I Ever Did

Photograph by Twenty20

He was our first child—intense, strong-willed and wise beyond his years. From a young age, he seemed to need more attention than most kids. He rarely played alone, was quick to melt down and was always asking questions, seeking knowledge. He was brilliant, gifted. He learned to read when he was 3, and could multiply and divide when he was just 4 years old. (Yes, really!)

My husband and I waited five long years to have another child because our life with him felt so intense and rich that we couldn’t imagine changing it. And truth be told, we were concerned about whether he could handle having a sibling. After so many years of being an extremely doted-upon first child, we were unsure how he would deal with having his parents’ attention divided.

When I became pregnant with our second child, I was so anxious. There were lots of reasons for this, but topping the list was that I had no idea if my son could handle a sibling or what it would mean for our relationship with him.

Would our bond ever be the same? Would the transition go horribly? Would our son act like an entitled jerk? Had we made a terrible mistake by waiting so long to expand our family?

It turns out that all of my worries were for nothing. I’m not saying the transition to a family of four was perfect. There were tears (his and ours), but giving our son a sibling was the best thing that could have happened.

I think there is something that happens to a child when they turn into a big brother or sister. Their caregiving instincts kick into high gear. I’ll never forget the day that our second baby was born. My son, ever the precocious reader, decided that he must read him a picture book, right then and there.

“I don’t care that he can’t understand it,” he said. “I know he’ll love it.”

I’m sure he would have learned that eventually, but I’m not sure he would have learned it in the way that he has had he not had a little brother to contend with.

Things just went from there. Yes, he complained when his little brother started crawling around and grabbing all his stuff. He wasn’t happy when there would be hours on end when we could not play with him. Even now, he and his brother still fight like … well, brothers. There is rarely a day when I don’t hear them wrestling or shouting at each other.

But having another kid in his life to level the playing field was exactly what the doctor ordered. It was one thing for us to feed his starving little mind 24/7 with knowledge when he was an only child, but what he needed most was to learn humility, selflessness and compassion.

I’m sure he would have learned that eventually, but I’m not sure he would have learned it in the way that he has, had he not had a little brother to contend with.

He isn't always the kind of kid to show it, but he cares deeply about his little brother. He looks out for him like only a big brother can. He’s constantly teaching him things—and, boy, does his little brother look up to him! Now that they are both older (11 and 6), they play with each other pretty much all day. It’s amazing.

Their relationship is one that will last them a lifetime. They are making memories together, and sharing their childhood with such love and intimacy, it brings tears to my eyes.

My son can still be extremely strong-willed and set in his ways at times. But having a brother softened him and opened his heart in ways that I could not have imagined. I will never forget how nervous I was to make the leap, but giving him a sibling was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made as a mother.

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