Someone recently asked me what, in my opinion, has helped my boys to be so close to each other. So I got to thinking, and be prepared…this is long (WORDS! MANY WORDS!)
1. My boys are close in age. Julian and Arthur are two years (and 3 days!) apart, and even though the first year may have been a little rough sometimes, I think that this is a great age difference for my kids.
2. They are both boys, and their interests (at this point) are the same. That is, all of Julian’s interests are Arthur’s interests as well. Arthur skipped past the phase of playing with baby toys or watching Elmo. He builds tracks and wants to watch Super Why. And yes, they are both boys. I know girls play with trains and trucks, too, but boys by nature are a different beast (and yes, I am sure there are many exceptions to the rule on both sides). They run, they are loud, they are physical. Arthur started walking at 9 1/2 months, and that really helped Julian to see his brother as a kid, not a baby. That’s when they truly started playing and having fun together. And because they are both very physical, they can relate on a non-verbal level. They laugh and laugh at things I don’t even understand. Things that are between them and probably only funny for those four and under. Like running! Into a wall! Hilarious.
So these were some of the more obvious points. Here is what we’ve been doing “behind the scenes:”
3. We prepared Julian as much as we could. We read books to him about adding a baby to the family. We talked about “Baby Atttttu.” A lot.
4. I did a lot of reading on what to do when a second child joins the family. Here is what I learned:
When my boys met for the first time, I made sure not to be holding the baby when Julian walked into the room. Arthur was in his little bassinet, and Julian just shot him a quick glance until much later when he really showed some interest and wanted to meet him. But when I first saw Julian, it was really just about seeing Julian. We hadn’t seen each other in a couple of days, and that was the longest we had ever been apart. Just imagine the feeling of missing your mama, and when you finally see her again she is holding someone else! So I thought that was some good advice that I read about.
Also, when both children are crying or need you at the same time, tend to the older child first. It seems counter-intuitive (because GAH! My precious baby is wailing! My boobs are exploding!), but it makes sense. It takes much less time to give your older child a snack, a hug, or sit him down with a book or a TV show than it takes to nurse, change, or bathe a baby. To your older child it sends the message that he is still important, that his needs still matter, and that mama still has time for him. To the baby it makes no difference at all, and even though it may be difficult to listen to your baby cry for a few minutes, it will do absolutely no harm.
Spend quality time with the older child. For the first few months, Arthur would take extended naps. Most newborns sleep so much! It makes for a really gentle transition to actually having a second kid around. At first all they do is eat and sleep. So whenever Arthur napped, I spent time with Julian. We would play, read, and chat just like we used to.
We put Arthur and Julian in their (shoebox-sized) bedroom together very early on. As soon as Arthur slept through the night occasionally (but by no means consistently), we moved him into the boys’ room. He was around 7 or 8 months old, I think. The first month was annoying because they woke each other up more than we would have liked, but they very quickly got used to each other. And now they just love having a roommate. Before bed they play with their flashlights or sometimes giggle. They hug and kiss every night, and sometimes they will stay in that tight embrace for so long that it almost makes me cry. When Arthur wakes up from a nap he looks for Julian right away, and if he sees that he is still snoozing, Arthur will usually lay back down and catch some more shuteye.
We practice kindness. Like I actually think that being kind is the most important thing. I am so happy that both of my boys are gentle, sweet, and kind creatures, but I don’t think that they were just born that way. We love each other, as I know most families do. We hug and cuddle and kiss all the time. I show my love for the boys in many ways…heart-shaped sandwiches, kisses, playing with them, getting up in the night, listening to endless details about the NYC subway system, and the list goes on. But it pays back. Julian is kind to Arthur. Other than a few months of (annoying as all hell) pushing around the time Arthur was getting mobile and was constantly in Julian’s business, he has been a wonderful brother. And Arthur, in return, is very sweet to Julian. They just truly love each other. They look out for each other, they hold hands, they play endlessly. Sure, they also take toys away from each other and will sometimes play too rough. When that happens I tell Julian to tell Arthur what upsets him rather than complain to me (“Arthur took my train away.”) and to ask for his toy back. Arthur will hand over the toy 99% of the time. He would probably chop off his right foot if it made his brother happy. I am a little bit more watchful with Julian and will intervene when he bullies Arthur too much, but as the boys get older, I make a conscious choice to stand back more. Let them fight their own battles. For pushing or hitting, however, we have zero tolerance and they both get punished (usually a toy gets taken away for a while), and they must say sorry. This is Arthur’s favorite part. The making up and loving on his brother. But Julian, too, will really look for comfort from Arthur when he has hurt him or made him cry, and I can tell that Arthur’s “forgiveness” makes Julian feel better. The older the boys get, the more we talk to them. What do you think you did wrong? Why is Arthur crying? How do you think he feels right now? What do you want to say to him?
And last but not least, we reinforced togetherness, but in a very subtle way. We never forced (or strongly encouraged) any of it. The first few months of Arthur’s life, he was just around (when he was awake). I nursed while I played with Julian. I don’t think we ever said things like “go hug your brother” or “give him a pacifier, he’s crying” or stuff like that. I feel like if you encourage interest in something too much, it takes the fun out of it. So we just kind of let it happen and didn’t expect a miracle. I mean, newborns are boring (at least for a two year old). So I can’t really expect Julian to show a huge interest in that 10 pound blob that just moved into his apartment. But we did encourage “togetherness:” a shared room, bath time together as soon as Arthur could sit safely in the tub, story time, eating together, playing together. The interest came over time, and it’s grown very organically into what I consider a very solid foundation for their relationship.