When I was pregnant with my second baby, someone told me that younger siblings aren’t as smart as the firstborn because they don’t receive as much one-on-one attention. As if the little baby karate-chopping my insides at that very moment was already starting off life at a disadvantage.
Other people warned us that our second baby would get less attention, fewer presents, and fewer opportunities for enrichment. She would grow up living her life in the shadow of her older brother, following along with whatever he did and surviving off of his scraps. She would be an afterthought. We would have to be careful not to forget about her. People even told us that we would love her less than we love our son.
But those people were so incredibly wrong.
It is true that our second baby is not getting everything that we gave her older brother. Sometimes several days pass without anyone reading her a story. And I don’t have time now to take her to baby-centered play dates, story times, or music classes. Instead she has to make friends on the sidelines of her older brother’s soccer practices. It’s also true that our second baby doesn’t get as many presents on holidays. And she doesn’t get to spend as much time with her grandparents. Her first birthday is a few weeks from now, and I have yet to start planning her party. But I am not apologizing for any of this because I am not sorry.
I believe the benefits of being a second child far outweigh the negatives. When I look at our baby, I don’t see someone who is suffering from an unfair life. Instead I see a child who is benefiting from our experience as parents.
I remember bringing our first baby home from the hospital. Breastfeeding, recovering from a difficult delivery, and trying to learn how to be a mother were overwhelming. All I wanted to do was go back to the hospital and be near the nurses who could answer all my questions. My husband and I didn’t even know how to change diapers. I remember our son shivering and screaming on the changing table while we tried to figure out how to put our cloth diapers together. So many snaps! Now we are experts on diapering, car seats, feeding, and reading stories in goofy voices.
Even more important – our second baby doesn’t have to witness the struggles that my husband and I had as we tried to grapple with our new role as parents and the changing dynamics in our marriage. We’ve matured a lot in the past four years. We no longer argue about who changes the diapers or who has had more alone time in the past week.
Parenthood was hard on our personal identities, but it wreaked havoc on our romantic relationship. Our marriage almost didn’t survive.
People told us that our second baby would grow up resenting her big brother because she wears his hand-me-downs and plays with his old toys. But she doesn’t know any other life. She only knows life with her constant playmate, the big brother whom she adores.
Our second baby also gets to start her life in a family that has an equal number of adults and kids. With our firstborn child, we didn’t make many adjustments to our lifestyle. We sort of dragged him around with us to wherever we felt like going. We didn’t worry much if it was appropriate or not – grown up parties, fancy restaurants, a three-day road trip through the northern part of the United States in January. It wasn’t uncommon for us to keep our first child out until 11 o’clock at night. We didn’t understand why we got dirty looks.
With the arrival of our second child, our family life became more balanced. We still bring our children to some adult things, but we also watch animated movies and go to playgrounds.
Our second baby has not been neglected. Instead my husband and I have cherished every moment of her infancy because we know how fast it goes. Children grow up so quickly. In a few months, they change from larval newborns to squirmy toddlers. During my post-partum, instead of worrying about “getting back to being myself,” I just focused on enjoying the time I had to cuddle with my newborn. And I have tried to enjoy all of her other stages in the same way. Sometimes I just stare at her and try so hard to memorize her chubby cheeks and two-tooth smile. In those fleeting moments, I just can’t believe that anyone could ever tell me that I wouldn’t love her as much as I love my son.
My second baby’s childhood isn’t somehow inferior because she isn’t having an identical experience to our firstborn. There are fewer pages filled in her baby book and she sleeps on her big brother’s old airplane crib sheets. But she is not loved any less simply because she didn’t come into our lives first.
Our firstborn is not the star of the show with our second child playing the role of supporting actor. People warned us that having a second child meant you had to split your attention and your financial resources in half. But we don’t feel like our second baby has halved our lives. Instead she has made us so much richer.
And for all that, I’m not sorry.
Copyright 2016 Britta Eberle as first published on Sammiches and Psych Meds