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My Kids Have Two Different Moms (And They're Both Me)

Photograph by Amy Wruble

You should see me with the baby. I kiss and cuddle, hold and rock, murmur and nuzzle. Every interaction with her is sweetness and light, and my patience knows no bounds. I play peek-a-boo, sing silly songs, read stories over and over and shower her with praise for the tiniest of discoveries, like finding her belly button.

So who’s the crazy bitch parenting my 5-year-old? The one who loses her temper, rolls her eyes and yells—loud. The one who scans the room for favorite toys to snatch away in punishment? The one who doesn’t even try to hide her frustration and exhaustion from her impressionable young daughter? Oh right, that’s me also. They’re both me.

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“You never yell at the baby,” my 5-year-old astutely notices. “The baby doesn’t know right from wrong,” I tell her. "And you do.” But is that fair, or even completely true? Sure, my preschooler knows the rules and frequently breaks them, but at her age, she’s not exactly in full control of her impulses. She’s still learning. Why can’t I cut her more slack?

This is the hard part of being firstborn, I think. Compared with a helpless baby, older kids seem so big and competent—even if they’re barely out of diapers. I wonder if my expectations have been out of whack. I've noticed that she bristles when I call her a big girl. Sometimes, she still wants to be my baby.

I mean, there was a time when my older child was the perfect, tiny baby who could do no wrong. But her role has been recast.

Plus, it must hurt to get kicked off the pedestal, the way she’s been. I mean, there was a time when my older child was the perfect, tiny baby who could do no wrong. But her role has been recast. “Now playing the part of precious baby: your younger sister!” Given these circumstances, my 5-year-old is well within her rights to be a pain in the ass sometimes. I should be grateful she's not torturing small animals.

So here's my pledge to myself and to my older child. The things I will try to do differently as I march forward on this parenting journey:

I will make more time for my big kid (whom I won't call "big" anymore. Just "kid.")

I will count to 5 and locate my empathy before I start yelling. Who knows, maybe there will be less yelling?

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I will let her see me “disciplining” the baby (gently) such as telling her that food stays on the tray and she may not eat her sister's toys.

I won't be fooled by the sassy, back-talking, chore-refusing, mess-making, baby-pinching, whining character she plays when she's tired, hungry or grumpy. I'm no picnic when I'm tired, hungry or grumpy either.

I will remind myself that although it might have been easier before she could talk (back), we do have some pretty amazing talks, and I wouldn't give them up for the world.

I will snuggle her more at night, for she is my precious little baby, and she always will be.

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