First time parenting is rough. It’s one of those things in life that even preparation leaves you unprepared. I studied early child development during my Psychology degree. I read tons of books while pregnant. I drew on my experiences from taking care of my younger siblings as a teen. I talked to everyone I knew about parenting strategies.
Despite all of this, what I learned about my daughter, my firstborn, was mostly in retrospect after my second arrived.
How “Little” She Really Was
This may sound intuitive to some people, but I continually expected my daughter to be so much more capable than she actually was. I pushed her very hard to be able to sit quietly, entertain herself, play well with other children, and get quickly over disappointments and tantrums.
But now, watching my 22-month-old son, I am struck by how little she really was at this age. Now I “get it” and I am gentler with him (and her) because of it. I better understand how much time it takes to learn to communicate or develop emotional control.
I think part of what made it so hard for us to see was that she was so advanced. She ate with utensils at 10 months old. She spoke in full sentences at 18 months. She could entertain herself for an hour or sometimes more. She appeared so much more mature than she actually was.
How Much She Was Capable of Doing for Herself
I had super high expectations for her on some things, but I also had very low expectations in other ways.
It wasn’t until I enrolled my son in day care at 1 year that I realized how much babies could do for themselves. Their goals for that age were self-feeding and self-care. They were consciously teaching this age group things I was still doing for my daughter at 3.
I had just done so many things for her, instead of taking the time to empower her to do them for herself. I picked out her clothes, dressed her, washed her hands for her, even fed her if it was too messy.
So now, with two little ones, it is a lot easier to encourage him to try more things for himself. And I get a lot more resistance from her because I have helped her for so long. She sees my reluctance to help her with those things as me pushing her away.
How Much She Was Not “Boyish”
At the risk of sparking the gender debate, please remember this is just an account of our experience.
My husband and I watched her approach to life and would often comment that she was more like a boy than a girl. She was aggressive and rough, preferring blocks and cars to dolls and stuffed animals. She wanted to run around, jump around, and be thrown up in the air.
At 1, we noticed she was incredibly mechanically minded, driven to figure out how things worked. She was fascinated by buckles and latches, manipulating any she could get her hands on.
When our boy arrived, it become obvious how wrong we were. The elements of her that had seemed to be “boy-like,” now proved characteristics of her unique personality as opposed to being gender related.
Our son does not ever stop moving. She can sit still for long periods of time exploring a book or a puzzle. Our son is rough and tumble in a different way, often getting hurt without even noticing. Our son climbs everything, whereas it never occurred to our daughter to try some of the things he’s climbed until she saw him do it.
How Kids Are So Different
So often we watch our son do something that instantly reminds us when our daughter did the exact same thing. Their mannerisms are so similar it is eerily reminiscent of déjà vu. And yet, what I’ve really learned is that they can also be so different, despite being so alike.
Our little man is sweet and sensitive, craving physical closeness. She’s much more independent, preferring physical contact on her own terms. She plays imaginatively, while he is very physical: throwing balls, pushing cars, running, and jumping. She loves to communicate; he is not determined to do so. He tends to get frustrated and gives up easily, she will persevere until she solves it.
How Siblings Aren’t Necessarily Good for Each Other
This one was a huge hurt for me. I knew from my husband’s experience that sibling relationships aren’t always easy. However, nothing could have prepared me for what happened.
She was two when he was born. Our son was a difficult baby, who commanded an extraordinary amount of time and attention. She had been very attached to me up until that time, barely allowing anyone else to do anything for her, even my husband.
His arrival broke our bond in a very intense way. Despite our goal of encouraging additional connections in her life, I wish it had not happened in such a drastic manner. Looking back, I don’t think there was much more that we could have done to ease her transition, short of postponing having another baby.
It took her more than a year to even out, get more settled into her new role. We are heartened by the beginning of a relationship between them now that he is almost 2.
These are not things you can learn from a book or a more experienced parent. You have to live them and breathe them, and let the experiences change you. I have regrets, but I can’t change the past. I can learn from these insights, applying them to each new stage as we all grow together.